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Home --> Hurricane Katrina --> Personal Accounts --> Shreveport Evacuees

Shreveport Evacuees

Claim:   Bad behavior by Hurricane Gustav evacuees from New Orleans detailed by nurse who worked at Shreveport shelter.

Status:   Undetermined.

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, September 2008]

I am a nurse who has just completed working approximately 120 hours as the clinic director in a Hurricane Gustav evacuation shelter in Shreveport, Louisiana over the last 7 days. I would love to see someone look at the evacuee situation from a new perspective. Local and national news channels have covered the evacuation and "horrible" conditions the evacuees had to endure during Hurricane Gustav. True - some things were not optimal for the evacuation and the shelters need some modification.

At any point, does anyone address the responsibility (or irresponsibility) of the evacuees? Does it seem wrong that one would remember their cell phone, charger, cigarettes and lighter but forget their child's insulin? Is something amiss when an evacuee gets off the bus, walks immediately to the medical area, and requests immediate free refills on all medicines for which they cannot provide a prescription or current bottle (most of which are narcotics)? Isn't the system flawed when an evacuee says they cannot afford a $3 copay for a refill that will be delivered to them in the shelter yet they can take a city-provided bus to Wal-mart, buy 5 bottles of Vodka, and return to consume them secretly in the shelter? Is it fair to stop performing luggage checks on incoming evacuees so as not to delay the registration process but endanger the volunteer staff and other persons with the very realistic truth of drugs, alcohol and weapons being brought into the shelter? Am I less than compassionate when it frustrates me to scrub emesis from the floor near a nauseated child while his mother lies nearby, watching me work 26 hours straight, not even raising her head from the pillow to comfort her own son?

Why does it incense me to hear a man say "I ain't goin' home 'til I get my FEMA check" when I would love to just go home and see my daughters whom I have only seen 3 times this week? Is the system flawed when the privately insured patient must find a way to get to the pharmacy, fill his prescription and pay his copay while the FEMA declaration allows the uninsured person to acquire free medications under the disaster rules?

Does it seem odd that the nurse volunteering at the shelter is paying for childcare while the evacuee sits on a cot during the day as the shelter provides a "day care"? Have government entitlements created this mentality and am I facilitating it with my work? Will I be a bad person, merciless nurse or poor Christian if I hesitate to work at the next shelter because I have worked for 7 days being called every curse word imaginable, felt threatened and feared for my personal safety in the shelter?

Exhausted and battered but hopefully pithy,
Sherri Hagerhjelm, RN

Origins:   On 1 September 2008, after striking Haiti as a Category 3 hurricane on 26 August, Hurricane Gustav made landfall in the U.S. It arrived as a Category 2 hurricane (just 1 mph below a Category 3), but subsided into a Category 1 four hours later. Across the course
of its path, Gustav wreaked more than $20 billion in damages and caused 120 deaths. It was the fourth most destructive hurricane to hit the U.S.

In preparation for the hurricane's arrival, people in its projected path were moved to shelters in safer locales. Some of the persons so relocated were from New Orleans, and some of the evacuees ended up in shelters in Shreveport, Louisiana. The state-run shelters in Shreveport that housed some 5,300 evacuees during Hurricane Gustav were less than ideal, lacking indoor restrooms and showers or air conditioning. (Even after port-a-potties were brought in, evacuees and others often faced a miserable hike through the rain to reach them.) Showers were eventually installed at one of the shelters, but at others evacuees had to be bused to nearby schools.

The letter presented above (putatively addressed to Bill O'Reilly of The O'Reilly Factor on FOX News) was written by Sherri Hagerhjelm, a nurse who worked at one of those shelters. She sent it as an e-mail to just four or five friends, but from there it quickly spread across the Internet. Hagerhjelm perceived the attitude she encountered at one shelter as "A mentality that said you owe me something because I'm a victim, rather than you are providing a service because I am in need," telling KSLA TV news that "We weren't pulling people off roofs, they had time to gather their things they had time to get to the buses, they had time to get their medicines."

While it's difficult to independently verify the actions and attitudes ascribed to evacuees at the Shreveport shelter described above, we do know that Sherri Hagerhjelm is indeed a nurse who served as a volunteer at a Hurricane Gustav evacuation shelter in Shreveport (she's interviewed in this KTBS news video), and KSLA's report noted that they saw "many responses from other volunteers who backed up Hagerhjelms e-mail."

In the wake of 2005's Hurricane Katrina, similar stories (some true, some false, some exaggerated) about evacuees behaving badly circulated online (e.g., they acted horribly on the flights out of New Orleans and then mistreated volunteers in Houston; they trashed a rest stop in Waskom, Texas; they arrived at shelters in Utah loaded with guns and drugs and proceeded to sell drugs, attempt rapes and rebuild street gangs; their resettlement to other parts of the country led to increases in the incidence of carjackings in those communities).

Barbara "storm damage" Mikkelson

Last updated:   14 September 2008

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  Sources Sources:
    Northington, Ashley.   "Shelter Conditions Change Slightly, Evacuees Still Dissatisfied."
    Shreveport Times.   3 September 2008.

    Wolf, Ben.   "Hurricane Gustav: A Volunteer's Perspective."
    KSLA-TV [Shreveport].   10 September 2008.