Saturday, February 11, 2017

Red Cross Disaster Relief

I don’t think reading and watching the news reports adequately prepared me for the sobering sight that greeted us as we drove through New Orleans East, the area most impacted by the recent tornadoes. Sheared telephone poles, tangled wires, bent metal, and felled trees were the common denominators between residential homes, gas stations and local businesses. The affected zones, though modest in size, suffered catastrophic damage. It was interesting to note that both intact and completely demolished structures stood side by side, hinting at the non-linear paths the tornadoes must’ve taken. We soon arrived at an intersection guarded by armed National Guard officers in charge of loot prevention, who immediately waved us through upon seeing the Red Cross logo emblazoned on both sides of our vehicle. As part of the disaster assessment team, our responsibility was to determine the degree of damage to each home in our assigned sectors. I was incredibly fortunate that Kurt, our crew leader, was a seasoned disaster relief responder who explained things I never thought to ask, thereby enriching my experience immeasurably.
            Thankfully, the streets we canvassed were in the penumbra, and as such they were spared from tangible loss. Still, I was awed by the morale the residents exhibited, each waving and smiling as we passed by. How terrifying it must’ve been to watch the winds tear through neighboring streets so mercilessly, wondering if your home was next! Even more humbling are the combined efforts of the Red Cross, FEMA and local groups all working altruistically towards the common goal of restoration, whether it be through damage assessment, repairs or meal provisions. It struck me anew that though New Orleans is no stranger to natural disasters, its inhabitants have again rebounded with remarkable vigor. Amidst houses on shifted foundations, rubble that was once a dwelling, and cars with shattered windows shines an indomitable spirit that is New Orleans, as evidenced by the unparalleled willingness of workers and volunteers alike to take rebuilding to task. What an absolute honor it was to partake in the relief efforts, to give back in my small way to this exceptional community.

February community service hours: 13

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Caught Unaware

The initial drops were so gentle, so non-threatening that I decided against opening my umbrella. No thoughts were given to the darkening skies as I hurried from Sci High, where I’d been volunteering that morning, towards uptown Tulane campus, where I planned on catching the shuttle back to Deming Pavilion. The sudden torrential downpour came without warning so that by the time my slippery fingers successfully held the apparatus aloft, I was already drenched. Thunder and lightning became my companions, their rumbling voices taunting my legs to move faster despite the rutted walkways. My thoughts jumbled, and I wondered inanely if one was supposed to use an umbrella during lightning. Surely I would be struck? Or did that only apply to standing beneath a tree? My distress was compounded when tornado warnings from the Tulane emergency notification system sent incessant texts, instructing me to not leave class. Then came the phone calls.
“A tornado warning has been issued in your area, please remain indoors…”
I hung up each time. Frustrated, panicked, my only goal was to return to campus. When I finally arrived at my stop, I was informed that shuttle service was temporarily cancelled and given a number to call in two hours to check on the status. By this time, I wondered at my decision just hours ago to tutor. I marveled at the clear sunny skies of yesterday. I longed for dry clothes.
“Hey, we see you standing out here, would you like to come seek shelter with us?”
I turned to see a lady holding open the door to the Student Success office. Seek shelter? Is this for real?
“Exactly how serious is this tornado?” I asked as I followed her inside, where I was immediately taken to the back of the building to be with others who appeared to have also been caught unaware.
I discovered later, in my warm and dry room, that while my area was spared, others had not been so fortunate. Reports differ between the exact number of tornadoes that had touched down, but eight seemed to be pretty consistent. It saddened me to hear that the Ninth Ward, the neighborhood previously pummeled by Katrina, again suffered devastating damage. Thankfully, there were relatively few injuries and no loss of life.
Between answering concerned inquiries from families and friends and reassuring them of my well-being, I took a long hot shower, eradicating the chill from my bones. Then, at last, came blessed relief in the form of hanging up my wet clothes and putting away the umbrella that—surprisingly—survived the strong winds.