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Blog #11 - The best laid plans usually go awry

September 24, 2005

I mentioned in yesterday’s (Friday, Sept 23) blog that Tom Jacobson, my photographer, had called in the evening with our assignment for Saturday, Sept 24. I drove through the standing water and rain to headquarters, arriving about 6:30 a.m. It was nearly deserted, and I was able to work on some stories before a few folks straggled in. The network and the wireless connections were both down, so I couldn’t send off my blog, but at least there was power. Hurricane Rita had knocked down trees and power was off in much of Baton Rouge. There were limbs and leaves everywhere. None of the traffic signals were working, so every intersection was a traffic mess.

Tom came in and we met with John Neiweem from Red Cross logistics to plan our trip. We decided to go first to Lafayette and Lake Charles, where John was going to access local shelter needs. Tom and I are going along because there is sure to be a story and some photo ops there.

Tom and I rode in his SUV, and John and one his colleagues drove there car. John gave me a two-way radio as I went out of the door of headquarters.

”This is for us to keep in touch on the road,” he said. “I understand that Hurricane Rita is still raging where we’re going, and we might get separated.”

Heading to Lake Charles and Hurricane Rita

After several false starts to find a gasoline station that still had fuel, and had power to run the gas pumps, we headed west on Interstate 10. As soon as we crossed the Mississippi River we encountered heavy rains and strong side winds. Tom was driving and I could see him fighting the wind, especially on the long bridges that crossed over waterways and swamps. The road was littered with storm debris, and the wind made a steady roar outside the car.

”Tell me again, Tom, exactly what we are doing out here in the middle of a hurricane,” I asked.

”Beats me,” he said. “John gave me the assignment, but you don’t know anymore than I do. I’m not really sure this is such a good idea, and it really is poor weather to try and take photos.”

We made it about 45 miles and were getting close to Lafayette when a loud “bang” drowned out the noise from the wind. “Hold up,” I called over the radio to John. “We’ve got a flat tire back here.”

Sure enough, the right rear tire was in shreds. We’d probably picked up some storm debris along the way. We put on the temporary “donut” tire and headed west towards the next exit. All the gas stations and restaurants were surrounded by what looked like a foot or more of water and all the windows were dark. There was no power and nothing was open.

”We’re going to head back to Baton Rouge to see if we can find a tire place that is open and get this fixed,” I told John. “God speed and be safe on your way to Lake Charles. Call us when you get there.”

As we limped home on the spare, the west bound lane was full of emergency vehicles heading for Lake Charles. There was a long line of ambulances and rescue vans, utility bucket trucks, FEMA emergency vehicles, and support vehicles. With their red lights and flashers on they were quite a site, coming on through the heavy rain and gloom. It made me feel good that there was such a quick emergency response, and part of me wished I was with them. However, we had our own emergency to deal with and we continued east towards Baton Rouge.

On the way back I called AAA for the nearest tire store that was open on Saturday, but none of them answered my phone calls. They were all closed either because of the storm or due to no power. Not till we got back to headquarters did we find a couple of tire stores open and were able to get Tom’s car fixed.

The network was up at headquarters and I was able to upload my blog from Friday. Wireless was still down at headquarters and also at the staff shelter. I talked Tom into changing shelters after he recounted how his shelter manager almost didn’t let him back in on Friday. They had instituted a “lock down” because of Hurricane Rita and no one was going in or coming out of the shelter. Also, the showers were out in the parking lot with limited hours. It only took a few words about my staff shelter and he made the switch. I think it was Gumbo that made the difference.

Anyone need a haircut?

Dan Guevare is a Red Cross volunteer from Los Angeles and is a barber in his civilian life. He has brought along his clippers and barber tools with him, and every day gives free haircuts to any of the Red Cross volunteers at my shelter that needs them. He sat me on a metal folding chair out in the driveway and trimmed up my head and beard while he told me about his journey into the Red Cross volunteer fold.

He did a great job, Tom got some photos to record the event, and all the clipped hair blew conveniently away in the winds still swirling around us from Hurricane Rita. I told him I’d make a contribution to the church in his name, since he wouldn’t take any money for his good work.

Houma tomorrow

David Littlefield and I exchanged several text messages on Saturday and I postponed my plans to visit him at his shelter until Sunday. Tom and I will head down on Sunday and see how he and his shelter weathered Hurricane Rita. I’ll also check on Cut Off, a small town south of Houma in the delta that Sandy, a blog reader, was interested in learning about. I’ll report back in tomorrow’s blog.

Copyright © 2005, Allen Crabtree