It was the early morning of September 6, 2005, the air was hot and all 110 of us left the airport to begin our mission. We were on the ground in Fort Worth, Texas one week after Hurricane Katrina hit the city of New Orleans. I was now part of a team of 110 firefighters being sent to set up a shelter for the evacuees of the Superdome.
Conditions were horrific in the Superdome. Over 15,000 people had been taken to the Superdome after the levees were breached. However, there were not adequate supplies or personnel to handle that many evacuees. News reports broadcasted that conditions were bad but unless you were inside you could not comprehend the magnitude of the dire straits the people were facing inside. It was sheer horror.
Our team was named team Fort Worth and our mission was to turn a building at the fairgrounds into a temporary shelter, and to search the city for any evacuees. It was hot and humid when we arrived. Immediately when we arrived at the fairgrounds we found that buses were already lined up and filled with people straight from the Superdome. We began to go bus by bus and direct the tired and frightened people from the buses into the building. We were all wearing FEMA shirts because although we were all firefighters we had been requested by FEMA and now were actually now FEMA customer service agents.
The first day was long a straining; we now had an evacuation center of 500 hundred people. All of the people had spent the week at the Superdome with little to no potable water and no food to speak of. We medically checked everyone that entered the shelter and had numerous people transported to the hospitals. The situation was so bad that we had more than one bus that had someone that did not survive the trip and had passed away. As you spoke with the people the stories were that of complete horror. No media outlet even touched on how bad the conditions were. I still remember one man name Raymond telling me “Imagine being in trapped in an arena with no power or running water and having to protect your family from some of the most horrible people you could imagine.” I can still see the pain in his eyes as he spoke of the torture that woman and children faced inside and the fear he had for his family and truly believing that they would not make it out alive. Still today I remember the countless similar stories told and wonder how something so horrible could happen in a country as great as ours.
As the days passed we would continue to provide help and support to the evacuees although now we were to call them refugees. You see even though help was slow coming someone had the time to send out memos making sure the people that had been through hell and back we titled something official. The stories would continue and the shock of the reality continued as well. However the power of hope and survival started to appear as well. The people grew stronger and the talk changed to hope and desire to rebuild. It was amazing to hear after what all the people had been through, that they wanted to return home and rebuild. The fact was that New Orleans was their home, and for many of them all they had left. They had no cloths, no vehicles, no furniture and no house, but they did have the soil where it once was. The strength and determination of the people I meet to this day gives me the strength and determination to know that I will never face anything that cannot be overcome.
Fourteen days later our team would leave the center and head to a new job and new task deeper into the devastated area of the hurricane hit zone. However the people I met in Fort Worth remains in my hearts and prayers to this day. The journey had only begun for all of us but we had already created memories both good and bad that will last with us for our life time.