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UC Berkeley Web Feature

A little bit of everything at the Astrodome

– I'm in Houston now; today was my first full day. I'm here with the blessings of my dean, but not as a representative of the School of Ed. I grew up in Mississippi and spent much time in New Orleans and felt that I had to do something to help, so signed up for training with the Red Cross and am here as a Red Cross volunteer in "mass care," which essentially means setting up and staffing shelters and tending to the multiple needs that displaced people have in these situations.

I am at the Astrodome and associated complex of buildings – a vast area with thousands of people standing in line, walking here and there looking for help, holding signs with names of missing persons, and on and on. It's hot and humid and the sun burns down on the asphalt, though the buildings themselves are air-conditioned, more or less. Correct information, or any information, is scarce. People spend a lot of time going from building to building, line to line, trying to find out how to get services. On the floor of the Astrodome people are still sleeping on cots with their few belongings piled next to them. During the day a lot of people just sit or lie on their cots, and it is easy to see that they are dazed and depressed. There is no lack of food or bottled water. Meals (sandwiches mostly) seem to be served constantly. There are canteens where supplies and clothing are handed out. There are even banks of pay phones where you don't have to pay and can call anywhere in the US. All over the Astrodome are tables set up with various kinds of help: a place to make announcements for missing persons, a place to sign up for free bus passes, a place to get a FEMA number; a place to get a one-way plane ticket from Continental.

Today I was assigned to the floor of the Astrodome, and I saw a little bit of everything:

  • I helped a woman, who had dangerously high pressure, get medical attention.
  • I located a child who had left the pediatric area without her antibiotics
  • I listened to the story of a woman from New Orleans who was deeply depressed and said she was "lost, just lost."
  • I helped a woman find transportation to her daughter's house in Houston
  • I stood in line to collect clothes for someone who was wheel-chair bound
  • I stood in line at the pharmacy to get the meds for a woman diagnosed as "bi-polar."
  • I searched for Section 8 housing for a woman desperate to leave the Astrodome, believing that bad things were about to happen here just like they did at the Superdome.