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Volunteers Make Life a Little Easier for Hurricane Rescue Workers, Evacuees


As evacuations and recovery work continue in New Orleans, Americans are pitching in to aid evacuees and help the rescue workers. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, businesses and residents are doing what they can to assist with the relief work.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in private aid have been donated to the relief effort through national organizations, including the American Red Cross. But the number does not include the many donations to private shelters in places like Baton Rouge, where residents have mobilized to help their stricken neighbors in New Orleans.

Tonja Myles runs a treatment center called Set Free Indeed, which is usually filled with recovering drug abusers. Today, the center houses some 200 relief workers, most of them from Georgia. They include state police, corrections officers, and park rangers. They are given food and a place to sleep after their grueling days working in New Orleans.

"Not only that, but we provide counseling for them as well," she explained. "We have a staff of licensed counselors, because a lot of them say it's just like being in a war zone out there. So we want to make sure that this place is as therapeutic as it can be."

Friday evening, somber rescue workers gathered at the center to discuss their experiences. Some had spent the day searching the attics of houses in New Orleans for survivors. An officer had heard of one, a 42-year-old man, badly dehydrated but alive. The officer said some attics held dead bodies. He says the work is difficult and the stench from stagnant water, decomposing animals, and pollutants is terrible.

Here, however, the rescue workers find a refuge. Volunteer Aaron Seal points to a warehouse with food and supplies, donated by local residents and businesses.

"People have stepped up to the plate (donating) these industrial-size freezers to keep the ice cold for the guys," he said. "And we were not prepared. The first day, we just went and bought food and were feeding the refugees. Since then, people have stepped up and donated things. Everything's been provided as needed."

A well-known Louisiana chef prepares food at the shelter, aided by volunteers from other parts of the country.

Dawn Johnson is a student chef from Minneapolis.

"And there are two other chefs here, and another student, and then my friend who is here, and we all just came down to see what we could do. And this is where we ended up," she explained.

She is mixing eggs for a baked dessert, and says a hot meal makes a difference for the rescue workers.

"They're so exhausted and they're getting so little sleep and working 12 hour shifts," she said. "And it's an hour to where they want to be and an hour to come back. And they're doing stuff that's hard and heartbreaking, and so this is just a little something."

In shelters and hotels, displaced residents are also coping with the uncertainty. Evacuee Lionel Hall is staying at a hotel in Baton Rouge with his elderly parents and large family.

"We have clean towels, clean sheets very morning. We're doing fine," he said. "They even let us bring our pets."

He says the disaster had an unexpected result, bringing together the people of this region.

"We meet a lot of folks from different parts of the city. I have met some folks from Kenner, Slidell, Saint Bernard Parish. And you'd be amazed because it's not the color of your skin, it's what's in your heart now that counts. And so far, everybody's been pulling together," he said.

He says his family lost no loved ones. All of them survived and plan to return to the city.

"When they rebuild New Orleans, we will be back," he said.

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