My wife and I went down Saturday and worked with the refugees from Katrina at the Palmer Events Center. She's an RN, so there was a lot for her to do. I'm not a medical person of any sort, but there was plenty of unskilled work around.
We heard dozens of stories from the people of NO (part of the job was just to listen to those who needed to talk), but there was one clear pattern. Very few of them had seen any sort of first responder. No police, no firemen, no EMT's. The first help they saw was Coast Guard helicopters.
One of the Austin EMT volunteers said to me after they left, "I can't believe these people were abandoned by their own city." He took it personally, I think. He said that the city has responsibility for the first three days in a disaster. The first responders are supposed to have a plan good for three days, while outside response gears up.
When you get down to it, it's a miracle that some of them got out at all. A nearly deaf woman with a history of heart problems and strokes who was also a double amputee came through Palmer. Somehow, she had survived the storm, made it through the water to a truck, gotten airlifted to the airport and transported to Austin. The word "miracle" seems inadequate.
One other thing. The victims were much more gracious than they've been shown on TV. Astonishingly, they hardly complained at all, despite the numerous changes of busses and waiting and lines that they had to go through to get to us. Lots of them said they never expected to live and never expected to see a "nice place" (like our stark concrete room with cots and the arc lights overhead) again. They thanked us over and over again for taking care of them. One man said, "I hope you-all aren't having a population explosion around here". I said no, there was no explosion. He said, "good, we talked it over on the bus and we're staying."
A lot of them were really funny, too (whether they meant to be or not). When my wife went to give a man a tetanus shot she said, "now take a deep breath, this is going to hurt a little". He said, "hell, ma'am, you're talking to someone who pulls his own teeth, that needle isn't going to mean a thing to me."
Rob is the author of Roborant, an excellent blog that closed down last month, featuring detailed, cogent reviews of important works of Western intellectual history. My stupid blogroll is down at the moment -- it seems to come and go capriciously -- and a google search led me to an address that didn't pan out. But if you can get to Rob's blog, you'll find it very rewarding. Rob, send us that URL!
Here's another eyewitness report from Austin's events center, this one from Damon McCullar at Burnt Orange Report.
And there's more at Austin Bloggers metablog.
Here's the central website coordinating Austin's aid efforts. Its headline reads:
"Welcome to Austin, families from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama! Our home is your home."
Amen to that.