Communication problems slow, but don’t stop, hurricane relief
September 29, 2005
LIVINGSTON, Texas — One Chinook helicopter, 10,500 pounds of food and water, and no forklift.
Soldiers and civilians made do with a helicopter full of supplies for Hurricane Rita victims after it landed Tuesday in Livingston, Texas, where local officials did not have the equipment to off-load the provisions.
About 80 percent of the Polk County’s 50,000 population, along with 8,000 evacuees, were in need of supplies. But when the Chinook from the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade landed at the Livingston Municipal Airport, no one was there to take them.
Billy G. Young, who lives near the airport, said he saw the helicopter touch down, realized the dilemma, and dialed 911 to tell someone the helicopter had landed.
Meanwhile Capt. Erikka Woods, the Chinook’s co-pilot, put in a call to a local emergency official, who also said help was on the way.
Within a few minutes, Polk County Emergency Management Director John P. Thompson showed up with a truck and trailer.
Thompson, also a county judge, said he had been unaware the helicopter was coming. He also had bad news: It would take a couple of hours to get a forklift to the landing site.
But Young had a truck with a winch, and was able to pull the pallets of water and Meals, Ready to Eat off the aircraft with the help of helicopter crewmembers and Texas National Guardsmen who had accompanied them.
Then soldiers and civilians in the area formed a bucket brigade, quickly putting the water and MREs onto Thompson’s trailer. Soon the helicopter was back in the air to pick up more supplies for Hurricane Rita victims.
Crewmembers said situations such as Tuesday’s have been common because of communication problems among those involved with hurricane relief efforts.
The day before, another helicopter landed at the same airport and had to wait an hour for someone to unload the supplies, said local resident Dan Lowe.
“There has been some breakdown of communication,” Lowe said.
When the Chinook arrived at San Augustine later Tuesday, once again there was no forklift to greet them.
And once again, local residents pulled the pallets off the helicopter. But this time, convicts from the county prison supplied most of the muscle, putting the water and MREs onto trucks.
Local firefighter Jimmy Horne was happy to see the supplies arrive. In one recent instance, five separate ambulances were sent to a local park in a 30-minute span to treat people suffering from dehydration and heat stroke because of the lack of water in the area.
“It may not be exactly what they want to eat,” he said. But, he added, now it seems people have enough supplies to get through this.