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Blog #9 - Today was a good day!

September 22, 2005

It is 10:00 p.m. and Ted Huisman, one of the staff shelter managers, has just turned off the lights in the gym where everyone is sleeping. There is a small group of about a dozen in the dining room glued to the weather channel watching the progress of Hurricane Rita as it approaches the gulf coast southwest of us here in Baton Rouge.

Like most days on this assignment, today has been a full day. Starting with our Public Affairs staff meeting at 07:30 a.m., and finishing up tonight when I got back to the staff shelter about a half-hour ago. Tiring, but a very satisfying day all in all.

The day started with our unit chief Jack Papp going over the events of yesterday and the major things on tap for today. Everyone then had a chance to talk about what they have been doing, sharing any potential problems they had become aware of, and laying out their plans for today. Then the writers and photographers gathered for a smaller meeting to compare notes on the stories we were working on and any story leads we were developing.

Chasing a story

I had planned to spend the day at my laptop turning my pages of notes into several articles, but only got part way through writing my first article when John Neiweem came by. John is the local coordinator for the International Red Cross workers on Hurricane Katrina, and has been helping me put together an article on them. He had a report on some army tents donated by Israel that he and his workers had been setting up at several disaster relief operations around the area.

”Where did you set the tents up?” I asked.

”Once we found someone who could read the Hebrew instructions that came with them, we set them up in several locations where they were needed,” he said. “The last two were set up in Slidell, at the Noah’s Wish animal rescue operation. Have you ever been there?”

”I was in Slidell yesterday, at the Red Cross shelter, but I wasn’t aware of the animal shelter there. Sounds like the makings of a story.”

John gave me some information and the phone numbers of the director of the operation. I talked it over with one of our photographers, Tom Jacobson, and he suggested that we head over there today to avoid the rains predicted for Friday when Hurricane Rita gets closer. We left about 11:00 a.m. for Slidell under skies filled with black clouds. So much for a quiet day in the office writing stories.

I stopped on the way out of town to join Pastor Tommy Middleton for lunch at a Cajun restaurant where I had red beans and rice with catfish and hush puppies.

Noah’s Wish Animal Rescue

>Noah’s Wish was created in 2002 to fill a serious gap in disaster relief work. Although people are welcome at Red Cross shelters in times of disaster, and shelters run by other agencies, their pets are not. For many people, their pets are members of their family, and being separated from them is traumatic. Not being able to care for them, and not knowing how or where they are, is even more traumatic.

Terri Crisp created Noah’s Wish to care for these animals until their owners get back on their feet and can take them back. The organization also houses lost and strayed animals and tries to locate their owners to reunite them with their beloved animal companions. The organization has been very successful, and has been working to rescue pets affected by Hurricane Katrina since the beginning of the relief effort.

They have set up a pet shelter in Slidell about 3 miles from the Red Cross shelter at the High School, and are caring for many of the pets of the people at the Red Cross shelter. So far, they have rescued 732 animals and have reunited nearly half of them with their owners. The pets for which owners cannot be found will be placed in foster homes around the country. While they are at the pet shelter vets treat any medical needs, pets are fed and walked and fussed over by the 70 or so Noah’s Wish volunteers.

We received a warm welcome from Director Terri Crisp and two of her staff who showed us around. I interviewed them while Tom took photos. The heavy rains started while we were in the huge warehouse filled with cages of dogs and cats. Amid all the noise from the rain on the metal roof and the barking of dogs, a family came in and was reunited with their very excited Dalmatian who had been missing for three weeks since the hurricane hit. I don’t know who was happier - the dog or the family who had found him. They were now living in their home and were able to leave with their dog. Their family was complete again!

Help for people in need

On that happy note we started back for Baton Rouge. My cell phone rang. Earlier in the day Maria Cortina, the Mexican Consul from Mexico City, had called with a problem about one of her Mexican constituents who had been evacuated from her home in the New Orleans area by Hurricane Katrina. I was able to find a person at the Red Cross headquarters in Baton Rouge to solve her problem, and she was calling back to thank me about the wonderful care that her constituent had received from the Red Cross. I felt good at being able to play a small role in helping her out.

Tom and I stopped for a sandwich and a beer just outside Baton Rouge and to compare notes from the day’s trip and look at the images that Tom had taken. The lady sitting on my left at the bar noticed my Red Cross ID card and introduced herself. She was a school teacher who had forced to evacuate from her flooded home in New Orleans, and told me about how the Red Cross had helped her in her time of need. She told me about a service center that the Red Cross is running this week at the Louisiana Federation of Teachers in Baton Rouge to help teachers process through the Red Cross disaster relief system. Not only was I pleased that she had such a positive experience from dealing with the Red Cross, but she also gave me a good lead for a story.

A fellowship close to the day

The shelter only has 70 tonight, so there will be no waiting in line for a shower tomorrow morning. Two nights ago there were 120 here, from 30 different states, and we had lines everywhere. Ted Huisman told me that he and Bill Tasch have planned ahead in the event that there is a power loss from Hurricane Rita. They have a generator and good supply of fuel standing by, and have stockpiled food and ice should we not be able to get out. I topped off the gas tank in the car on the way back to the shelter, and several stations were sold out of fuel by people doing the same.

Hurricane Rita is predicted to come ashore somewhere east of the Texas-Louisiana border and at this time is still a category 4 hurricane. We are expecting heavy rains here, but no serious damage if it tracks as predicted.

Ted Huisman led a short prayer meeting for about 20 of us to close out the day, and the sense of family from these people whom I’ve been living with for several days was very strong. All in all, today was a pretty good day and I feel that we are doing some good here. I am off to my cot in the gym tired by content.

Copyright © 2005, Allen Crabtree