Auxiliarist Recalls Post-Katrina Dispatch
By S.L. Herman
United States Coast Guard Auxiliary

An Auxiliarist from Michigan, who spent six weeks last fall involved in Hurricane Katrina relief activities, credits the Coast Guard’s structure for allowing it to respond so quickly and accomplish so much while the response from other federal and local agencies floundered.

“It can move any time it wants without permission from anybody,” recalls 18-10 Vice Flotilla Commander Gaye Blind. (NEED TO CONFIRM IF SHE’S STILL VFC).

Blind recounted her deployment to Orleans Parish in a recent presentation to the Cass County Conservation District’s annual meeting, which was covered by the Dowagiac Daily News.

Blind told the meeting that another key to the Coast Guard's effectiveness was that numerous people in the Coast Guard could make judgment calls. “You don't have to report to one authority. That was needed in New Orleans.”

The Coast Guard is credited with helping to save more than 23,000 lives before, during and after Katrina, which struck nearly a year ago on Aug. 29. By the time an official disaster declaration was made the Coast Guard had already responded, although 20 percent of Coast Guard personnel stationed in that area also lost their own homes.

Blind was one of the few Auxiliarists sent into New Orleans and arrived to find a computerized command center in the dark with no power or water.

“We wanted to go down and see how bad it was in St. Bernard's Parish,” Blind recalls. “The National Guard had opened the streets, but there were trees and debris everywhere.” What she found was a ghost town.

“The first thing you notice is there's no color,” Blind remembers. “The salt water had zapped all the green out of anything that was living. It was kind of this war zone with dust and misty goo in the air. No people. It was just quiet.”

Small boats, which had been commandeered by the Coast Guard to help perform the rescues, were everywhere.

“There were buses wherever they stopped running - in the middle of the road, on lawns and in trees in some cases.”

Blind says it was hard to identify the dead “because all the dental and doctor records were stored in basements. After 30 days in the salt water, they were gone.”

Blind was tasked with assessing survivors’ needs and getting them the necessities such as food, clothing and shelter. Their idea was to work with traditional support groups such as churches and community organizations. But they and their members had also scattered.

She adds that lack of communication slowed the arrival of government assistance.

“We had to figure out a different approach,” Blind says. “There was no way to communicate with anybody.”
Instead Blind and other volunteers began a 12 hour-a-day mission of going door-to-door in neighborhoods.
Despite the substantial loss of human life and extreme devastation, the fisheries’ biologist did not hesitate to also try to rescue any swimming critters she came across, despite warnings from the Army Corps of Engineers about alligator gars. Blind and others improvised a “trough” with a pillowcase and some drapes to return fish to the canal.

For over 60 years, tens of thousands of men and women of the Coast Guard Auxiliary have spent millions of volunteer hours helping the Coast Guard carry out its missions. For more information on America’s Volunteer Lifesavers, visit our website at: