Local relief effort finally arrives in #039;war zone#039;

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Like an army of ants, people marched along tirelessly, lugging box after box across the sun-baked cement.

Ordered chaos cleared hundreds of boxes from the Ironton parking lot at Central School, loading mounds of donated supplies onto four buses and other vehicles that were heading to Louisiana Friday to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina and bring as many evacuees as possible back to the Tri-State.

Even after all the media coverage, the volunteers were hardly prepared for what they saw when they arrived.

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"It is the (worst) thing you have ever seen. It looks like a war zone," said David Rotter, chief operations offices of Patriot emergency Medical Services in Ironton from a shelter in Lake Charles, La. "You have 5,000 people living in 8 by 8 squares.

Š It is really hard to describe."

From the moment the EMTs, nurses and other volunteers from the Tri-State arrived they were besieged with the tragedy that has enveloped the south. They were immediately needed to respond to a cardiac arrest and a suicide case, Rotter said.

Still, they will not be deterred from bringing more than 200 evacuees to find at least temporary homes in the Tri-State, Rotter said. The volunteers expect to return today.

The CAO had arranged for 96 beds in nursing homes and area housing facilities the accommodate for those left without shelter by Hurricane Katrina but the plan to leave Thursday was delayed

A week's worth of hard work had paid of for the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization and the Head Start employees, who spearheaded a relief effort to gather all types of school supplies, clothes, medical goods, food and other needed items.

"We had a man didn't have much but he gave us $4. We had one little girl bring us her piggy bank," said Phyllis Newman, family and community partnership manager for Head Start. "That really broke my heart. We have had so many people who have shown support and been so generous."

Approximately 20 Ironton High School students from four classes volunteered to be the labor force in what they all agreed was the greatest of causes.

"We are just trying to help people out," said sophomore James Simpkins who has been affected personally by the tragedy. "I have relations in New Orleans. We can't find them right now. I hope they come here."

"I am just sorry for what happened. We just want to help," said freshman Danny Ackison. " I would volunteer to go down there if I could."

IHS teacher Greg Arden said he couldn't be more proud of the community's response and the way the youth have stepped up to the challenge of helping those in need.

"These kids are willing to stay after school (Friday) if needed. They are all working hard," he said. "Some of these kids have been through hard times themselves. They have compassion for others."