By Leila Roche
Ten years after Hurricane Katrina, most people remember the super-shelters and massive on-the-ground response in Louisiana and neighboring states – but many don’t realize that people evacuated all the way to Colorado (and beyond) to receive help and emergency relief.
Katrina made landfall Aug. 26, 2015. In the days following Katrina, survivors of the hurricane were bused across the country to find new jobs and homes. While a deluge of resources and volunteers were pouring into Louisiana and the surrounding areas in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Colorado Springs volunteer Tony Dal was one of the volunteers preparing a warm welcome for those coming to Colorado to start new lives.
|Tony Dal Lago has been a Red Cross volunteer for about 15 years. |
During Katrina, he helped evacuees who came to Colorado Springs
rebuild their lives and welcomed them into the community with open arms.
The nationwide network of Red Cross chapters and volunteers made it possible for the Red Cross to mobilize a widespread response that helped Katrina evacuees from coast to coast.
“Some people were in a Red Cross shelter out there, and from there they were bused to different parts of the country,” Tony said. “The Red Cross family took care of them in the immediate evacuation area, and when they were transferred elsewhere the Red Cross was still there. Our ‘family’ was still there to care for them.”
The Red Cross partnered with other government and nonprofit organizations to set up a Consolidated Resource Center at America the Beautiful Park in downtown Colorado Springs, where evacuees arrived for assistance – needing everything from monetary assistance and clothing to jobs and housing. A similar effort took place at Lowry Air Force base in Denver.
“I’ll never forget that first big bus of people,” Tony said. “People were being bused in from New Orleans. They’d lost everything. You might think they’d be in bad spirits, but coming off that bus most of them were in good spirits. I think they saw we were there waiting for them. We were ready. And we wanted to help them right then.”
Part of Tony’s role during the Katrina at-home response was instructing new client caseworkers and supervising them at the Consolidated Resource Center for the Katrina evacuees that were bused to Colorado Springs.
During the Katrina response, Tony worked 6-hour Red Cross volunteer shifts on top of working his full-time job. Tony, who has been volunteering for about 15 years with the Red Cross and has responded to numerous natural disasters, says giving back is a primary function of being a part of a community – and that’s why it’s a priority for him despite working full time and having a family.
“You can tell a lot by a community and how they respond to a disaster,” Tony said. “For me, I wanted to give back to the community. I’d been in the military for over 23 years and decided to make Colorado Springs home. But that’s not just buying a house. I wanted to put down roots and give back to the community. For me, that is this area. And if someone drives into Colorado Springs, they become part of the community. [Katrina survivors] were being bused under very inauspicious circumstances, but it didn’t matter. They were a part of the community the minute they stepped off that bus, and it was my job to help them.”
According to estimates from the Current Population Survey, approximately 1.5 million people 16 years and older left their residences in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama because of Hurricane Katrina. Of those who evacuated, about 410,000 had not returned to their homes by October 2006. Many found homes in new states, including Colorado.
“Not everyone who came stayed,” Tony said. “Some did stay. But some went back home eventually. And others relocated. It didn’t impact what I was doing though. What was important was that the community open their arms to those in need and provide assistance as best we could.”
In the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, the Red Cross provided 13,200 families long-term recovery planning and advocacy services from trained Red Cross case managers. More than 200 organizations in more than 30 states received funding for recovery-related needs. And more than 8,200 families received recovery financial assistance that enabled them to return to home or work.
“The Red Cross is a family,” Tony said. “We’re here to provide a hand up. The goal is to get them to a point where they can start to recover on their own with whatever help we can provide them. We want to help them get over the shock, stand up on own and start moving forward – whether it’s Katrina or an apartment fire. We’re here to help our community.”
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 .