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
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
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
“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: http://www.cgaux.org/