Dedicated to the late Dawn Stewart and the countless others who told the world the stories of Katrina.
Ten years ago Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast and the American Red Cross launched a disaster response larger than ever before. Millions of people needed help after the deadly storm caused more than $81 billion in destruction and damaged or destroyed as many as 350,000 residences from Texas to Florida.
SO MANY STORIES TO TELL
Hurricane Katrina was a storm like no other and nothing in the last ten years has reached its magnitude. For the first time, a disaster forced the evacuation of an entire metropolitan area. Survivors who lost everything were dispersed to every state. Millions of people were impacted, each with a story to tell. On this tenth anniversary, the Red Cross shares these few stories and reminds everyone that the unthinkable can happen at any time; that as a nation we all need to be prepared as individuals and communities to protect our loved ones when disaster strikes.
DISASTER KNOWS NO HOLIDAYS
As days turned into weeks, people along the Gulf Coast were struggling with losing everything they had as the winter holiday season closed in. It was Thanksgiving and Red Cross workers, many of them far from home and their loved ones, were determined to bring a little taste of the holidays to Katrina’s victims. In Kenner, Louisiana, the Southern Baptist Convention prepared a turkey dinner with all the trimmings for tens of thousands of people. Red Cross emergency response vehicles fanned out across southeastern Louisiana to deliver the meals to those affected by the storm. A few weeks later, Christmas came to the devastated region. In Plaquemines Parish, Red Cross workers from all over the country went out to make sure people had a Christmas dinner. They served people leaving a Christmas mass, volunteers working with an animal rescue organization, shrimp fishermen trying to repair their boats and families living in FEMA trailers where their homes once stood. These scenes were repeated throughout the region, bringing a little bit of hope for the holidays.
HELP THE CHILDREN
The needs of the smallest victims of Katrina were remembered by the Red Cross. In Long Beach, Mississippi, partners State Convention of Baptists in Ohio and the AFL-CIO worked with the Red Cross to provide childcare services at a local civic center so parents had a safe place to leave their kids while they worked, looked for a job, cleaned up their homes or worked on their Katrina-related needs. Trained childcare team members cared for the children.
In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Red Cross workers realized hundreds of school-aged children in the shelter there needed something to focus on – a school. They established an education center focusing on math, reading and physical education. The “Kids Education and Activities Program at the River Center” was popular immediately with almost 200 kids registering in the first few days. They had suffered extraordinary circumstances, but for those few hours each day, they chattered about their lessons and forgot about the experiences they had been through. Children with special needs were connected with services that could help them. The reward – the smiling faces of the children who lost everything but learned they would survive through the school in a shelter.
A SHELTER COMMUNITY
The Red Cross shelter in Baton Rouge was more than a place to sleep and get a meal. Inside, there was a barber shop that offered free haircuts, a medical clinic staffed with doctors and nurses with medications and emergency diabetes help available, Sunday church services and school teachers who tutored the young evacuees. Children played outside while younger kids were entertained inside with balloon animals. Teenagers played basketball on a hoop hung on an outside door. Living in a shelter is not the ideal solution for anyone. But at this shelter, everyone worked together to develop a temporary community.
LOVED ONES REUNITED
As Katrina’s aftermath flooded New Orleans, countless families were separated. Ten years ago, technology wasn’t what it is today but Red Cross workers worked tirelessly to help. One woman stayed behind in New Orleans to help her elderly landlord who was disabled. Eventually they were rescued and her journey took her to a shelter in Little Rock, Arkansas. Red Cross workers searched the internet for her family and found her father in Homa, Louisiana. They facilitated a call between the two and she was eventually able to reunite with her entire family in Homa.
In Birmingham, Alabama, a family of 47 was reunited at the Red Cross shelter in the Jefferson Civic Center. All residents of New Orleans, they included a group who evacuated in a five-car caravan. Another group stayed behind and had to be rescued from neck-high water. They drove fifteen hours after a call that family members were in Birmingham. Another worked at Tulane Hospital in New Orleans and had to stay behind until all the patients were safely evacuated. She and her parents were evacuated by helicopter and transported to the rest of the family in Alabama. And even though 47 family members found each other, they worried about other loved ones they hadn’t heard from. They had different plans for the future, but for now a family of 47 was safe thanks to the Red Cross. “Never in my life have I met people who have such divine compassion,” one family member said.
VOLUNTEERS REMEMBER Some of the Red Cross volunteers who helped during Katrina shared their stories on the Red Cross Blog. You can view them here.