Local Emergency Responders Recount Trip To Hurricane-Stricken Louisiana
Three emergency responders serving as members of the Mc- Connellsburg Strike Team recently completed deployment to Louisiana where they rendered aid to victims of Hurricane Gustav. Excited for the chance to help others but also excited to return to her McConnellsburg area home and share her tale with others, emergency medical technician Lauren Beaston spent Friday recounting her very first trip representing the Southern Alleghenies EMS region and the Mc- Connellsburg Volunteer Fire Co.
Beaston, a 22-year-old native of Chambersburg, Franklin County, stated her journey with Hustontown Volunteer Fire Co. and fellow Strike Team members Mikeal Fix and Scott Vinson got under way on August 29 when the group met up with two paramedics from the Altoona area.
Beaston maintains she was surprised when the local group received the official call from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to depart for Louisiana under a 10-day contract. Based on prior experiences where the team only remained in the area on standby, she noted, she didn't take the most recent standby notice seriously and as a result hadn't even packed her travel bag.
Following the 18-hour drive via McConnellsburg ambulance where the five-person group rotated drivers every two hours, the team arrived at the Alexandria campus of Louisiana State University. Beaston stated the campus was the site of a new $50-million facility that was only recently constructed for the purpose of housing disaster victims and volunteers.
"In my mind, it seemed more like a refuge," Beaston recalled. "Some of the people we met there were the most hospitable people you'd ever meet."
"If you would ask me if I would go again, my answer would be absolutely," Fix added. "There were a couple things that really stuck in my mind during the deployment and after we returned. Southern hospitality was certainly alive and well in Louisiana. The people bent over backwards to say thank you whether it was a face-to-face thankyou or a wave of the hand as we drove by."
Beaston along with Fix and Vin- son travelled around the area from their original drop-off site in Alexandria. Locations included Thibodaux, New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Zachary, where officials from a local Baptist Church graciously hosted 250 volunteers from Pennsylvania. Even though many of the locations were operating without electricity and at times showering facilities, the emergency responders were provided cots, a roof over their heads and even home-cooked meals of jambalaya, red beans and rice, Beaston said.
In addition to helping establish a "tent city" for themselves and evacuees seeking shelter and medication in the wake of Hurricane Gustav, Beaston said their team helped evacuate residents of nursing homes and hospital patients to designated safe places. Some of the evacuees were first-timers while others were veteran storm survivors and shared stories of surviving Hurricane Katrina.
"These people were hit hard by Katrina and hadn't completely recovered, so Hurricane Gustav hit them hard," Beaston said. "... A lot of the people had not had any communication with their family and didn't know the status of their homes. They would lie on their cots and share the most interesting stories."
Beaston said she hopes to maintain communication with a couple she met who told their tale for all to hear about riding out Katrina. However,
two of the most interesting things she observed while in Louisiana were the devastation of cemeteries containing countless vaults as well as a trailer where the walls were gone but the clothing of its inhabitants were still hanging neatly in a closet.
"Another memorable moment was when we got the call to assist with the evacuation of around 50 patients from Lane Regional Medical Center in Zachary, which lost power after Hurricane Gustav passed through. The nurses and administrators of the hospital greeted us with open arms and then, after we evacuated the entire hospital, they left us sleep in the rooms and fed us breakfast the next morning," Fix stated.
Other duties rendered by the local Strike Team were removing trees and debris from roadways, cleaning the yards of elderly residents and transporting individuals back to their residences. In some cases, those same residents were taken back to emergency shelters due to the extreme heat and lack of power.
While the trip was filled with interesting new people and, at times, situations that often left volunteers scared and fearful for their own lives, Beaston added the group still managed to squeeze in a little fun in Louisiana, using their down time to play in the rain and construct kites of cardboard.
"It was a first trip for myself and the McConnellsburg Strike Team," concluded Beaston. "It is for sure something I won't ever forget."