"What a day: Red Cross and lights! It doesn't get better than that!" Chief Brenda Dardar Robichaux of the United Houma Nation tribes was excited as her crew of 16 volunteers moved relief supplies into the tribe's community center in Raceland, in the bayou area southwest of New Orleans.
While unloading the last cases of water from an American Red Cross truck, a forklift driver announced that power had been restored to the center, 10 days after Hurricane Gustav smashed through southeast Louisiana. The former general store is serving as the area's relief center, a distribution point for supplies as well as information.
Tribal citizens were relieved and grateful when the Red Cross delivered water, meals-ready-to-eat (MREs), clean-up supplies and personal hygiene kits as people returned from evacuation. Entergy Louisiana, which provides electricity to the area, has predicted it could be October before power is completely restored there. Water supplies are still unsafe to drink.
"This has come just in time. Tomorrow, these supplies will be going into the community," Chief Robichaux said. "It's been hard for me to sleep at night thinking of all the people in need after Gustav. Now I can sleep better."
The next morning, tribal and Tulane University volunteer teams made the first deliveries to community elders who had returned from Philadelphia, Miss., where they stayed with the Mississippi Choctaw Band of Indians.
One team drove a load of supplies farther south into the bayou area, to the Dulac Community Center, which would serve as a distribution center in that remote, rural area.
It's a challenge to mount a relief operation in the southern extremities of the bayou region, where storm surges and heavy rains quickly flood low-lying land, roads are few and narrow, and what traffic there is slows to a crawl because without electricity to traffic signals, every intersection is a four-way stop.
The Red Cross cultivates relationships with organizations such as United Houma Nations, which know their populations and their needs. Working together to help people cope with disaster, the partners can respond more quickly and more completely than either could alone.