On the morning of August 29th, 2021, at 11:55 AM, Hurricane Ida made landfall in the Lower Lafourche Parish near Port Fourchon in Southeastern Louisiana. Hurricane Ida made landfall as a Category 4 Hurricane with sustained winds of 150mph and a minimum pressure of 930 mb (27.46 inches). Grand Isle saw storm surge up to 10 feet, while an hour and 48 minutes to the West, Dulac saw wind gusts as high as 138 mph. Galliano, an hour East of Dulac, saw wind gusts as high as 121 mph. 24 hours after making landfall, Hurricane Ida weakened to a tropical storm and left catastrophic damage across all of Southeastern Louisiana.
Getting the call and going to Louisiana
In the Afternoon hours on September 12th, 2021, I received a call from the American Red Cross while grocery shopping in Altus, Oklahoma. The ARC volunteer asked if I was interested in helping with Disaster Relief Operations in Louisiana. I instantly replied back by saying "Absolutely! I can be there in 3 days!". Soon I'd be trading the beautiful views of Southwestern Oklahoma for destroyed communities in Southeastern Louisiana in hopes of being able to make a difference and
help residents return back to a normal life. On the Morning of September 15th, 2021, as the clock struck 8AM, I was awoken by my alarm. The day was finally here. The day I'd be flying to Louisiana to make a difference had arrived. I arrived at the Lawton-Fort Sill Regional Airport at 10:04 AM and by 10:49 AM I was in the air headed to New Orleans, Louisiana. I arrived in New Orleans at 2:34 PM and went to the staging area that the
American Red Cross had setup. From here I received my mission details. Originally I was assigned to a shelter in Jefferson Parish. However, the following day on September 16th, I was informed that I had been transferred to a shelter in Larose, Louisiana. This shelter was brand new and had yet to be setup. When I found out that I had been transferred I was filled with elation. I now had the opportunity to setup my own shelter
and run it from the ground up. That night I bought some incredible soul food from Redberry's Hotplates & Po'boys in Holly Grove and went over the Incident Action Plan that the American Red Cross had sent me to familiarize myself with what was occurring pertaining to disaster relief in Southeastern Louisiana.
Making a difference
My alarm went off at 4:45 AM the next day on September 17th. I had set the alarm so early because I had an hour and 30 minute drive to the shelter from New Orleans. I had to be at the Larose Civic Center by 8 AM to setup the entire shelter. This was important because at 12PM that same day we were expecting over 60 people as another shelter
had recently shut down and those civilians were being relocated to this one. This is when I met a woman named Pam. Pam had flown into Louisiana from Colorado to perform Disaster Relief Operations. Together we worked out a plan where I taped off 6 by 10 areas so that each shelter resident could have there own space and she put together
cots. By 10:41 AM, we had setup the entire gym, however, there was one problem. Heavy rain began impacting the unincorporated town of Larose and as a result our shelter began leaking heavily due to damage caused by the Hurricane.
Since the National Guard was at the shelter handing out supplies to residents in the area, we requested their assistance in stopping the leak. The National Guard came up with a great idea by using a large blue tarp to capture the water that came into the building and then they used a hose to drain the water
back outside. As light to heavy storms continued to come into the area, the leaking continued to become more worse. Now instead of one area leaking, we had several areas all over the shelter leaking. Pam and I quickly worked to try and mitigate the other leakages. At 12 PM, the residents from the previous shelter that had just shut down
had arrived. For the next 7 hours I worked with our new shelter residents to get them signed in and accommodated with their new living spaces. I regularly checked up on the shelter residents for the next 2 weeks every 2 hours to see what needs they had and how I could meet those needs for them.
On the morning of September 18th, our shelter only had 4 volunteers including myself from the American Red Cross working in the shelter. We had very minimal supplies, no nurse, and had multiple shelter residents in need of medical supplies and medical assistance. In the afternoon hours a semi brought much needed supplies. As a result
we were able to meet the needs of some of the shelter residents. The following day as I walked into the shelter I noticed one of my shelter residents, Alvin, struggling to walk and not making sense. I immediately told him to sit down and ran to get an EMT that was onsite. As a result of this quick thinking I was able to get him to a
hospital were they learned that he had become dehydrated. During this process I made sure to keep Alvin calm by joking around with him and getting clothes and any other item he may have needed. While doing inventory, I realized that we still didn't have enough supplies for everyone,
especially children. Marcela (ARC Volunteer) and myself went to a Walmart in Galliano where we purchased items that our shelter residents needed. Most of these items were health products for both adults and babies. At 2:16 PM, our power was cut as the owner of the building attempted to switch to a new generator. During this time our shelter was hit with heavy rain, causing rain to leak into the building. Our shelter had also fallen victim to theft in the past 24 hours so I began walking each aisle making sure that everyone was alright while monitoring for anything out of place. Power came on shortly after and
we resumed normal operations. Once we resumed normal operations word got out that I had graduated college majoring in Emergency Management earlier in May of 2021. I began having people come up to me asking questions about the Public Assistance process with FEMA and what to do if they were unfortunately denied. During this process I was able to get 5 individuals in touch with FEMA contractors to look at homes and to start that PA process.
After this, a woman with 5 children came into our shelter. She had been told that we were taking in new residents, but the reality was that we were overfilled with residents. Volunteers had no idea what to do and that is when I opened my IAP and found a bunch of shelters open that she could contact. I asked for her information and sent her two pages worth of shelters that were open in Southeastern Louisiana. Over the next few days work continued as normal. By September 22nd, our shelter was still running solely on a generator. Larose in it's entirety
was without power. Almost all of Southeastern Louisiana was still without power and resources were not expected to be in the area for a while to restore power. While working on September 22nd I had a volunteer come up to me and tell me how amazed they were that I remembered everyone's name and the volunteer loved how I communicated with each shelter resident. I remember responding by saying "Most of these people have lost everything. This is mostly a medical shelter and because of that it's best to treat them with respect and as if they were family. This could easily be any one of us."
My final days in Louisiana
The next day on September 23rd, Cajuns who lived across the street from the Civic Center made all of us homemade Jambalaya. This was the first time I had ever had Jambalaya and because of it, I now love eating Jambalaya. Louisiana cooking sure is awesome! During the day I helped an elderly man named Linton whom I had become close with set up his phone so that he could talk to
his family while he was in the shelter. He had lost his original phone on his way to the shelter back on September 17th. Mr. Linton was always very thankful whenever I helped him and I am thankful that our paths crossed so that I could assist him in a time of need when he was at his lowest. I was given the day off on September 24th and I never realized how bored I'd be doing nothing all day. All throughout the day, my mind was
constantly thinking about what my shelter residents were up to and if everything was going fine at the shelter. The next day my supervisor told me that I had incredible social skills. She was shocked to hear that this was my first deployment considering how well I had done. My final day of Disaster Relief Operations were performed on September 26th. Every shelter resident in the shelter had gotten to know me really well over the past two weeks and they were all saddened to see me leave. Some even begged me to stay, which I would have, but I missed my dogs back in Southwestern Oklahoma and knew it was time to head back home. In total, I worked over 161 hours in two weeks
performing disaster relief operations in Louisiana. I woke up at 7 AM on September 27th and headed back home. Later that afternoon storms began to form in Tillman County, Oklahoma, and as if nothing ever happened I was back to doing what I do best in Oklahoma and that's mitigate, prepare, respond to, and recover from disasters.
About the writer: Michael Thornton graduated from Rose State College majoring in Emergency Management. Currently, he is the Director for Tillman County Emergency Management and is an Oklahoma Emergency Management Association member.