Friday, September 23, 2005

EMAIL FROM A VOLUNTEER

after obtaining and distributing items needed by evacuees in the person's own town for 2 weeks straight, this person went to NOLA to rescue pets from homes - the email writer wished to remain anonymous because the person wants the focus to remain on those in need, including the volunteers still in the area :

I am back from New Orleans last night due to mandatory evacuation for Hurricane Rita. Everyone including all volunteers had to be out by 8AM Wednesday morning. We were a little late on that deadline...but there was so much to do!

I don't think that I can express in words what I've seen the past few days...I've been very emotional since I got home and find myself crying at odd times and for no apparent reason...I'm not usually this way.

Coming into the city there are checkpoints you have to clear...if you don't have a legit reason to be there you'll be turned back. Luckily I was working in conjunction with a National Guard unit. As soon as I arrived at the staging area...a tent city in a parking lot...I was given a cardboard box with dog food, city map, can of spray paint, permenant marker, sledge hammer, leashes, paper collars (like vets use to write info on that you put on the animal), four addresses of homes in the 9th ward that had animals inside...I was already carrying a case of bottled water and IV setups. I was told to enter with whatever means necessary...we had owner's permission. Upon leaving I had to mark on the front door (spray paint/pens)the date, what & how many animals I removed,where they were taken and any bodies I discovered. The interiors of these homes had not been searched by search/rescue/body recovery teams yet.

I've only been to New Orleans a few times...then only in the French Quarter area so I was not at all familiar with where I was going. Using the map was helpful to a certain extent as I had to go around so much debris and a few times had to stop a block from the address and walk in. The roads are only cleared in certain places...usually wide main streets...debris just pushed to the side so emergency vehicles can get through. This particular section was fairly dry but low areas under overpasses had deep standing water. Although I have a four wheel drive jeep (water came up to the doors)...I was still worried about what was under the water...this was no place to get a flat tire or get stuck here. . . .

I'll try to explain what I saw: debris & lots of it...everywhere (wood, tree limbs,furniture.roofs,trash of all kinds) downed power lines and poles, dead animals,vehicles everywhere that had been under water. There is a grey dried mud coating on everything. The smell is unbelievable...I kept Vick's in my nose the whole time. The whole city is like a ghost town...spooky,desolate and unbelievably quiet! At night it is the darkest of dark! When animals see a vehicle they follow...I guess they were strays before the storm as you couldn't get close to them but I dropped food and water as I went through.

At the first address I banged on the door and heard barking...used my sledge hammer to knock out the whole door knob area (easier than it sounds...remember it's wood that was under water a while) and was greeted by 3 fairly large mixed breed dogs that knocked me down in their happiness to see someone. They were very thin and very dehydrated...they licked me with dry tongues. I gave them a little water and they eagerly jumped right into the vehicle. I searched the rest of the house and let me tell you it is just damn weird to be in someone's house like that! Sludge,mold,furniture,appliances...everywhere! Family photos ruined by the water...water marks high up above my head.Thank God as I left I was able to mark the door 3 dogs rescued / 0 DB.

Getting back to the vehicle to put collars on the dogs with the address where found...I notice a cat sitting in the front passenger seat. It was just surreal as the dogs were really noisy and jumping around...the cat's just sitting there calm as can be and looks at me like" I'm going with you and you can't stop me". Needless to say I had a navigator for the next few hours.

At the next stop there was no barking or sounds when I banged on the door and windows. Couldn't get through the front door as something was blocking it...found out later it was the refridgerator. Broke a window on the side to get in. Nothing downstairs but the smell was overpowering! Upstairs on one of the beds was a little black bundle...a little poodle that I was sure was dead but when I touched it...it opened it's eyes. So weak it was unable to move. Scooped her up and checked the rest of the house...had to mark the door 1 DB this time...I cannot say anything more on that.

Started fluids on the little dog while the cat supervised...decided to go back to the staging area now as this little dog needed immediate vet attention and come back. Upon returning and getting the animals I had to the vet tent I was told there was a meeting going on and everyone had to be there. They were discussing the new hurricane(Rita) heading this way. The plan was to stop rescue ops and concentrate on evacuating all the animals we had now (about 300 dogs, alot of cats, and other small pets) to the Gonzales shelter...and then come back after this storm came through.

We immediately started loading animals on trucks, trailers, etc and moved them out all through the night and following day. Critical patients were evacuated by helicopter to LSU vet school. I made the trip with the little poodle and last I heard the doctor said she would probably make it...it was very close! I said goodbye to my little navigator as he drove away in a sheriff's suburban...paws on the dash...sirens wailing!

On the trip home had to stop at a car wash (National Guard soldier recommended this) and wash my vehicle completely...especially the undercarriage...we didn't want to take this toxic sludge home with us! I cried almost all the way home. I just kept thinking of all the poor little souls we couldn't get to because of the evacuation...it just breaks my heart!

When I finally got home my little dog was so happy to see me but I greeted her through the screen porch...didn't want her in contact with my 3 day clothing and whatever it carried. Wanted to hug her so badly!!! Stripped on the porch and showered with lysol and then soap. Sprayed my tent, pack, etc, also.

Being home I realised the simple conveniences we take for granted...a cool place to sleep, running water, light, and ice! At this time I'm not sure if I'll go back, as much as I want to. I feel emotionally drained....physically I'm in pain...and finances are low. Maybe after I rest...some of them have been out there since a few days after the storm. They've not had a bath or good meal, sleeping on concrete (when they can), fighting the heat & mosquoitos,for almost a month now... but they keep going...God bless them!!

Please keep these heroes...the volunteers, the soldiers, the fireman, and rescue teams (animal & human) in your prayers. They undergo so much to help and ease suffering in any way they can! And please a special prayer for the little animals we were not able to get back to...may God ease their suffering and have a special place waiting for them. . . .