With much of the city of New Orleans still in chaos, Houston continues to play a major role in Hurricane Katrina relief operations. It’s the home of a regional Red Cross office that’s become a temporary nerve center for coordinating the movement of food, supplies and volunteers into affected areas.
At the Southwest Area Service Center in Houston, the Red Cross’ Margaret O’Brien-Molina takes a break to hug a man slumped in a seat in the lobby. The man’s name is Donald Robinson, from Metarie, Louisiana, and he’s been on the road since Sunday.
It’s a story that’s been repeated over and over, as refugees show up here looking for assistance. There’s no immediate aid for them here, but they are told where they can find shelter and food in other parts of town. What this center does do is coordinate logistics for relief efforts in five states, including much of Louisiana. The staff has been working long hours, manning phones and ordering food, supplies and manpower for areas affected by Hurricane Katrina.
Dozens of mobile food kitchen trucks have left from the center over the past few days. They’re on the way to find victims who are quickly running out of food. Across town, inside a hotel ballroom near Houston’s main airport, hundreds of cots and blankets are folded neatly. They stretch into a row of makeshift beds that amount to a hurricane shelter for volunteers. Some are headed out the door, on their way to the disaster area.
Leah Crace is the Red Cross’ staff services administrator. She’s in charge of the processing center where volunteers check-in and get their assignments. They’ll head out in teams, with their primary mission to distribute food, water shelter and basic medical care for evacuees who have been left with nothing.
Retired Navy nurse Pat Bull flew in from San Diego about a day ago and is on her first Red Cross assignment. She’s been told to expect a rough time. Bull and hundreds of others won’t be in Houston long. Turnaround for most volunteers is less than 8 hours. The Red Cross expects this relief effort to cost upwards of $130 million, the largest in the organization’s history.