Our Texas Conservation Corps composite disaster crew was deployed to Baton Rouge, Louisiana on September 28th, 2012. We drove 8 hours and arrived in Louisiana eager to help any way we can. Hurricane Isaac damaged 26 parishes (counties) throughout the southeast Louisiana area, many of which were affected by Hurricane Katrina as well. We arrived at the Joint Field Office – JFO in Baton Rouge on September 29th. We were amazed as to how many people were working so hard on a Saturday! We then learned that this was normal; there was so much to do. We jumped into orientation and met our leads right away. We were given information on Hurricane Isaac and our expected projects, received FEMA training, and were issued government laptops and cell phones. It was a busy first day and we were excited to start out project. We had Sunday off so we took a drive to a local Alligator festival. We got to pet a baby alligator and Will and Molly tried alligator on a stick. The day was still young so we decided to drive over to New Orleans to visit Lisa a crew leader for TxCC and the St. Louis Emergency Response AmeriCorps team. We got to see where they are living and some members gave us a tour of the town.
Back to work on Monday! We began our week learning more about the affected parishes of Southeast Louisiana. We tried to get as much information as we could so we would be educated while calling agencies that were helping with relief efforts. Our mission was to create a Disaster Assistance Guide for the Southeast Louisiana area. We had an example that was used in Galveston, Texas but we needed to make it relevant to Louisiana. We compiled a list of agencies that could help people in need of services. Our job was to contact those agencies to see if they were still able to help and had enough resources.
We had a FEMA Corps team working with us to help make the calls and to put together the Disaster Assistance Guide. It was a great experience working with them. They loved hearing stories about the outdoors work that we do and enjoyed hearing about other AmeriCorps programs that are available across the country.
We have 1424 resources entered, we made 1356 calls to agencies, and we verified 328 of those agencies called, 170 have been entered into the Coordinated Assistance Network (CAN) and 99 of those are disaster specific resources. We also made 92 calls to re-verify the agencies’ resources and 46 of those were verified as quality resources.
We all got a taste of office work with FEMA. There is a birthday probably once a week which means cake! We were also here around Halloween so everyone has baskets of candy on their desks to share. The crew and I quickly understood what “FEMA 40” meant, there were snacks everywhere! Everyone in the office gives us FEMA hugs and their little hotel toiletries bottles because they felt bad we are sleeping on cots and all living together. Of course we are used to these living conditions, (sometimes worse!) but we never turn down free gifts and hugs. Everyone is so friendly and happy around the office. It seems like they really enjoy what they are doing.
We got to explore Louisiana and go on some adventures as well. We took a weekend and traveled to New Orleans. Some of us had never spent any significant amount of time there so we walked around the French quarter, took the ferry across the river and explored canal st. When we first arrived to our hotel a few of the girls jumped on the bed right away because we hadn’t slept on a real bed for a while at that point. Well, I decided to do the same. When I heard “jump on the bed, Anna”, I assumed it meant jump up and down, so I did. Apparently I jumped too hard and the bed split in half. In my defense, the frame was made out of particle board and it looked like it had cracked before. Leave it to me to cause a scene. This past weekend Will and I went on a 3 mile hike around Indian Bayou in the Atchafalaya Wildlife refuge area. We saw an eagle, 4 alligators and many new trees species; it was a wonderful day in nature!
Overall, we have had a wonderful experience down in the Bayou. We got to experience a different side of disaster work and see how part of FEMA works. This has been an experience we will never forget.
Anna Marini, Crew Member[slideshow]