This story was written by Red Cross worker Mar Tobiason.
For Shawanda McGee, speaking with her voice is not an option. She signs. Shawanda’s story is similar to many I heard today at the Red Cross shelter in LaPlace, LA. The LaPlace shelter includes assistance for people with physical impairments so that the family can be housed together.
With the aid of a signer, Shawanda shared her story.
As Hurricane Isaac made landfall in Louisiana, Shawanda comforted her three frightened children, Trevyna McGee (age 10), Jamesica Hutchinson (age 9) and James Hutchinson (age 9). Terrifying the children, the hurricane broke windows and tore a hole in the roof, letting the rain pour in.
After the storm passed, they tried to clean up but the job was overwhelming in terms of both the debris and the smell of wet carpet, clothing and rotting perishable foods. Their clothes were soaked and the only food in the house was spoiled. Shawanda urged her children to eat but none of them could keep down their meals. There was no electricity and no water. With the children, she waded through floodwaters to the grocery store, looking for food, but the stores were either closed or empty.
As they were searching for food, they could smell BBQ. Believing a restaurant may be open, they followed the smell. As it turned out, the smell was coming from a private residence and not a restaurant. Dismayed, frustrated, hot and tired, Shawanda and her children turned away, but the people hollered for them to bring the children and invited them to join them. Shawanda began to cry as she signed this part of the story, but then burst into a huge smile, wiping away her tears as she finished her sentence with thanking this wonderful family that gave them food.
After eating, as they continued on, she saw a large bus that was taking people to a Red Cross Shelter. With little time, they went home and quickly gathered wet clothing into a large plastic trash bag, and took the bus to the shelter. The wet clothes are the only belongings they now possess with nothing left to return home for.
At the shelter, she told me that the children have new friends, food and toys to play with. She was so grateful to have a shower, wash her face and her hair and have a place to get some sleep. After one night at the shelter, Shawanda’s daughter, Trevyna, begged her mom to let her new best friend move her shelter cot next to hers. Shawanda indicated that the kids loved the food and snacks at the shelter and were very happy to have new friends to play with. Shawanda’s goal for tomorrow is to wash the big bag of wet clothes that she has been carrying around with them.
Shawanda repeated gave thanks to the Red Cross for assisting her in the chaos and turmoil following Hurricane Isaac.