Monday, September 19, 2005

Hurricane Katrina Update, Part 1

Hurricane Katrina Update, Part 1

By Cheryl Heppner

Hurricane Katrina displaced one million people, with nearly 105,000 still in shelters in 24 states. According to The Washington Post, the latest count shows 579 people have died in Louisiana and 219 in Mississippi, with the final toll likely to be in the thousands.

NVRC is one of four regional centers in the U.S. working on the two-year TDI Community Emergency Preparedness Information Network (CEPIN) project headed by Jim House. The project was awarded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to develop model community education programs for deaf and hard of hearing consumers about emergency preparedness.

Our Center has been serving as a source of information for those affected by Katrina in Florida, Alabama or Mississippi, and displaced refugees in the Mid-Atlantic area, with extraordinary effort from Lise Hamlin, our emergency preparedness specialist. One of our "sister" centers, CSD of Oklahoma, has been serving Louisiana residents and those displaced westward in Texas. The two other regional centers, DCARA in California and Deaf, Inc. in Massachusetts, are also very involved. Particularly as people who are deaf or hard of hearing and their families have been moving from large shelters to smaller ones or into the community, or dispersing throughout the country to live with friends and family. Katrina's impact is everywhere.

The Stories
NVRC has been collecting stories about the experiences of deaf and hard of hearing people from evacuees, shelter or disaster relief volunteers, friends and family members of Katrina victims, media accounts, and anywhere else we can find them. We are eager to continue receiving them at

Most of the stories we've heard have been about people who are deaf and communicate through sign language. I suspect this is because sign language makes them more visible, and because they have often banded together in shelters.

- The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reported on 9/11/05 about two New Orleans brothers who were senior citizens and deaf-blind. They were unaware of the danger from Katrina, so they stayed in their home throughout the hurricane. When they emerged, they found the neighborhood empty. A stranger helped them get to the Louisiana School for the Deaf, which gave them shelter.

- The same article also said that a deaf man at a Louisiana shelter had tried to ask a volunteer the location of a restroom by holding his hand in front of his pelvis. The volunteer thought he was "sexually aggressive".

- The San Antonio Express-News reported on 9/13/05 that George Taylor and Angela Brown, two deaf individuals living in New Orleans, were sheltering in the Superdome during the hurricane and struggled to read the lips of those around them.

- One 16 year-old deaf girl in a Texas shelter did not get immunization for three days and didn't know that it was available.

- A deaf man in a shelter went for days without food because he thought people had to pay for the meals.

- The Houston Chronicle reported on 9/11/05 about the experiences of a deaf construction worker from New Orleans who was being sheltered at the George Brown Convention Center. The man, J.C. Howard, had waded into the Superdome carrying a man with no legs. Since being flown to Houston, Howard had been missing the constant announcements from the convention center's PA system such as where to register to locate family or when to get in line for financial aid. As a result of the limited information, a specialist with the Texas Department of Assistive & VR services said that people with hearing loss were about a week behind in the information that others were getting. Eventually a "deaf and hard of hearing station" was set up to project visual messages.

Volunteer Experiences
- Ann, a volunteer who is hard of hearing, worked at the Cajundome sports arena/convention center in Lafayette, LA. The Lafayette area had 40,000 evacuees in shelters, homes and hotels at one point. It's been a life-changing experience for Ann, who now believes strongly that we must get very active in working with federal, state and local agencies and organizations like the Red Cross to raise awareness about to best serve the needs of deaf and hard of hearing people before disaster strikes again.

- Arthur Craig of Woodhaven Baptist Deaf Church found 15 people who were deaf in the Astrodome by September 2. He brought them all to one area of the Astrodome, where they could band together. Many of them were separated from their families.

Organizations Help Out
- A coalition of churches, associations of the deaf and government agencies has been working together at Catholic Deaf Center in Baton Rouge to address the needs of Katrina survivors who are deaf.

- CSD of Texas, headed by Executive Director Mark Seeger, organized a project under Melissa Bell of Tyler called "Deaf Connect" to place deaf individuals in homes of families in Texas. CSD also offered sign language and oral interpreting services and made video relay workstations available.

- The Deaf Action Center, a Louisiana state program, was helpful in providing TTYs, interpreters and assistive listening devices.

- Self Help for Hard of Hearing People (SHHH) established a Hear2Care program to provide support with hearing assistive technology for hard of hearing individuals. California's SHHH chapters have pledged $2,000 to the effort.

- The League for the Hard of Hearing in New York offered support for disaster victims headed to the New York City area.

A Boost From Businesses
- Deaf-Link, a three year-old company, installed video conferencing equipment in Houston and Dallas shelters to help relief workers such as interviewers and doctors communicate with signing deaf individual through use of the company's 40 sign language interpreters.

- Working with SHHH's Hear2Care program to provide hearing aid and cochlear implant batteries, amplified phones, personal hearing assistive devices, hearing aid drying units, hearing aid repairs and hearing aid screenings are these businesses and organizations:
Advanced Bionics
Advocates for Better Communication
American Academy of Audiology
Cochlear Americas
Hearing Industries Association
Landow Corporation
Mid States Labs
Texas Academy of Audiology

Financial Support
- Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (TDI), National Association of the Deaf, and National Black Deaf Advocates have set up funds to Katrina survivors who are deaf and hard of hearing. The Deaf Seniors of America raised thousands of dollars on the last day of its conference to use for Katrina relief efforts.

- Gallaudet University and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) moved quickly to cut through red tape and make it possible to enroll students from colleges and universities in the areas hit by Katrina who wanted to transfer. Their students have also been raising money. NTID sent letters to alumni in the Gulf Coast area to offer the services of the Center on Employment for those whose jobs might be in jeopardy.

TV and TRS
- A volunteer in the Lafayette, LA area and is hard of hearing reported that in the aftermath of Katrina, the local station in Lafayette had only scrolling captions with phone numbers to call and information about closed roads. There were no updates or other information about what was happening throughout the region.

- Some deaf evacuees from New Orleans who were staying with friends came to the Cajundome in Lafayette to try to get information because there were no captions on television. A couple of days after Katrina hit, one TV station started to include the phone number of the local Deaf Action Center for those needing sign language interpreter services.

- The Baton Rouge television station had no captions at all, but sometimes had a sign language interpreter onscreen. Baton Rouge has a large deaf population due to being the home of the Louisiana School for the Deaf.

- One deaf couple from New Orleans saw captioning on their TV prior to the hurricane but their reading skills weren't proficient enough to understand how serious the situation was. They felt an interpreter onscreen would have helped them. The couple woke up during the hurricane after feeling unusual vibrations, and learned their house was flooding. They were able to get to the second floor and punch a hole in the roof. They were later picked up by a helicopter.

- Louisiana's phone system was unreliable in Katrina's aftermath, and calls were hard to get through. Hamilton Relay sent information by e-mail with some new numbers to use as backup, and one person reported that she found those numbers helpful.

Lise Hamlin has located five separate Internet sites that can be used to find missing people who are deaf. She has personally helped to reunite at least one Katrina victim with her family. This individual had been listed as dead in an infamous e-mail hoax about 17 dead people killed in New Orleans. One Internet list has the names of 138 deaf people who have been found alive.

Deaf students in Texas at the Lufkin High School classes of English teacher Jennifer Maclin, who is also deaf, helped to reunite 25 families with a deaf member as part of a class project. The class was visited by DeWayne Burger of California, who is his state's first deaf person to be certified as a Red Cross instructor in CPR and First Aid. He had been sent to Texas to assist in relief efforts.

© 2005 by Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons (NVRC),