Ok, I'm too lazy to type up a whole different report for y'all so here's a copy and paste from my blog.
Generators and chainsaws. Those are the sounds of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Everywhere you go you are never away from the hum of a generator or the buzzing of a chainsaw.
I had heard about a guy through my Land Rover Club that had been making aid trips into the rural areas of the Gulf Coast. Places where the Red Cross and FEMA hadn’t shown up or had left before things were totally self-sufficient. I got in touch with him and volunteered my truck and time over the weekend. He was grateful and asked me to organize things in Austin to bring out with me. I posted pleas for goods to take with me and my wife did the same in her homeschooling groups. My friend Chris also posted a request for donations on the Defender website he runs. We received over $1600 in monetary donations and almost 1/2 a trailer load of goods. On Thursday before I was to leave we went to Costco and got over $1100 in supplies, finishing off filling the trailer. We kept the rest of the money in reserve in case we found a need that needed immediate cash while there.
On Friday morning I finished packing the truck and headed out for Covington, LA on the north shore of Lake Ponchatrain. Chris would be flying to Birmingham to pick up a new Defender and drive down to meet me in Covington. The drive to LA was long and tiring. Just as I got up onto the I-10 causeway east of Lafayette it started raining. No, make that pouring. The causeway is 20 miles long with no where to pull over. I was riding in my truck with no sides and no windows. I got soaked along with my bag of clothes in the backseat. It stopped raining for a a bit west of Baton Rouge and I got stuck in a horrendous traffic jam of people heading back into New Orleans. As I idled through traffic I was wringing the water out of my clothes out my window. I heard a trucker come on the CB and say ‘You should see this guy in this Jeep down here. He’s wringing out his clothes after that storm back there.’ I jumped on and said ‘Yeah, it got a little wet.’ He asked where I was headed and I told him I had a trailer of food and supplies for rural areas and several of the truckers commented on how cool that was. I hooked up with their convoy and they escorted me the rest of the way in to Covington.
I arrived in Covington around 21:00. Our base was the farm of a friend of Charles. The house was undamaged by the hurricane but almost every tree was down near the house. We’re talking huge pecans 3 and 4 feet across at the trunk. The farm had no electricity and I was told that they’d probably not have any for at least another 6-8 weeks. They had a couple of generators to provide power for fans and to run the well pump so it wasn’t too bad. I staked out a couch inside near some fans. I decided it was way too hot inside to sleep so I dragged out my camping mat and fell asleep on the porch waiting for Chris. Chris arrived about 23:30 and we discovered they had a pool out back. It felt wonderful. After cooling off in that we managed to get a bit of sleep.
Saturday morning on the farm dawned warm and humid. Really warm and humid. At 8am while loading trucks we were sweating profusely. Shirtless was going to be the uniform for the day. It was going to be miserable. Our first stop was the local volunteer fire department. We wanted to see if there was anything they needed and to get ideas of where we should head that might need help or supplies. We left them with a few flats of juice and some very well received fresh apples. Fresh fruit is in short supply in that area. We got some addresses of folks they wanted us to check on and headed out.
Everywhere you went you were driving over downed powerlines. Power company trucks were everywhere trying to get power back and running. We made many stops checking in on older folks who either had no car or were too ill/elderly to drive. In one case an older woman couldn’t venture out for supplies because her car was crushed. We were well received wherever we went. We left gas with and older gentleman who had a generator to power his window A/C and couldn’t leave his house because he was on oxygen. We worked like dogs for several hours. I have never sweated as much as I did that day. The temps were in the mid 90’s and the humidity was about the same. I lost over 5lbs on Saturday alone. Tough way to diet.
Around 15:00 I realized we were near the farm/base and that they had that pool. I mentioned this to Chris and we said we’d mutiny if we didn’t get 5 minutes of quality time with that pool. We pulled into the farm and went straight out back, stripped, and jumped right in. A pool has never felt as good as that one did right then.
After 20 minutes of rest and gathering our wits we headed back out, this time we went north toward Franklinton, LA. We stopped in at the local police station and asked where they thought there was a need for our supplies and they pointed us to a couple of local trailer parks on the outskirts of town. They semi-jokingly said that it may not be the safest of areas.
We decided, after a quick roadside pow-wow, to head over there. To say that these folks were dirt poor would be an understatement. Some of them didn’t even have enough money to afford dirt. It was quite sobering. They were still without electricity also. They were also too poor to afford generators so were just suffering in the heat. We dropped off a lot of well received goods and some toys for the kids. Big hits were fruit cups, vienna sausages, and juices. While we were there a couple of cops from the station where we stopped checked up on us and asked if everything was okay. I guess it really was supposed to be a bad neighborhood but we didn’t get that vibe at all. Just a lot of thank yous and grateful hugs.
Our next stop was a very poor black neighborhood. We pulled up to an intersection in the middle of the neighborhood and honked our horns. Within seconds we were surrounded with folks happy to see us. We unloaded almost the balance of our food and supplies here. We gave candy and toys to the kids. One girl acted like it was Christmas and I was Santa. It was almost enough to break you down. Even though we felt safe enough we heeded the advice of the local cops and left as the sun set over the trees for our drive home. We arrived back at base well after dark.
First stop back at base was that pool.
Sunday Chris and I had to head back to Austin. I really wanted to stay but I couldn’t afford the time off from work. Charles was staying for another day or two until he ran out of supplies. There was so much to do out there and though I feel we made a difference it was really a drop in the bucket compared to the needs out there. I’d like to go back but unless I could get a full trailer load again it really wouldn’t be worthwhile.
I’m glad I did it. I’d do it again in a heartbeat if I could afford to go. Seeing the destruction was quite sobering and depressing. The people there are doing their best to make do in a bad situation. Everywhere we went we were received with open arms. Everyone seemed genuinely thankful for what we were doing. I go the impression from many folks that the Red Cross was not their favorite organization but it’s not my place to comment. Our Land Rovers performed perfectly for the entire trip and were the perfect vehicles for the job. Some areas are still inaccessible to standard cars. If you ever get the chance to do this kind of work I recommend it. I will look for these kinds of opportunities in the future. I felt I had a real purpose for a couple of days.
You can see a photo album of our trip here
. I haven’t made any notes on what you’re looking at but the photos are pretty self explanitory.
Again, thank you to everyone who donated both goods and money to this trip. Without your help it wouldn’t have been possible. You’re the real heros behind this effort.