Monday, September 05, 2005

A Letter from New Orleans

Dear family and friends,

I've just returned from Grammercy, down towards New Orleans, where Lillie's sister Ann and her husband Glenn and their daughter Lisa now are, safe and well. The enormous relief when we heard they were out of New Orleans was accompanied by almost instant overwhelming exhaustion. We went and met up with Stephen (their son living in Baton Rouge) and drove down to see them. It was so wonderful.

Glenn's mum, Renette, sent the email below to all their friends and family, and it tells a little part of their story. So I'm going to leave you with her words while I head off to bed.


Rose Vines

All our extended family evacuees have been accounted for and scattered at various places, some still waiting to be picked up by relatives. I have 7 at my house. Joe and Candy [Glenn's brother and sister-in-law] have 13. We are both fortunate to have power, as we know many in the area are still without.

My most exciting news is that Glenn, Ann, and Lisa are finally at Joe's home as of this Friday afternoon. We all cried tears of joy after no communication available except for a couple of text messages Glenn was able to get through to his son Stephen. He let everyone know that he would be with the last group to get out of Memorial Hospital (formerly Baptist), helping to evacuate all patients first.

This is the story of their last night there. Glenn is a Communications Manager and to his dismay the generators failed on the computer systems, which were on ground level. They tried to get news via a small battery TV which they rationed the use of. Cell phones were useless, until someone discovered occasional text messaging getting through. The generators ran out of gas and food and water supplies were low, even though they had stocked up ahead. Finally it was decided that all hospitals had to be evacuated. He spent most of his time helping carry patients up a difficult stair and entrance to the heliport above the hospital garage. Ann and Lisa tried to help with patients and little Lisa (13) fanned patients in the hallways and watched two die. The nurses really bragged about how brave she was. Everytime a helicopter came in they brought military meals and water, so they were well supplied, and the cute thing is that Lisa was happy to show them how to eat military meals (one past school event). Having heard how dehydrated many others were, I had been concerned.

Well, last night they were scheduled to be out of there but snipers began firing at the helicopters, which caused a delay, and then fog set in. The National Guard had left because there was only this one group on the roof and they had two hospital security guards. Then our group heard a lot of noise in the hospital, people yelling and throwing things. Looters had come by boats to loot the hospital, probably looking for drugs. The group on the roof barricaded the entrance to the heliport and then they determined they would take turns staying awake with guns pointed to the barricade. The two chief officers of the hospital, the two security guards, one man (a nurse's husband) had a gun from his service duty, so they had five guns ready to use. That is the way they spent the night on the roof. Lisa and Ann said the smell was terrible because so many evacuees had pets with them while waiting to be picked up, in addition to the stench of the water and the hospital itself, and they couldn't see to avoid it. The looters had a field day.

In the morning our group was picked up and taken to the Lakefront Airport (their helicopter was supposed to take them to New Orleans International Airport instead), which had drained dry several days ago. Glenn said it seemed like maybe 500 people were there and had been waiting days to be picked up. Quite a dilemma. When the next helicopter arrived the medical group from the hospital said they had to get on that one to follow their patients.(?) So they were taken off in front of an angry crowd, protected by Guards wielding rifles. Then they were deposited at the Moisant Airport [New Orleans International] to await a truck ride. Originally they expected to go to San Antonio but since so many people at Baton Rouge River Center had been picked up by relatives, there was room for them there. They were crowded into the back of a truck and the driver dropped my precious ones at the truck stop on 3125 and Joe and Candy quickly picked them up.

When I saw them as they were, Ann says "Granny, don't touch me." Of course, they all got hugs anyway. I thought they looked wonderful, but they could hardly wait for showers (Joe has 3 bathrooms). The one clean set of clothes had to be washed before they would use them, so they borrowed clothes and also plan to go to Wal-Mart tonight to buy an extra set, plus supplies for that big group. While I was at Joe's, he called for Candy to come help at the hospital. Emergency room is crowded. She had been stuck in Seattle 4 days and finally got a flight to Baton Rouge at night. Her car is at the N.O. airport and she used valet parking so they probably put it on the ground level. Bye, Bye car. We have an extra car here she can use.