The following is an account of one school district’s efforts to help evacuate people from New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. It was written by Kecia Nugent, transportation director at Grant Parish School Board in Colfax, La.
On Sept. 1, Grant Parish School Board received an executive order from Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s office requesting an inventory of its school buses and bus drivers. We contacted the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness and provided Larry Ourso [transportation consultant at the Louisiana Department of Education] with the requested information.
We also notified the Grant Parish Sheriff’s Department, our insurance agent and our bus drivers of the situation. The Sheriff’s Department was ready to provide two deputies and a law enforcement vehicle to escort our buses to New Orleans.
Grant Parish Schools has 66 route buses; however, our buses are 9 to 24 years old. Our bus maintenance personnel recommended that only 10 of our buses make the trip to New Orleans.
At approximately 3:15 p.m. on Sept. 1, Mr. Ourso called our office and requested that we send our buses to New Orleans as soon as possible. He gave instructions for our bus drivers to meet the National Guard at mile marker 209 on Interstate 10. From there, the National Guard would provide security. They were to load evacuees and proceed to Houston.
We had bus drivers, mechanics and 10 buses at Grant High School at 5 p.m. on Sept. 1. We issued $500 in cash to each driver and provided credit cards to ensure that they could fuel the buses and purchase meals during the trip. The buses and deputies left the school at 6:45 p.m.
Our buses reached mile marker 209 on Interstate 10. There were two Louisiana state troopers there but no National Guard. Our buses went into New Orleans with only two deputies as security. They loaded evacuees onto the buses from the overpass on Interstate 10, about 2 miles from the Superdome.
At 3 a.m. on Sept. 2, we received a call from one of the deputies and one of the drivers. The buses had been re-routed to Dallas. However, the evacuees had not had proper food, water or sleep in three or four days, and the bus drivers had driven all night and were exhausted, so we had them stop at our elementary school in Colfax.
The buses arrived at the school at 7:15 a.m. on Sept. 2. Community members, local churches and school board employees fed, clothed and provided medical attention and met numerous other needs for approximately 575 evacuees. The Grant Parish Sheriff’s Department also provided deputies for security, and inmates assisted in the organization of this effort.
We called in relief drivers to continue the trip to Dallas. We issued each driver $1,000 and provided credit cards to some to ensure the ability to fuel the buses and purchase meals.
The buses left Colfax Elementary School at 10 a.m. on Sept. 2. Upon reaching the Texas border, our buses were escorted by a state trooper to Big Town Convention Center in Mesquite, Texas.
The buses arrived at Mesquite at 6 p.m., where the evacuees were unloaded, given medical attention and the buses were searched. From there, the buses were sent to a convention center in Dallas, where the evacuees were unloaded.
The following morning, the 14 drivers left Dallas. They arrived at Colfax Elementary School at 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 3.
Upon arrival, the drivers received medical attention due to the extreme heat they endured while driving the buses. Our buses were inspected by our bus maintenance personnel, and the Grant Parish Sheriff’s Department provided inmates to disinfect our buses.
The two dozen drivers and mechanics involved in the evacuation did not wish to receive payment. In their words: “Do not take this blessing away from us by paying us.” However, they have requested that if reimbursed, the school board donate the money to our local shelters and residents housing evacuees.