Conditions Worsening on Gulf Coast
ED GORDON, host:
From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.
Conditions along the Gulf Coast have only gotten worse since Hurricane Katrina blew through earlier this week. Cities and towns in the area remain underwater. An estimated one million people across the region are without clean drinking water or electricity. Some residents who'd climbed on top of roofs to escape the rising floodwaters remain stranded. Others have been trapped in their homes, cut off from access to food, utilities and medical care. Rescue and aid workers are fanning out to try and reach people in need. Earlier, NPR's Farai Chideya reached Darren Irby, a member of the American Red Cross' rapid response team in Biloxi, Mississippi.
FARAI CHIDEYA reporting:
Tell me a little bit more about this rapid response team. Where are you generally based? And under what circumstances do you fan out and try to do your work?
Mr. DARREN IRBY (American Red Cross Rapid Response Team): Well, I'm typically based in Washington, DC, and we're a small cadre of folks that typically move into an area before a disaster strikes, when we know about a disaster approaching. So we were prepositioned in several different locations, and we went through the storm ourselves, and we're here, obviously, immediately to respond to whatever the critical needs might be.
CHIDEYA: So tell me about what you have done, for example. What does your day consist of?
Mr. IRBY: Well, mostly the Red Cross has been sheltering and taking care of folks that were a part of the evacuation process. There's more than two dozen Red Cross shelters that are just in the Mississippi and Alabama area, not even counting Louisiana. So we've been doing that and making sure that they have a safe place to stay and some food and some water and, really, the bare necessities, and then we've been out talking with other folks in different communities, trying to gauge the best assessment of where we should move Red Cross resources next.
CHIDEYA: What about the heat? We have been hearing that in Louisiana the heat is a problem. People have no air conditioning; temperatures are above 90 in some cases. What about in Mississippi?
Mr. IRBY: It's awful. I mean, the humidity is really starting to add to the discomfort of the folks that have been impacted, and obviously our own volunteers that are traveling from great distances to help out. And, I mean, we're doing the best we can to work with generators and to bring fans in, encourage folks to, you know, put on their comfortable clothes because, obviously, they're going to be here a bit. And, you know, we're trying to make it as reasonable as possible.
CHIDEYA: And what about hospitals and medical care?
Mr. IRBY: It's tough. I talked to some EMT workers going around on some four-wheeling buggies type things and, you know, they were trying to do the best they can to go around the downed utility and the downed trees that were making it very difficult for them to get to some certain areas, but they were making it.
CHIDEYA: Final question for you: What lies ahead? What lies ahead for the Red Cross in terms of dealing with the immediate effects, and what lies ahead for the Red Cross and the residents of Biloxi in terms of long-term rebuilding?
Mr. IRBY: Well, it's going to be a long process for not only the Red Cross but, most importantly, for the people that we're trying to serve. And it's a difficult equation, because there is so much infrastructure that has to be rebuilt and, you know, everyone talks about the natural disaster, and I think, really, at the end of the day, it's a human disaster. And we've got mental-health workers that are mobilizing to make sure that folks' mental health is at least in a good enough shape where they can help make some logical decisions about what their next step should be and how they should rebuild. And, you know, we're all in it together. There's a binding, united spirit, I think, especially within folks that have gone through hurricanes before. And I heard it over and over today about how we're just going to bind together and, you know, get through this.
CHIDEYA: Darren Irby is a member of the American Red Cross rapid response team in Biloxi, Mississippi.
Thank you so much for joining us.
Mr. IRBY: Thank you.
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