Ten years ago, I rode along as a dozen trucks delivered tons and tons of donated goods and water to New Orleans. I was also in charge of more than eighty thousand dollars in checks and cash to help in the relief.
Most of the truckloads of good were immediately received and put to use.
The truck I was in was stacked high with bottled water. Several agencies we contacted told us they didn’t want to fool with the water if it was not already on pallets, that it would take too much manpower to unload it. One LA State Trooper walked up to me at one such location and asked “Sir, did you say you had water on that truck?” I replied that I did. The trooper asked if he could have just a few bottles for his crew who had been out all day with not much to drink. We hooked him up with several crates of water, enough that his Crown Vic was squatted down with the load in his trunk and his back seat.
Then, I got busy on the very spotty cell service to try and contact The Red Cross so we could deliver the monetary donations. It was late in the evening when we arrived, and nobody at The Red Cross wanted to meet us and accept it. Nobody at the shelters or staging area was apparently authorized to accept the funds.
We finally made our way to the government building of West Baton Rouge, where we were able to convince the sheriff to take the donated money and have a deputy escort it to The Red Cross in the morning.
At the time, there were worries that the trucks hauling relief supplies were subject to being hijacked, and the occupants possibly robbed, Trucks entering the area were marked with signs on the doors reading “Disaster Relief”. Drivers passed word to other drivers to remove the signs so the rigs would not be such an obvious bearer of scarce supplies.
We explained that we had a truckload of water, and the sheriff replied that the head of the work camp in that Parish was out with several boats, delivering water and supplies to relief workers in the flooded area, and could use what we had. That corrections chief asked the jail for volunteers, and got several of the prisoners to unload the water. It took a few hours for several men working as hard as they could. One told me “Just because we’re prisoners don’t make us bad people. That’s our family out there we’re helping.”
After being offloaded we immediately rode back to Knoxville, the best home place in the world. Driving down the Interstates close to New Orleans, miles and miles of pine trees looked as if they had been cut by a giant weed eater. Cell phone towers were knocked down, and most gas stations were either out of fuel, or didn’t have the electricity to pump it
My trip to New Orleans to help deliver your donations was one of the most frustrating I have ever experienced in public life. It was if we had corn, but nobody wanted it because it wasn’t shucked. The need was so terribly intense in those days that I couldn’t understand the horrible delays by some in the area who were supposed to be handling what we were offering.
But East Tennessee. You did your part. And I am as proud of that as anything I’ve ever witnessed from you.
We are a good and generous people in these hills and hollers I am proud to call home.