Louisiana National Guard soldiers direct victims of Hurricane Isaac to… (John Moore / Getty Images )
WESTWEGO, La. -- Thousands of people brought their cars to the Alario Center in this Jefferson Parish town Friday to pick up post-hurricane necessities being handed out by the Louisiana National Guard. Keith White brought his wagon.
“They didn’t want to let me in -- said only people in vehicles. I told 'em, ‘This is my truck,’” White said as he held onto the hand-drawn wooden cart, which was loaded with enough to keep him, his wife, Sharon, and their niece, Tina Penner, satisfied for another 24 hours. They received two bags of ice, one box containing 12 MRES -- meals-ready-to-eat -- and a plastic tarp in case more rain fell on this sodden area.
The supplies did not include water – the distribution center had run out hours earlier. Still, on a day when the temperatures neared 90 and humidity was high, the people streaming through in their cars – and with the occasional wagon – seemed grateful for whatever they received.
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“God bless you!” one woman yelled happily as she drove off. “You’re my angel!” hollered another, waving out the window.
Hundreds of thousands of people remained without power across Louisiana, and the few gas stations that were open quickly drew scores of cars that sat in long lines.
None of those lines rivaled the one that grew through the day outside the Alario Center, an auditorium normally used for sports or other special events. Army 1st Lt. Carsten Menn, the executive officer on scene, said the distribution was originally due to begin at noon Friday.
Sometime Thursday, the decision was made to open it at 8 a.m. the next day, but Menn said vehicles began lining up at 4 a.m. Tensions were high in the first couple of hours, Menn said, as the outside temperature soared and as the people who had been in line for four or more hours began crawling forward.
“Once people understood how the system worked, they calmed down a lot,” he said as cars rolled slowly through a variety of stations, each staffed by troops handing out items.
The distribution numbers illustrated the level of need: about 2,000 MRE boxes; 7,656 bags of ice; 400 knives and forks; more than 4,400 cases of water. The station was due to remain open until 8 p.m., assuming the supplies lasted. “If we’re out, we’re out,” said Menn, who was confident there would be plenty.
White said he had about 1½ miles to walk home with his wagon.
Chasity Jackson and her aunt, Jacqueline Billiot, had come in a car, but they faced a house filled with 12 children and no power for the fourth day. Each day has been a routine for them, designed to keep the crowded house humming along. They go to the closest food store, which lets in only 15 people at a time.
They try not to drive much, to conserve gas. “Even if you can find it, it’s $4 a gallon,” Jackson said.
When they don’t eat MREs, they eat other nonperishables: canned ravioli and chips, for example. They also spend a lot of time calling the energy department to find out when they might expect to get power back.
“I called again yesterday,” Jackson said. “They said they’re working on it.”
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