NASA Glenn Workers Support Hurricane Recovery
The phone rang on a warm, breezy November morning at Rescue Ranch. A man needed food for horses and cattle he'd herded onto the levee bank after Hurricane Katrina.
Luann Keys and two other volunteers piled into a rusty pickup and set off on a 70-mile drive through devastated farmland, slowly maneuvering around boats that washed up on the road during the storm. They arrived to find 16 horses and several hundred head of cattle grazing in a community that was once home to thousands of cows and bulls.
After dropping off the feed, the volunteers loaded three frail horses into their stock trailer and headed back to the ranch. That afternoon, 30 bales of donated hay arrived.
It was an eventful day in Belle Chasse, La., the rural area south of New Orleans where Keys, a building manager at NASA's Glenn Research Center, volunteered for two weeks. On most days, she awoke to watch the sun rise over the Mississippi River before feeding the animals, dressing their wounds, cleaning pens, answering phones and making calls for help.
Image right: Keys stops to pose for a picture while caring for a horse at Rescue Ranch in Belle Chasse, La.
A certified member of the Ohio Animals Disaster Team, Keys has been rescuing animals since she adopted her first abandoned dog in 1995. She journeyed to Louisiana three times in the four months following Hurricane Katrina, motivated by a strong sense of purpose and compassion for people and animals.
"I saw the devastation on television, and I just couldn't take it anymore," she said. "I couldn't sit there and watch it. I had to be there."
On her fist trip, she helped the Humane Society rescue dogs and cats alone and hungry in the 9th Ward of New Orleans. "I pulled 30 animals out, but there were thousands more," she said. "I felt like I didn't do enough."
Three weeks later, determined to make a bigger difference, she drove to Rescue Ranch with a van full of supplies donated by her friends, family and co-workers. The supplies were desperately needed to feed and nurse the horses, goats, ponies, peacocks and alpacas living there. Some of the animals had serious cuts and eye injuries from flying debris; others were waiting at the ranch until their owners could find new homes.
"By the time I left Rescue Ranch, more volunteers were arriving and supplies were beginning to roll in," Keys said. "I know the time I spent there made a difference. I just hope the country will continue to support the area and its animals."
Keys returned to New Orleans again in January -- this time on assignment with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. She was part of a coalition of civil servants from federal agencies across the nation who helped the recovery efforts after Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma.
Fifteen NASA Glenn employees joined the coalition and served in Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and Texas. Their responsibilities ranged from helping victims apply for benefits to inspecting trailers installed for people who lost their homes.
Image left: Gail Perusek in the Emergency Operations Center sleeping quarters in Beaumont, Texas.
The damage they observed was widespread and shocking -- trees toppled over on houses in Florida, buildings demolished along the coast of Mississippi, people washed out of their homes in Louisiana. Despite all this, the volunteers were moved by the acts of generosity they witnessed.
"I met many people who were taking strangers into their homes and feeding and caring for them," said Mechanical Engineer Kevin Konno, who served in Texas. "I also met store owners who gave most of their food away."
David Diamond, a NASA Glenn contract support specialist, spent 33 days helping FEMA aid hurricane victims in Florida. He said he was humbled by the experience.
"I was invited to dinner, asked to come in and sit down, offered cold water to drink…I was hugged and introduced to family members by people who had lost just about everything," he said. "The spirit of America really came through in my mind. It showed in the way people worried about each other, helped each other, and shared smiles and handshakes."
The following NASA Glenn employees participated in FEMA hurricane recovery efforts:
J. Mark Hickman
Written by Jan Wittry (SGT, Inc.)
NASA's Glenn Research Center