Saturday, October 8, 2005

Disaster Relief HQ, Baton Rouge

We are finally in Baton Rouge (generic map) at the American Red Cross disaster relief headquarters here. Note that I have not posted our exact location since the headquarters site, while not a state secret, is not open to the public, nor are there any direct services or resources here for those affected by the disaster, and the Red Cross is, therefore, not publicizing its location. (Persons affected by either hurricane can find their closest shelter or service center, or get additional information, at this American Red Cross web site dedicated to the disaster.)

For anyone who cares, I managed to fix my computer and fully recover all my data by yesterday morning. So I am now back on email, and have full access to my calendar, maps, and other files. Some configuration settings are still a bit messed up, but things are mostly back to normal.

As Louise has already mentioned, we spent Wednesday night at yet another casino, in Greenville, MS (map), just a few miles west of our laundry stop in Leland. The casino itself was in a "riverboat," but the body of water adjacent to Greenville is actually an oxbow lake formed by a now-bypassed loop of the river. Hundreds of these lakes exist on both sides of the current river alignment, and it is interesting to see that the state lines, in many cases, follow a historic path of the river, often now on dry land. Greenville is such a place, with the state line running down the middle of the lake.

We left the casino yesterday morning, crossed the river into Arkansas, and proceeded south on US-65. We crossed back over the river from Vidalia, Louisiana into Natchez, Mississippi on the same bridge we traversed a month ago en route to Texas. After arriving in Baton Rouge, we made a stop at the mall to return some software to CompUSA that I did not need in the great computer debacle, and did some other shopping while we were there. We spent the night at a Wal-Mart not far from the headquarters. Interestingly, while this Wal-Mart is normally a 24-hour store, the demands of supplying the thousands of evacuees that have inundated Baton Rouge have forced the store to close from 10pm to 6am nightly just to clean up and re-stock, and a parade of semitrailers arrived throughout the night.

As of this morning, we still had not received official deployment orders from our chapter, so we went over to headquarters as walk-ins. Unsurprisingly, I was immediately swept into the technology group (known as "RTT"), an area for which we did not officially "train," but which is probably a natural fit (and chronically short-handed -- it's a lot easier to find shelter workers, truck drivers, and food servers than computer, networking, and communications experts). That pretty much means that we will be assigned here to headquarters, rather than deployed further into the disaster area. Louise has also taken an assignment with RTT, just because splitting us up is difficult since we are living in Odyssey.

So our home for the next few weeks will be a parking lot full of rental trucks and Red Cross "Emergency Response Vehicles." Right now, we are parked next to a giant tractor-trailer, containing a mobile kitchen, known as the "Spirit of America." Disaster headquarters is in abandoned retail space in a shopping center, probably donated by the landlord, and other stores in the shopping center are open for business, so we see an odd mix of Red Cross volunteers and random people starting their holiday shopping pass by the coach.

Odyssey now has a very official-looking "American Red Cross Disaster Relief" sticker in the windshield, and it is somewhat amusing to wonder just what the random store-goers think her purpose might be. If we get some time in the daylight hours in the next few days, perhaps we can get a photo or two posted.

I should also add, here, that we are living in the lap of luxury by local standards. The scale of this disaster is so immense that most of the volunteers (and over 97% of the resources deployed are volunteers) are being housed in shelters rather than the customary hotel rooms. That is, in large part, due to the fact that every hotel room within a hundred miles is sold out (or was rendered unusable by the events). Most of the people here are on three-week deployments from their home chapters, and a good number of them will spend the entire three weeks on army cots and have to line up for showers at the end of each day. Something to bear in mind if you have a friend or co-worker who took leave to come here and help out.

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