Saturday, September 03, 2005

Katrina Experiences Sought

During the past week, many individuals, organizations and agencies have contacted NVRC to ask what we are learning about the experiences of deaf and hard of hearing people during hurricane Katrina and recovery efforts. During the first three days after the storm hit New Orleans we heard very little. With telephone lines down in the affected areas, wireless devices not working, and no electricity, all of the people in Katrina's path were struggling to survive and all communication was difficult.

The hearts of all our staff and Board go out to all those who have suffered during this terrible disaster, and our prayers are with you.

Stories are now starting to trickle in. We've seen a news report about a family searching for a deaf woman who was working as a caretaker in New Orleans and left behind, with no information about what was going on, when the person she was caring for was evacuated. We've heard about a late-deafened woman in hard-hit section of Florida who lost power but was able to depend on a hearing roommate who listened to a battery-operated radio for information.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported on the arrival at the Houston Astrodome of a man who was evacuated from New Orleans with his deaf daughter, and her daughter. The granddaughter uses a wheelchair that had to be left behind. They had been rescued by a National Guard boat.

A deaf couple was able to weather Katrina and recovery by staying at a daughter's house, using her RV and getting information from friends by pager when their TTY's battery died after 24 hours.

The Louisiana School for the Deaf is reported to be providing a temporary place for deaf people who are homeless, serving meals and washing clothes. However, the school could not take people who had health problems or require medication. There are also reports that many deaf people in Louisiana lost their homes and all their possessions, and some are now in the Houston Astrodome, feeling lost without communication and unsure where to turn for help.

Local news in one area of Louisiana does not have captioning or other visual information, so people who are deaf and hard of hearing are having to get their information from national news programs, just like so many of those in New York on 9/11. Unfortunately, those national news programs do not provide specific information about what is going on in their local area as their local stations do.

NVRC, working with the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Consumer Advocacy Network coalition, released a national report on experiences of deaf, hard of hearing, late-deafened and deaf-blind individuals during 9/11 and its aftermath, which was released in December 2004. The report, which was written by NVRC Executive Director Cheryl Heppner, had numerous recommendations for improvements in emergency preparedness planning and emergency communication access.

NVRC wants to continue documenting the experiences of individuals during their preparation for Katrina, the storm itself, and the recovery process. It is our hope that in passing on these accounts we can educate emergency planners, public officials, human service agencies, disaster relief organizations, first responders and others.

Watch for news from TDI's Community Emergency Preparedness Information Network (CEPIN), of which NVRC is one of four regional centers. CEPIN is hard at work to locate resources.

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