In September I volunteered with CPR Compassion. This is the diary of the story I wrote after coming back to France. I appreciate the opportunity PRC gave me and wanted to express my gratitude to Pastor Davis and his team at CPR. Below you will find the pix of a Katrina benefit concert we gave at the American Cathedral in Paris among the presence of two US ambassadors (I proudly wore my PRC t-shirt). Over 28,000 euros was collected. And there have been many other benefit concerts here including one where the Mayor of Lafayette, LA participated.
Wishing you a Joyous Holiday Season,
Anna Marie Mattson (Paris, France).
PS: Would you please be so kind as to send this on to the PRC team. Thank you. (BTW, I am an American living in France for the past 15 years, originally from Dallas, Texas)
Into the Eye of the Storm
I’m on my way to Louisiana. First it was the French journalists hysterically calling for information, then my family in Texas who offered to shelter evacuees, then my friend from Louisiana who frantically began sending me e-mails, then the horrible images and reports coming from the media.
So last week I booked my flight to Baton Rouge and am leaving this afternoon. First I stop by Vermont to help out at a Veteran’s Congress. As soon thereafter I’ll be in Louisiana. The worse may be yet to come.
Ironically, the last time we were in New Orleans was at the 1984 World’s Fair, where the theme was the importance of water in our world.
Will be in touch by e-mail and cell phone,
Anna Marie Mattson
I’m in between Baton Rouge and New Orleans working for PRC Compassion. The Emergency Relief Center truck sent me here directly from the airport. It’s an incredible grassroots organization working with over 200 churches: www.prccompassion.org.
There are several dozen shelters in the area that PRC Compassion is working to serve. Thousands of people are housed in these shelters, and God has given this group of local churches a whole lot of favor with authorities to allow us to help in many ways. We’re doing our best to work together—hundreds of local churches and ministries joining forces to meet the need.
We were able to send over a hundred workers to the New Orleans airport where officials had established a triage center. PRC Compassion volunteers were helped people who had been evacuated by chopper from some of the worst situations imaginable. Check out the videos at .
Today, PRC Compassion was able to send out over 400 volunteers across the affected areas to serve in many ways. Delivering water and food, cleaning senior citizens as they waited their turn in the New Orleans airport triage center, helping at shelters, clearing fallen trees. Seventy-five men from Our Savior’s Church in Lafayette joined another group just as large who had gathered in Baton Rouge from several local churches to go clear trees in Mandeville, for the fourth day in a row.
So far, over a hundred semitrailers full of relief commodities have been received and staged by the local churches in this network. And just today, another warehouse space was acquired—over 20,000 square feet where we’ll be able to store relief commodities near the affected area and disperse aid as needed.
One of the greatest highlights of the day today was having John Kerry visit Bethany World Prayer Center, where Pastor Larry Stockstill ministers. Pastor Stockstill is one of PRC Compassion’s Strategic Advisors.
Anna Marie Mattson
I flew in yesterday from Louisiana and just want to sleep and sleep and then sleep some more. Nightmare and horrible are nice words to describe the indescribable. What you have been seeing on television is nothing compared to bitter reality. And you don’t have the stench to add to the images.
But we haven’t seen a name—not officially anyway. Not one single name—the thing that turns an empty corpse back into a person. So much death. And not a single funeral. It’s been 14 days now. Where are the funerals? New Orleans is famous for its funerals, you know. Jazz funerals—an untidy gumbo of grief and joy, pouring out through the streets of a timeworn city, punctuated by the music of the living.” (Will Bunch from the Philadelphia Daily News)
Why is that? I’ll tell you why. I learned the answer from FEMA.
After landing in Baton Rouge with my Hospice certificate in hand, PRC deployed me to the morgue in Saint Gabriel to provide grief counseling to the families expected to be there to identify their loved ones. Saint Gabriel is the official morgue and is located between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
Due to a communications snafu, the FEMA and D-Mort Directors sent me back to Baton Rouge to handle the Find-a-Family Call lines instead. There would be no viewing, as the bodies are beyond recognition and can only be identified by scientific methods, i.e., DNA or fingerprints. And there are no records.
There are around 900 specialists at Saint Gabriel, including doctors, funeral directors, morticians, FEMA personnel, crisis counseling for the staff, security. They are frazzled and some look like they haven’t shaved nor slept for over a week. They were polite and courteous and especially interested in the fact that I live in France and had offered to help them. Mr. Dougherty is in charge of the FEMA crew and was the same director who headed the 9-11 aftermath.
So I went back to Baton Rouge to the Find-a-Family Call Center and was immediately put to work answering the hotline. The other 35 volunteers were given a one-hour training course and a script. There was no time to look for experienced grief counselors to answer the phones; as a backup, they had some chaplains. I have to hand it to these volunteers, they had no idea what they were about to experience and were often overwhelmed by the stories.
After six hours nonstop of talking to families who were looking for fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, wives, children, aunts, uncles, grandmothers, I went across the hall to ask the FEMA director why we did not yet have a list of the deceased. And then all of a sudden he let out all his frustration, saying that not one single name had been released and not one death notice issued. Over two weeks have gone by, and, what’s more, he had no idea when he could start releasing names.
Unlike 9-11, where FEMA had complete authority, now FEMA must report to something called Kenyon. He has no approval to release names and to let families go on with the grieving and burial of their loved ones. 9-11 was not like this at all. I suggested at least setting up a chapel with candles somewhere where families could begin to mourn. He would make the suggestion to his higher authority if he could ever contact them. Ever heard of this Kenyon?
Anna Marie Mattson
September 19, 2005
On a happier note, I worked one day with Red Cross at River Center, Baton Rouge, the largest shelter in Louisiana. It housed more than two thousand evacuees. First I helped a family of six to register with Red Cross. They were from New Orleans and could no longer stay in a trailer with nineteen other family members. It’s just too small for 25 people, Carol said. More and more families are forced to separate or are literally being told to leave. The waiting period is just too long.
Volunteers had come from all over the nation: Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Maryland, North Carolina, California, New York, Kentucky. And from all kinds of groups: Billy Graham, Church of the Scientology, independents, Red Cross. The volunteer living arrangements were not much better than the evacuees’. We were sleeping on cots in the locker room of a local school. Some had come in mobile homes. But all were far from home and no matter what group they belonged to, at the end of the day they were all doing their best to bring some comfort and relief to those less fortunate.
Red Cross put me immediately to work calling the other shelters and asking them how they were doing on supplies. There was a five-page list of over 100 shelters to call on each page. The answers were: please, no more toys or clothes—just socks and underwear. The food supplies are under control. However they were expressing deep concern about the lack of volunteers. The first wave of volunteers was leaving and replacements were not being guaranteed. Some shelters might have to shut down, I was told.
I also had an opportunity to talk to several evacuees. They are looking forward, full of hope and are a real joy, especially the babies. These babies don’t learn how to walk, they are learning how to dance I was told. Now these folks are from New Orleans, which means they are night people. Most don’t start moving until around 10 am and don’t get to sleep before 3-4 am.
There are rows upon rows of cots or beds, each family has its own space. Some tents had been set up inside. On the other hand the National Guard patrols with M16s slung forward were not a pretty sight. Nor the two shower areas with a maximum 10-minute time limit. But there was a movie room and play areas, including basketball. Buses pick up kids to go to the local schools. There was a loud PA system announcing when the mail had arrived or reporting lost children. All in all, it seemed like a big campground. I felt safe here. These are not dangerous people, just poor and unfortunate, waiting to go on with their lives. And some are anxious to get back as soon as the Mayor of New Orleans will let them.
Bless them all,
Anna Marie Mattson