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A year ago this weekend

The Huffington Post prints excerpts from interviews done with people involved with the evacuation of Hurricane Katrina victims to the George R. Brown convention center in Houston. The first subject is Lt. Col. and State Rep. Rick Noriega, who was the site manager. The following is from day one, after he had been named to the position by Mayor White and Harris County Judge Eckels in a morning meeting.

Have you ever kicked over an ant pile? When all the ants start running and scattering? It was a very challenging time. We had tasks that had to be accomplished before buses rolled in. We had to maintain some sense of command and control, and stay focused on those immediate tasks that we had to accomplish. We also had to establish our organizational structure. Those things had to happen in pretty quick order.

Marathon Oil, CenterPoint Energy, and Continental and some other organizations came forward with resources. About 6:00pm, approximately two thousand mattresses and cots were laid out. CenterPoint and the staff at the George R. Brown were engineering the bathroom facilities and the showers. They started that night. They figured out how to make the first one, and once they made the first one–all the particular pieces were pre-cut, and so then it was just throwing them together. They worked around the clock all night long. By noon the next day, they constructed 80 showers.

By 6:00pm, we were operational.

By 9:00pm, we received our first buses. The Red Cross wanted to consolidate some of their shelters into the George R. Brown. We said OK, let’s go ahead. We were in an enviable position because we had the opportunity to exercise our in-processing procedures. We had the tables set up one way, where they faced the doors. We were able to say no, we don’t need it that way. You’ll have people wrapped around outside, and we want to bring them all inside the building. Little things like that, to tweak the system. Unlike other facilities where they were just you know, wave after wave, without really having the opportunity to respond, we were able to get it set up pretty much how we wanted. Before the buses started rolling in.

I think I finally got to bed Friday night, very late. I stayed at the Hilton next door. Some rooms were set aside for a couple of us to stay there, so we could just go next door, shower, and come back. Get a few hours sleep, came back in.

The first seventy-two hours was critical to get everything established. I didn’t get a lot of sleep those first few nights.

The following day, they diverted buses over to our location.

There’s more there, and at The Katrina Experience. Check it out.

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