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Notes from the Astrodome

From my friend Dan, who went to the Astrodome to help out and posted this on TFark and gave me permission to post it here. Just so you can get a sense of what's going on down there.

I hardly know what to say.

I was fuming about the inadequate response to the problem yesterday. It was eating at me all day. I wanted to jump up, go out, and solve the entire thing single-handedly.

Well, at about 11PM last night, the local ABC affiliate came in with breaking news. The Astrodome had reached maximum capacity, and they were turning the buses around. Then somebody from the county intervened, and the buses would stay.

Then, a guy from the Red Cross called the station. He said that anybody who could help should come downtown, that the need was much greater than they had anticipated. He said the police had been refusing access to people showing up with food and supplies, but they'd changed the policy and anybody who could help should come. He said they were overwhelmed at the dome, and were looking for other areas to set up.

I got some money from the safe and left, within 15 minutes. I bought as many loaves of bread and sandwich buns as I could fit in the truck, and I headed for the Astrodome. At the first gate, they asked "What do you think you're doing?" I said it was bread for the Red Cross. "You can't drop that off here, try the other side." I drove around to the other side of the complex, and was about to get waved through when a caravan of expensive cars and trucks stopped traffic. Apparently, the vehicles belonged to college football players who had been playing last night. I was absolutely disgusted. We're sitting out there with food, water, clothing, etc., and we have to be delayed so some kid can get his Escalade out.

I finally got to the drop off point and a team of volunteers emptied the truck and gave me directions. I went to the Dome, and this is where I run out of words.

It was an ocean of blankets. Almost nobody had any belongings, maybe a single backpack or purse. There are old people, infants, middle-aged moms and dads, and everything in between... in the Astrodome. I hate this word, but it was surreal.

I found a Red Cross station and checked in, getting an armband, a nametag, and nothing else. It took me probably 20 minutes to figure out that there was absolutely no coordination, anywhere, and NOBODY knew what to do. So I just started handing out blankets, and directing people around. Somebody needed a prescription filled, so we found the right place together.

Sometime around 1AM a Red Cross guy asked me to get some people together and go over to the Arena, because they had decided to start putting people there. I didn't have to ask, everybody around me quickly volunteered. We headed over to the Arena. On the way, it became clear that this was not a homeless shelter, or a food bank. It's a project of an entirely different magnitude. People were everywhere. On the lawns, on the streets, sitting on curbs, sitting on cars, huddled under trees and statues. It was incredible.

I got over to the Arena to find it mostly empty. Red Cross and law enforcement were in the building, but just kinda mulling around. The entire Arena building was encircled by buses, with the adjacent parking lot completely packed with more buses waiting to get in line. I honestly don't know how they kept the people on the buses, I guess everyone was just too tired to be upset anymore.

There was no organization at the Arena, either. I counted 3 "uniformed" Red Cross workers. Trucks started backing up to the front of the building, and guys came from everywhere to start unloading the stuff. Cots and blankets, for the most part. We set up the cots and then everybody kinda looked around like... um, now what? It was almost sickening the way people were so casual about what was happening. Outside the building, I could see people lined up, basically, as far as I could see. But they couldn't come in because all we had were cots and blankets.

Everybody spread out around the building. I found a working ice machine with about 30 bags of ice still inside, and got a guy to help me. We gathered up all the Coca Cola concession carts we could find and filled them with ice and bottled water. I tried taking some ice to the infirmary but they had nowhere to keep it, and much worse problems on their hands.

A lot of people were just sitting there, silent, and sad. It was obvious they needed medical care, but there were very few people to administer it. They ran out of basic supplies before the main doors were even open. I made several trips back and forth between the Dome and the Arena to arrange for trades of surplus goods, but it turned out that they all needed the same things. Medicine, soap, towels, and "comfort kits," which is apparently a pack of toiletries.

Finally, the Red Cross at the Arena discovered what I'd been telling them for hours - Section C of the Arena was wide open. The only thing there was, yes, "my" ice machine. They rerouted the delivery trucks to come to the back of the building, and food and other supplies starting showing up. At around 6AM, I was too tired to be helpful, and I decided to leave. The walk back to the truck was one of the most depressing things I've ever experienced. I'm not sure if we made a difference, but we tried. I met a lot of other Houstonians who felt basically the same way. It turns out that nearly all of us had been watching ABC-13 at the same time, and had been motivated to get up and try to help by the same guy. The Red Cross guy. I don't know his name, but that single guy had a bigger impact than anyone else.

So I'm sure I'm leaving things out, I'm sure some of this doesn't make sense. I can't really make sense of it, either. All I know is that they need medicine and soap at the Astrodome. Donate to the Red Cross, or do whatever you can.

Dan is headed back out to the Astrodome, he said also that ....there were people in there with obvious mental problems, sitting and rocking back and forth... a woman with a freshly amputated leg, all sorts of stuff. It was mayhem..

This is like something out of a novel or a cheesy disaster movie. You never expect it to be like this, not here.

If you are anywhere near Houston, think about putting together some comfort kits and getting them over to the Astrodome. I think something like that would include baby wipes (I would say soap, but who knows when these people will be able to get to a washroom), toothpaste, toothbrush, or maybe just mouthwash?, a comb or brush, tissues - or maybe you can just bring over basic supplies, clothing, food and here's something people forget about, personal feminine products like tampons and pads and such, diapers for the babies and more wipes, even coloring books and crayons for the kids to keep them occuppied. Anything.

Update, just in from reader Darth:

If you are able, please inform your readers that the Star of Hope Shelter in Houston can use whatever help you can provide. They are one of the largest homeless shelters in Houston and I can vouch for the people working there...when I was homeless they treated me with dignity and kindness...

Here is a link to their webpage for Katrina:

http://www.sohmission.org/KatrinaHelp.html

Hurrican victims, if able, can contact them at this number: 713-440-5336

Volunteers can contact the mission at this number: 713-440-5322

I appreciate any info you can relay...

Comments

A comfort kit is a washcloth-not kitchen cloths, a bar of soap (big bar), a toothbrush-still packaged, a large tube of toothpaste, a large comb, nail clippers all packaged together in a large ziplock bag. They are easy to make and an inexpensive, but important contribution.

wow. i wonder if it we could paypal dan or somebody money to go get comfort kits from target or wherever.

That's a good idea. I'll email Dan and see what he thinks.

Just an idea...to stretch dollars further, go to your local Dollar General or dollar store and load up as much as you can spare...

Good idea, Darth. Dollar stores carry ALL that stuff at a great rate.

I live right across the street from the dome. It's just...chaos. An atmosphere choked with despair. Groups of people just walking the streets, just walking around lost, sitting on the grass on each side of the road. No one seems to know what to do. There is a Burger King a hundred yards or so away, and last night, the parking lot was full of cars and people just standing around.

I'm getting some friends together and we're gonna go over and help if we can. The comfort kits are a good idea.

I'm happy to help with the comfort kits too. I'll be taking clothing donations that I collected today from local moms, toys that I'm clearing out of my house, and more. I'm adding the comfort kits to my list when I go to Wal-mart tomorrow. Maybe the manager will even help donate some of the items? Hmm.

Wonder what the homeless people did before tropical storm Katrina hit? Were the homless & mentally ill people even rounded up by buses to help evacuate them? From what I hear, there was no help to get out those suffering from poverty or homelessness (these people did not have the means to get out), it was almost fend for yourself unless you were hospitalized by the sounds of things!