September 05 2005
I got this email today from some people ministering inside the Astrodome. It's really long, but worth the read when you have time.

Went to the assignment desk, and the leader told us to go to the
other end of the stadium, where we could help by registering
evacuees as they came in from the buses. The floor of this old
baseball stadium (previous home of the Houston Astros) was filled
with stretchers, and there were already people trying to sleep,
after traveling all night on the bus from New Orleans. But at
this point it's an emotionally cold perspective, a look from
afar, separated from human feelings of suffering, loss and despair.

All evacuees have to register, by filling out a one-pager, and
are given a pink "hospital" wristband to wear. I signed up an
18 year old girl, who also listed her baby daughter (one year old),
and her fiancée. The form asks whether the home was damaged,
and she said quite simply, "Every home is flooded and damaged
in New Orleans." She was an extraordinarily pretty girl.

Later came a man, age 39, with his dad, age 79. Just the two of
them had been living together in the Big Easy before the big
flood. He recounted that he had to swim a few miles to safety;
because the water was 10 ft deep in places (we saw pictures on TV
of flood levels up to the eaves of houses). The form asked
whether medical assistance was required. The old man said, yes,
he felt his body was infected by the "bad" water. Then added
he was a diabetic, and his son nodded. Then added he was on
blood pressure tablets, but had to leave his tablets when they
rushed to escape the flood. His son nodded. Then the old man
added he also had a bad heart, to which the son replied,
"I didn't know you had a bad heart!" Finally, the young man
announced that the worst of the swim was the bodies he
encountered in the water!

Another family I signed up had 6 children, ranging from 26 years
to 1 year. The husband had a daughter whose name started with
"Qu", but I couldn't get it, so I asked him to spell it.
But he couldn't, and he finally asked his wife to spell it,
after lamenting to himself, "That's terrible, when a man can't
spell his own daughter's name."

One of the frustrations is when an evacuee needs to know
something, and we volunteers don't know the answer.
Several evacuees had asked me where the showers were, but I
couldn't find anyone who knew. Finally I asked around
until I found them. Then I located a large pink poster sheet,
wrote the directions on it, and taped it above the main entrance.
Then I walked around and told all the volunteers, so they
could pass the info along if asked.

A volunteer asked me if I could take a very short man to the
men's bathroom. While I was processing this, the little
man explained that he was mostly blind, and wouldn't be
able to find his way back if he went alone. So I was glad to take
him. When we returned, he told me he was waiting for his brother
to come back, after going out to buy some drugs from a
drugstore. He asked me where he should wait, so that his brother
would find him. I did some analysis, and told him to latch onto
a stretcher near the "Lost and Found desk", and this represented
the best chance for his brother to find him. Many questions came
from folks who feel displaced and confused, and we discovered
this was an important way to help.

The "Lost and Found" desk refers to people who have lost loved
ones, or Houston residents who were trying to locate friends
who came on the buses. There are bulletin boards that filled up
continuously throughout the day, with little notes to lost
loved ones. As well, some folks walked around the stadium holding
up placards, with names on them, hoping the names would be seen
and recognized. Seemed like shades of 911.

Sandy walked up to me, sweating and disappointed. She was a very
large lady (size 4X she told me later). She said this wasn't
at all what she expected, and did not want to stay in the
Astrodome. She was arthritic, and would have a lot of trouble
getting in and out of a low-lying stretcher. She knew one family
in Houston, and felt they would have her stay there, but she
didn't have their telephone number. I called 411 on my cell phone,
found the family, but only got a voicemail. She cried. We
walked her to a chair, then got her a coke, and went to see
about a change of clothes, because all she got out with was
what she had on. I found a 5X shirt in the men's pile of clothes
being given out (the corporate sponsorship everywhere seemed
to be terrific). And we found a VERY large pair of men's jeans.
Sandy wanted to take a shower more than anything. Red Cross
had been giving out a bag of toiletries, but they were all gone.
I saw a family, with two youngsters, and several bags of toiletries,
and asked them if they could spare one bag for a lady who had
nothing. They graciously shared with Sandy, and I felt that
was pretty cool: one family of victims sharing with another.
I went back and tried to call Sandy's friends once again,
but still no reply. More tears. When we left the Astrodome,
we engaged another volunteer to be responsible for Sandy,
to call every hour to try to locate the friends. I felt
this was definitely the best solution.

Jessica was also very large, but I would say only about 25. She
waved me over as I walked past, and asked if I could bring her
some supper from upstairs because she couldn't walk. Second
Baptist, the largest Baptist church in Houston, stepped
up to the plate, and agreed to arrange food for the thousands of
evacuees in the Astrodome. This is where many of the churches
absolutely shine: they are practical as well as spiritual. She
had stepped on broken glass when she was escaping the flood in
New Orleans, and the foot was infected. We got her food, and she
"inhaled it." My friend got her a wheelchair, and rolled her
to the medical center.

When the nurse arrived, Jessica told him about the foot,
then leaned forward and whispered in his ear. I asked Jessica,
after the nurse was gone, whether she was diabetic. She said
"No, I have AIDS." After I wheeled her into the waiting area,
from where they would take her to the clinic, I asked how she
had escaped the flood. She said she waded for several miles
through water that was between her waist and her neck! During
that incredible wade, she said she came across six bodies!

The need at the Astrodome is very great. But we can make a
difference. Three very young girls ran up and warmly hugged my
friend as she was leaving: a neat little "thank you" at the
end of a hard day for us, but what has turned out to be a
tragedy in the lives of thousands of folks now crammed like
sardines onto the floor of a baseball stadium!