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RED CROSS TAKES ACTION

Boats blown out of water litter the shoreline. ().
Boats blown out of water litter the shoreline. ().

Pilot story by

Valliant Corley and Joe Friedrichs

Photos courtesy of

Terri Bangs

Terri Bangs of Brookings recently met a man in Louisiana who owes his life to a dog.

"We had all kinds of stories told to us from the evacuees," she said. "One gentleman came in after his dog had saved his life, twice."

The morning Hurricane Katrina struck, the man was sleeping in his New Orleans home. His dog began acting very excited and he couldn't figure out why. Eventually he got up to see what was the matter and discovered a foot of water in his house.

When he opened the front door, water began pouring in like a faucet filling a plugged sink.

"This man and his dog then swam for an hour and half until they could find dry land" Bangs said. "That's when the dog saved his life again."

As the man attempted to climb aboard a tiny strip of land not yet underwater, a cottonmouth was swimming in his direction. The dog attempted to swim between his owner and the snake. The dog was bitten by the poisonous snake.

When the man showed up at the shelter in Covington, La., where Bangs was located, he was dazed, confused and his dog was slowly dying.

After help from Bangs and others through the Red Cross, the man got better and the dog survived.

Volunteers from around the country and across the world rushed to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, many of whom lost all their possessions, said Karyn Dagenais, who recently returned to Brookings from Louisiana where she spent three weeks as a Red Cross volunteer.

"One woman I met said she had been through seven days of hell. Then on the eighth day, she went to the Red Cross and found heaven," Dagenais said.

"She lost everything, absolutely everything," Dagenais said of the refugee. "She lost her house, her possessions, absolutely everything."

Dagenais is the American Red Cross disaster action team leader for Curry County. She was one of five Curry County Red Cross volunteers to travel to the hurricane disaster area to help provide relief shortly after the storm.

Dagenais and other Red Cross volunteers staffed a booth at the Curry County Home & Leisure Show at the county fairgrounds over the weekend, telling visitors of some of their experiences, seeking volunteers and donations to carry on the Red Cross work.

Dagenais and Bangs left for Louisiana on Aug. 29. Dagenais returned Sept. 19 and Bangs two days later.

"One of the things that's hard to get over when something like this happens is the come down," Bangs said. "While we're there we're really strong and then when you get back the emotional toll sets in.

"You have to walk around for a few days to get your bearings straight."

Dagenais said her efforts included a lot of travel.

"I was all over the state of Louisiana," she said. "I flew into Houston. It was difficult to get into Baton Rouge" where she worked out of the Louisiana headquarters for the American Red Cross.

"I was working in public affairs … helping make sure things were going well for the evacuees in the shelters," she said.

"I worked with Gov. Kathleen Blanco on her visit to Monroe," she said, where a shelter was set up for long term care.

"People were able to get prescriptions refilled, they had a post office, they had banks – pretty much what you would see at a lot of the shelters," she said.

Jim Emerick, also of Brookings, worked out of a shelter in Salt Lake City that was set up to help evacuees.

Approximately 700 people were flown in from the Superdome to receive care.

"They didn't quite know what to expect," he said. "Some of them have never been out of New Orleans all their lives."

Some of the evacuees who arrived in Salt Lake City were so impressed they decided to make it their permanent home.

"One guy woke up his first morning there and said ‘I'm staying here'," Emerick said. "He was so impressed and kept calling for everyone to come and look at the mountains. It was great."

Dagenais said the Red Cross is providing emergency food and shelter, medical care and mental health services for those who stayed in the shelters and those who chose to stay outside until Federal Emergency Management officials or private insurers could take over.

"Katrina was the largest natural disaster in 125 years of Red Cross history," she said.

"I worked with a lot of evacuees," Dagenais said.

She said Katrina affected people of every economic status and race.

"It did not discriminate," she said.

"People left with only the clothes on their backs," she said. "You didn't understand their situation until you talked to them."

She said she met one man who was in New Orleans and, for some reason, did not evacuate.

"He woke up. He was in bed and felt the water rising. He got his wife out the window and got himself out the window. The water was rising and she lost his grip and she drowned," Dagenais said.

Residents forced out of their own homes were helping others, she said.

"People who had nothing were there helping other people who had nothing," she said. "It restored my faith. People who were devastated were helping others who lost everything."

Emerick said two people who met during the evacuation process ended up getting married in Salt Lake City.

The couple first met in Louisiana only days after the hurricane hit. The man apparently asked for a cigarette and the woman ignored him. On the plane to New Orleans, they met again.

In less than a month, the couple was engaged to be married.

Dagenais said she was at a shelter in Lake Charles where the mayor called a town meeting and was welcoming evacuees.

"The community was so welcoming because in the past they had experienced devastation from hurricanes. You saw officers playing with children," she said.

"Then (Hurricane) Rita devastated the Lake Charles area and the evacuees had to be moved again. Plus, the people who were helping the evacuees were now evacuees themselves."

Dagenais said members of the International Red Cross were there, too, helping people locate relatives who had been evacuated elsewhere.

"There were Red Cross volunteers from Peru, Norway, Germany, Italy – from all over the world," she said.

"In the time I was gone, the Oregon Pacific Chapter (of the Red Cross) trained 300 volunteers," she said. "The need is going to be there for a very long time."

Dagenais said that while she was in Louisiana, people would come up to volunteers on the street and thank them.

"The Red Cross is people," she said. "Some people choose to donate their time, some choose to donate their money. It's a very dedicated group of people."

She said that 91 cents of every dollar donated to the Red Cross goes directly to relief.

Now that many of the Red Cross volunteers have had a chance to return home and gather their senses after the storm, a time to reflect has arrived.

"It was great when we started seeing success stories at the end," Bangs said. "To see families back together. Once people realized it wasn't the end of their lives, they started to pick back up."

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