HomeNews & MediaFeatured StoriesAPL Staff Feel, Respond to Hurricane Katrina Devastation 

October 3, 2005

APL Staff Feel, Respond to Hurricane Katrina Devastation

When Hurricane Katrina slammed ashore on August 29, no one knew just how devastating it would be for residents of the Gulf Coast—or how the storm would have wider ramifications for people across the country. As stories of suffering, survival and generosity filled newspapers and televisions, Laboratory staff began sharing their stories too — of family who lost homes and businesses, friends and relatives who were missing, and of fellow staffers who took action to help the victims.

Cash Was Key

B. Smith of Printing Services was in the Gulf Coast region when the storm hit. He and his wife had traveled to Houma, La.—about 50 miles west of New Orleans—for a family wedding. "I flew in the Saturday before the storm hit," says Smith. "And when we realized the situation, I immediately started trying to convince the family to leave." His in-laws resisted at first, but when the mayor of Houma ordered an evacuation on Sunday, the family left for Monroe, in northern Louisiana. "We got out ahead of the storm, so we didn't see too much damage first hand," Smith says. "We were in a hotel without power for two days, and of course there was the frustration of being in that traffic, but all in all, we managed."

Smith notes that having cash proved to be extremely important because ATMs and credit cards would not work without electricity. "Cash was the key for us," says Smith. "We were able to get gas, and we ended up driving to Houston so we could fly back that Sunday." Some members of Smith's wife's family are now coping with the uncertainty of their jobs, and one lost his apartment in New Orleans. "But they were fortunate," says Smith. Houma could have suffered far worse damage if the eye of the storm had hit New Orleans directly instead of hitting Biloxi, Miss.

Floodwaters

J. Sellers of the Human Resources and Services Department, and her husband, Chad, were worried about Chad's parents and youngest sister, who live in Slidell, La., just across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans. When the family realized that Katrina was a Category 5 storm, they decided to evacuate to Savannah, Ga., where they have relatives.

"Thankfully they got out just fine," says Sellers, "but within a few days they heard their neighborhood got up to six feet of water, so they knew the damage would be extensive." They were allowed back in to see their home a week later—to find a water line nearly three feet up the walls. "So much was ruined...carpet, furniture, you name it. Even where there wasn't water, there's lots of mold and mildew," says Sellers. "It's pretty devastating." The family now has to make decisions about its home, school and jobs. "They're emotionally drained, and they have a lot to face," says Sellers. "Still, compared to many, they know they are lucky."

Camille Was No Comparison

M. Stevens of the Space Department, a New Orleans native, still has dozens of relatives in the area. Just a young girl when Hurricane Camille hit in 1969, Stevens vividly remembers the destruction left behind, including homes that "looked like they had been swept away with a large broom." When reports began to indicate that Camille was "no comparison" to Katrina's devastation, she began to worry about relatives in the area, particularly her 87-year-old aunt, V. Guillory, who was in a nursing home recovering from knee surgery. Through family networking, Stevens soon discovered that Guillory had been evacuated before the storm. (She was picked up later by relatives and is now safe in Dupont, La.)

Guillory's home got about four inches of water throughout—minor compared to homes that had several feet—but still enough to do a lot of damage. Stevens plans to go down to help clean up her aunt's home once they are allowed back into the area. (Space Department colleague and friend J. Coopersmith has offered to help.) Other relatives are also safe and accounted for, so Stevens says that although it has been an ordeal, they are "the lucky ones."

Searching for Family

D. Mallerich of the Air Defense Systems Department also worried about relatives in the area. Her brother, G. Hanemann, 91-year-old aunt, L. Mouelle, and Mouelle's caretaker, E. Phelps, rode out the storm in their seven-story New Orleans apartment building. Initially, the building weathered the storm without incident, but communications were cut off and residents were moved when flood waters began rising in the area. "For days, we had no idea where they were," says Mallerich. "It was agonizing. We had posted their names on the Red Cross site and were just hoping."

Hope turned to relief several days later, when the family received a cell phone call from Phelps, letting them know that she and Hanemann had been evacuated to a shelter in Austin, Texas. Later in the week, the Red Cross contacted the family to say that Mouelle was safe in a nursing home in Roswell, Ga. (Hanemann is now staying with Mallerich, while Phelps has made it to her mother's home in McComb, Miss.)

"So many family members lost their homes and jobs, but everyone is safe, so we just feel blessed," says Mallerich. She and her daughter, D. Taylor, have sent supplies and clothing to the Gulf region. And Mallerich's youngest brother, F. Hanemann, a musician in New York, held a 12-hour radio fund-raiser, raising $40,000 and gathering seven truckloads of items for storm evacuees in Baton Rouge.

The Need to Help

They didn't have family who were affected, but two volunteers from the National Security Technology Deparment—who wish to remain anonymous—also felt the need to help over Labor Day weekend. "Call us crazy," they wrote in an e-mail to friends. "We came up with an idea that we could drive straight through the night to Mississippi and get back by Monday. We rented a trailer and transported water and food as close as we could to those who needed the supplies the most."

The couple drove more than 12 hours, transporting 95 cases of water and other supplies to Hattiesburg, Miss. The National Guard had a water supply station set up and unloaded the water, then directed the couple to a local church that accepted the other supplies. After leaving the trailer in Meridian, the couple drove back home. "Hattiesburg is about 50 miles north of the coast line," their e-mail concluded. "You can be assured that the damage is as bad as it looks on TV."

Children are no exception when it comes to the desire to help. On Labor Day weekend, G. Flanagan of the Global Engagement Department says her four children, along with their neighbors, put up a lemonade stand to collect money for Katrina victims. "They raised $600 and donated all of it to the Red Cross," says Flanagan. "Needless to say, they were very excited."

In addition to the APL response, the wider Hopkins community has been deeply involved in Katrina relief efforts.