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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Colorado Springs Volunteer Worked 'Just to Bring a Smile to Those in Need' in Wake of Katrina

This week, in honor of the 10 years that have passed since Hurricane Katrina struck, we are remembering those whose lives were impacted, honoring the resiliency of the community, thanking those who stepped up to help and reflecting on lessons learned.

By Leila Roche
Roger Bram delivers clean-up kits after the Black Forest Fire
in 2013. He has been a Red Cross volunteer for a decade.
Roger Bram, a Red Cross volunteer now living in Colorado Springs, celebrated his 10-year anniversary as a volunteer two weeks ago. In 2005, he went to his local chapter for more information and was signed up within hours. Little did he know that two weeks later, he would be tapped for his very first deployment: Hurricane Katrina. A decade and more than 20 deployments later, he still remembers it as the worst disaster he’s witnessed.

“Nothing can prepare you for that kind of devastation,” Roger said. “The town looked like a war zone. Everything was all over the place. All I could think was, ‘How do people survive this?’”

Hurricane Katrina made landfall on August 29, 2005. It became our country’s costliest natural disaster and one of the five deadliest hurricanes. Its effects were further worsened when Hurricane Rita made landfall on the Texas-Louisiana coasts less than a month later.

Roger was deployed soon after Katrina hit and spent six weeks in Louisiana. Much of his time was spent was a courier, driving volunteers between Baton Rouge and Lake Charles, La., where he was stationed for his few weeks prior to Rita hitting. Driving I-10 for hours each day gave him a unique vantage point. The water was still receding and the landscape was ever changing – revealing fresh devastation every day.

“Pieces of the buildings were on the ground … busted windows everywhere … Half the bridges and freeways were shut down because of the high water still,” he said.

When Rita hit just weeks after Katrina, the Lake Charles volunteers – including Roger – were evacuated from their hotel to Alexandria, La. On one of his drives, he went back to see the hotel at which he had stayed.

Roger Bram high-fives a soldier's son
while volunteering an exercise in Colorado Springs.
“It was a mess,” he said. “I’d never seen anything like it. Boats were all over. The hotel room windows were busted out.”

For Roger, the devastation he saw around him served to reinforce the mission of the Red Cross.
“Each day, I’d wake up and say it’s going to be a great day,” he said. “People would ask why am I in such a good mood. I would tell them I was still alive and breathing. You can’t be prepared for anything [like what we saw in Louisiana.] But they needed our help. That was it.”

During his six weeks there, he celebrated a birthday in the shelters and helped countless people – not just get from point a to point b. But he did what he could to help raise others’ spirits so they could continue to serve.

“I just wanted to bring a smile to people’s faces,” he said. “Whether it was a client or a fellow volunteer, if I can bring a smile to their face I know their troubles are gone for even a split second. That’s what we’re there for.”

Read more stories and learn how the Red Cross responded to Hurricane Katrina: http://www.redcross.org/news/article/Slideshow-Faces-and-Stories-of-Hurricane-Katrina . 

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