Councilman Marc Mouton is directing a group of AmeriCorps volunteers from UL Lafayette on how to collect and deposit the donations being made by local residents from the curb. "This is not a council function," Mouton says. "This is a Red Cross function. These people are left with nothing. The idea is that we try to make them as comfortable as possible and attend to their needs. That's the part of the mission of Red Cross. You just do the best you can with what you have."
The Cajundome opened its doors at noon on Tuesday, Aug. 30, as an American Red Cross shelter. By 4 p.m. there are already 2,400 people there.
Seventy-seven year old Gladys Richardson is walking slowly up the sidewalk with a cane. Her daughter, Joann Spurlock, follows behind her with a small dog in her arms.
"Are y'all coming into the shelter?" Mouton asks.
"We're trying to get into the shelter," Spurlock says.
"Well, Rover can't go in," Mouton says.
"I know," says Spurlock. "And it's not Rover. It's Shorty. But I'm bringing my mama right here, and I got my people coming behind me. There's more than us. My little niece is in that wheelchair right there."
"Tell them to put your mama in the Mardi Gras ballroom," Mouton says. The ballroom had been designated as a room for people with special medical needs.
While her family unloads its minivan, Richardson sits down while Mouton looks for a wheelchair for her. She's a soft-spoken woman. After she introduces herself, she asks, "How you doing, baby?"
Her family evacuated on Sunday morning after New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin issued the mandatory evacuation for the city. They had been staying with her nephew in an apartment, but it was too cramped for everyone. When they learned that the shelter was open, the family decided to relocate to the Cajundome.
Spurlock says the family is from the east side of New Orleans, and Richardson starts to cry.
"I know," Spurlock says to her mother. "We're going to be all right."
"I left a lot of grandchildren back there," Richardson says. "I'm so scared."
Richardson regains her composure. She's a lifelong resident of New Orleans and experienced Hurricane Betsy in 1965. "Betsy wasn't as bad as this," she says. "Downtown was bad, but where we were staying wasn't bad. This is the worst. I can't start over again." She starts crying again. "I can't start over again. I'm sick as a dog. I got this here diabetes and heart trouble."
Spurlock says the plan is simply to stay at the shelter until they can go home. One of her nieces talks to her from New Orleans sometimes on a cell phone. "She says we can't go home. We can't do nothing. All of the lights are out in New Orleans. There's no phone. They're hungry, and the roof done blowed off of their house. We were going to Bourbon and Orleans where my sister worked, but they said that's the most dangerous place you could go. So we just got in the car, and we rode."
"Thank God for y'all," Richardson says.
"Yes, Lord," Spurlock adds.
Inside the Cajundome's administrative offices, Director Greg Davis says no events are on the books for the facility until Sept. 26. Even then, he says events can be shuffled around to assist the operations of the local Red Cross. "We have lots of time to juggle those questions," he says. "Plus we have some other space. The Mardi Gras Ballroom is about 7,000 square feet. We have the exhibit hall with 32,000 square feet, and the Festival ballroom, that's another 12,000 square feet. We have the ability to take on more than what you are seeing now, and it's our intent to be as accommodating as possible. We'll do whatever it takes, for as long as we have to."
Behind the Cajundome, numerous volunteers tend a dozen massive barbecue pits billowing with smoke, with hot dogs and hamburgers sizzling on the grill for the evening's first meal.
Inside the Cajundome, hundreds of people have already laid claim to their space, marked only by a blanket or a sleeping bag and the few personal belongings they have. Others are making their way into the first tier of stands to set up camp. Some are talking, some are napping, and others are watching the large-screen TV overhead broadcasting the latest news from New Orleans on the aftermath of the hurricane.
Tony Credeur oversees seven parishes in Acadiana as executive director of the Acadiana chapter of the American Red Cross, and he's been working since 4:30 a.m., overseeing some 125 volunteers. He says there's no end in sight. There's also no idea how long the Cajundome will be used as a shelter. "There's no way to know," he says. "It could be a few days. It could be a few weeks. It could be a few months. Nobody knows."
The shelter was scheduled to open at 1 p.m., but by noon, there were already people lining up to get inside. "It was just too hot to leave people standing outside," Credeur says. "As we get utilities brought back on, like in Baton Rouge and east of Baton Rouge, as these facilities become available we're going to be opening those as shelters and actually moving people into those areas. Our philosophy is that, as fast as we can, we want to get them closer to their homes to see what they have to do to recover. It's hard for them to do that from way out here."
The waiting is the hardest part. "We get a couple of days of sunshine," Mouton says, "and they think that they can go back. It just isn't possible."
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.
The New Orleans Saints have yet to make it official as of this writing, but popular wide receiver Lance Moore has reportedly been cut by the team to free up salary-cap space on the roster.
While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.
The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative — a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law — collapse without getting a vote in 2013.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday, March 07, 2014:
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
State lawmakers will not appeal a judge's ruling that it was improper to use $3.7 million from a probation and parole officers' retirement fund to balance the state's operating budget.
Conservatives have been losing their minds over this satirical bit on the Colbert Report.
The Lafayette Parish School Board leaves a lot to be desired, but is scrapping the election process in favor of an appointed board the answer?
The House approved legislation Tuesday night to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases.
The NFL has formally designated New Orleans' Jimmy Graham as a tight end for the purposes of his franchise tag value, which is now set at $7.05 million next season unless Graham and the Saints subsequently agree on a long-term deal.
A federal appeals panel ruled Monday that businesses don't have to prove that they were directly harmed by BP's 2010 Gulf Of Mexico oil spill to collect settlement payments.
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development has closed Interstate 10 from I-49 in Lafayette to Seigen Lane in Baton Rouge.
Jim Bernhard, who engineered the sale of The Shaw Group for $3 billion, recently has told several people involved in Democratic politics that he intends to run for governor in 2015.
A New Orleans levee board wants to hold the oil and gas industry accountable for decades of damage to our state’s coastline, but the Legislature may be poised to put the kibosh on the suit.
New standards curb elective induction
CVS stops tobacco sales
If an Acadia Parish fiddler misses a note while swatting a fly, will a St. Martinville accordionist learn “Ma ‘Tite Fille”?
(It's good, it's bad and it's just crazy)