September 11, 2005
The Banana Connection

The following is another report from the George R. Brown Convention Center by Melissa Noriega, sent to me on Saturday morning. Here's the first report, which I highly recommend if you haven't seen it already.

Last week went by in such a whoosh; I didn’t get anything out, but let me share a little with you this morning. (My friends get emails from me at 3-4-5 in the morning—I think it is a product of getting older.)

Debit Cards
Friday was Red Cross Day. The administration and the media put out information that is sometimes unclear, partial or untrue, and the rumors about debit cards and vouchers sends waves of folks to the Dome area or the George R. Brown to cope with. On Friday, there were thousands of folks on the sidewalk outside, but the GRB and Rick were ready. They commandeered the whole end section for the Red Cross effort—the folks outside got moved inside as quickly as they could go through a metal detector wanding. They had an area to sit and fill out the paper, an area to get the facts verified and then to the computer folks to get their cards. The cards were not “hot” for a few hours—they had to load up and queue through the computer process somewhere else, I think. They moved 2000 folks before noon. It was incredible. The FEMA staff and Red Cross both ran out of the actual plastic cards.

(I keep using these silly adjectives like “awesome,” but I cannot convey to you the level of both skill and will that drive the quality of the activities taking place at the GRB. I have been shocked at how little coverage there has been about it—everyone is talking about Reliant Center, but there is a CenterPoint team at GRB that is second to none. People still think they are the same company, but they are not. Remember that the next time your summer electricity bill comes through—these folks really deliver in an emergency and deserve some credit. EVERYONE down there, and there is a list—Second Baptist, CenterPoint, Marathon, SBC, HLSR, the beauty parlor lady—everyone has been brilliant and worked until out on their feet.)

Honduran Connection to New Orleans
There is also a Honduran thing going on—I didn’t know anything about it and I want to share it with la familia here:

The Honduran-New Orleans connection is apparently long-lasting and quite intertwined. It is about bananas. We have been hearing reports that there were Hondurans somewhere in a hotel for several days, and a few days ago Rep Scott Hochberg took a team out to find 150 Hondurans in 7 rooms of a motel, several seriously injured and children sick. They were brought to our attention by several sources, including some brave professional women, the consul and a prominent local Latino attorney, who called us after finding them. Somewhere in there the mayor heard about them, and he called, too, and they bused them where they needed to go—shelter, hospital—in the middle of the night.

The Honduran consul volunteer explained to me that generations from Honduras have moved freely back and forth to NOLA. The capitol city is sister-city with New Orleans, and the bananas have shipped through New Orleans forever. Folks travel back and forth; families are US citizens or are Honduran or both. They have an independence festival about this time in NOLA—they are a long standing integral component of New Orleans life that I didn’t know about. (Thanks Gloria, Mary Alice, Michael, Scott, Olga and others. Tú sabes—you know who you are!)

My fear is that there are other pockets of Latinos—legal or illegal—that we are missing in this fury. America’s folks that don’t show and don’t demand on TV. If any of you know about groups of folks out there, call somebody. The International Red Cross from Latin America showed up yesterday. Maybe that will help.

Shelter to Services
The GRB is moving slowly but surely from a shelter to a services shop. The configuration was decidedly different yesterday—the area that had the Country Store (That’s what they called it) and the barbershop/beauty parlor was gone or drastically reduced. I found out later that the hair place was moved over by the 80 showers on the med end. They will shut down Saturday. People are moving out to housing pretty quickly. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo volunteers are doing the people-moving on a case-by-case basis and getting it done.

I want to make a point here—the companies and the church folk have sent their very best, not the employee that they could spare. The guy entering data next to you in the Ops Center of the Command Center is likely to be a senior VP, and brings the skill set that goes with it. The other thing to note is how little ego folks have brought in the door. The meetings are crisp and productive, and red tape is cut quickly. (They do have a thing Rick calls the “Good Idea Fairy.” The fairies have good ideas and want someone else to do them…I confess to being one on occasion…Trying to work on it and “stay in my lane”--get whatever task I take on done before I cook up any new schemes.)

The Food Stamp area has had some problems—the legislature has cut the budget over several cycles so they only mostly have call centers, and there are not enough people to work a crisis like this. They pulled staff out of hospitals and got going, but the line was woeful. Rep Garnet Coleman was up here trying to get it streamlined, and helped a bunch. We also called Rep John Davis, who was the chair of the subcommittee that reorganized HHS, and he got the state folks on the phone to us to get some help. I am checking on that today. Note to people out there—elections have consequences, and when you diminish government to the point that you have no institutional knowledge or live staff, you get in trouble in a situation like this.

I must head back up there—they are busing guests to the arena area and back to get their cards, starting at 6 AM. Make no mistake—it is work for these folks to be evacuees…there is LOTS to do and keep up with. Love to all and God bless,

Melissa Noriega

Once again, my sincere thanks to Melissa and Rick Noriega for their service and for keeping us informed about what's happening.

(Regular blogging on my part will resume tomorrow.)

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 11, 2005 to Hurricane Katrina | TrackBack

"The guy entering data next to you in the Ops Center of the Command Center is likely to be a senior VP, and brings the skill set that goes with it".

Biting my tongue here...

Posted by: Ray on September 11, 2005 8:27 PM