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."
Law enforcement agencies are participating in a "Louisiana Heroin Summit," designed to address the recent rise in heroin use and drug-related deaths around the state.
State education officials are preparing to release performance scores for public schools and public school districts.
Saints coach Sean Payton is starting a new week by emphasizing, repeatedly, the many good things he noticed during New Orleans' latest loss.
Tuesday's Blogs from the Bog!
Oscar de la Renta dies; Pistorius sentenced; World Series begins and more national and international news for Tuesday, October 21, 2014.
We will be offering our recommendations on the constitutional amendments tomorrow.
The justices did not comment in leaving in place lower court rulings that dismissed the lawsuits against BP and other companies involved in the worst U.S. offshore oil spill.
White registration is down by 7,700 voters while black registration has shot up by 7,100 voters.
Even though it had been rumored for months, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu finally pulled the trigger recently on a major campaign shakeup that moved control over to a few Big Easy insiders.
Louisiana's health department says it will seek law changes to stop billing sexual assault victims for exams and tests.
It wasn’t the historic slashes to higher ed funding or the ensuing tuition spikes that recently had LSU’s student body and faculty riled up in collective outrage.
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Saints tight end Jimmy Graham said Friday he expects his playing status in Detroit to be decided by coach Sean Payton on Sunday, shortly before the game.
Lawmakers have sidestepped a decision on whether they accept claims from Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration that the state closed last year's books with a nearly $179 million surplus.
Coming off the high of a fourth quarter comeback against Tampa Bay and a helpful bye week, linebacker Junior Galette sees a real turnaround coming for New Orleans' struggling defense.
Former President Bill Clinton, the Democratic Party's most popular surrogate this fall, is heading to Louisiana early next week for a campaign rally with U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.
Time and again you hear people say DA Mike Harson is unbeatable because he's doled out political favors over the past 20 years. But a new lawsuit could end that speculation.
After the season's signature win (so far), here are some helpful tips for Cajun Nation during the conference stretch.
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Practicing without limitations on Wednesday, running back Mark Ingram looked ready to return to a New Orleans offense that once again ranks among the NFL's best when the Saints play at Detroit on Sunday.
It’s been decided: Superintendents of Louisiana’s public school system will retain the controversial powers granted by Act 1 of the 2012 session.
Louisiana Treasurer John Kennedy has a bone to pick with the Jindal administration, which recently — surprise! — announced that the state ended the most recent budget year with a $178.5 million dollar surplus.
The messaging battle, however, isn't tied to individual campaign accounts. Third-party groups have poured millions of dollars into advertising.
With her political future in jeopardy, Sen. Mary Landrieu is turning to a natural constituent base in her re-election bid.
Terrance Broadway threw for a touchdown and rushed for 113 yards to lead Louisiana-Lafayette to a 34-10 victory over Texas State on Tuesday night.