Goodbye to Gustav, Part 2

(Above) The first band of rain from Hurricane Gustav quickly approaches the Hands On base.

As I mentioned earlier, I rode out Hurricane Gustav volunteering with Hands On in a Red Cross shelter at Stennis Space Center. Here are a few pictures and key moments.

Sunday, we packed up and headed for the Red Cross office for training. Instead, they had us pick up rental cars from the airport. Then they began enlisting our help in distributing supplies to the various hurricane shelters in public schools around the coastal counties. Thus the carrying of boxes began.

This was when I started to seriously worry about the Red Cross’s organizational abilities. A few especially incompetent people caused a great deal of confusion and unnecessary work. In the end, I’m sure there were shelters with the wrong types or quantities of supplies.

As the storm moved in, we rushed to head out. I took a picture of the approaching rain from Caitlin’s car as we headed back to base to get my car. By the time I left, the wind and rain were already picking up and it was pretty nasty for the entire 45-minute drive to Stennis.

The place ended up being a clean, cold office building. But before we could settle in, we were enlisted to help move more boxes. Hundreds of boxes; boxes of beanie weanie dinners, boxes of beef stew dinners, boxes of chili and bean dinners, cartons of water, boxes of diapers and paper towels and all the other hurricane supplies. Then we were sent out to deliver supplies to two other shelters, a daunting operation on the eve of a hurricane in an unfamiliar area.

Stennis Space Center, Building 1105. The front door, shown here on the first night, was the place to chat and have a smoke through almost the entire storm.

The living accommodations. The shelter was in the halls of an office building, which were lined with people sleeping or waiting around. The prepared ones had air mattresses or cots. The others slept on blankets, and some got NASA-supplied cots on the second night.

Red Cross Staffer Quote of the Day: “I like to drink. There are a lot of parts of my life I don’t remember very well.”

Danae and Nick from Hands On, preparing breakfast. She has some serious Pop Tart-toasting skills. Dinners came in three flavors; breakfast was less fancy. Pop Tarts, cereal bars, and coffee.

The crew included (from left) Will, KC, Devon, Danae, and Nick. Not pictured are Warren, Caitlin, and Ingrid.

Hands On. Without meaning to sound self-congratulating, the Red Cross was lucky to have us. They didn’t have many other volunteers, and their staff, while largely great people, also included one or two wildly ineffectual and incompetent ones in positions of authority. At times, their decision-making structure came down to a shouting match over who had been through the most hurricanes.

Wind and rain in the courtyard as the storm wanes. Our day-and-a-half in the shelter passed predictably slowly; we passed the time handing out food and water, sleeping, watching Pulp Fiction, playing Scrabble, and looking out the windows at the weather.

With the hurricane mostly gone, the weather remained rainy and windy. Anxious to leave, we helped the Red Cross move boxes of supplies (by now we had plenty of practice) to the new shelter were they would be consolidating all the people who could not return home after the storm.

Back in Biloxi around midday Tuesday, I was relieved to find little damage; our house was fine, as were most of our clients’. Everyone’s been working hard restoring normalcy. The office is back up and running, with the exception of the windows that I’m worried they’ll keep boarded until Hanna, Ike, and Josephine pass.

For a first hurricane, we all fared well. The Atlantic hurricane season has another three months to go, and let’s hope we don’t have any more serious ones.


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