What stands out to me about the people down here is their ability to get along and to move along. For a lot of the families you'd expect them to see everything they lost and just figure, 'We'll just give up and go build some place else.' But as we walk through these neighborhoods all day long, they're all coming back. They're all coming back with the intention of, 'We'll figure out what's wrong, we'll fix it and we'll live here again,' so I think they have a stronger spirit and a bigger desire to overcome this than ever imagined.
When you ride down the street, you see pretty much the inside of houses on the outside. Everyone has pretty much pulled all of their carpet out to avoid the mold and the smell. They've moved everything that is usable. You see clothes hanging on trees to dry out. They're trying to hold on to the things that they think will last but they're definitely getting rid of the things that could, either make them sick in the long run or just does don't work anymore. But those daily things that we may take for granted, they are trying to dry out and use again in their new home.
The guys I'm with, the Salisbury firefighters, will work all day long but by the rules of the community where we work, they're supposed to quit by 4:30. By 4:30 our guys would have a drink of water. But both days I've heard someone say, 'All right, let's go back to it,' but they just can't. They're eager to help. They drove 24 hours and a lot of miles and they're trying to get their money's worth out of it. These are probably the hardest working group of firemen that I've ever seen.
Today I am on Highway 12, the interstate heading west. I'm staying in a town called Hammond (spelled like Steve Hammond's name). It was clear sailing until about five minutes ago. I have a feeling I'm running into the people trying to return to Jefferson Parish. It opened up today. It's on the west side of New Orleans.
The traffic heading west right now is just crazy. It's so much traffic that people are just turning around. I don't see a lot of people walking down the road though. But about a day ago I was in the city of Bay St. Louis. I saw people walking. They all had this weird look on their faces like they were in a daze. They were completely out of it.
Yesterday for the first time, I saw an old Wal-Mart that police took over and allowed people to stay there. They were in the garden center, like the ones around our area. There were families camped out. Also yesterday, there was a huge parking lot, turned into a base camp for people flooded out of Bay St. Louis. It was a sight to see, between that and people driving cars clearly hit by trees.
To put into words, the feelings that I experience since being down here, I'd say, saddening and unforgettable. Saddening in the sense that, for example, I was walking on house foundations, that was all that was left from the first floor of half of a dozen houses. It was like walking on a patio and nothing more.
Yesterday I easily walked through 100 houses, all with mud floors. Water came up chest high during the highest point of storm. The water would lift everything up, refrigerators, sofas and everything else and when the water receded, it dragged everything out in the path in which it receded.
So far we have not seen the bodies of any victims from the storm. But we have seen people attempting to keep looters out. Our firefighters are spray painting houses that they've checked out. After they check a house, they draw a big "X" like a quadrant. In the upper quadrant they put the date and time that they checked the home. In the left quantrant, they spray paint the team number. Our guys are divided into two groups: 16 and 15. We are working in the town of Slidell. That's where we've been working the last two days. In the lower quadrant they draw the number of bodies found. Luckily, we've only painted zeroes. We did find a dead pet dog. We found a cat alive and a dog alive.
We have not come across anyone found trapped inside a house. But another group of firefighters in Louisiana told us that they had. They found a bedridden elderly man and his wife. He was in his bed and said the water came all the way up to his neck. When it got that high, it started to recede. He was able to be saved.
Today I'm going to try to go to the television station in Baton Rouge. Tomorrow we'll probably try to find another small town. We picked the town of Slidell because it's a size very similar to Salisbury. It has about 30,000 people. Of that number, 15,000 of them are homeless. We may stay in Slidell all week long, if necessary.