‘Feed the rescue workers’: Katrina survivors offer tips to Houston

FILE PHOTO: Texas National Guardsmen work alongside first responders to rescue local citizens from severe flooding in Cypress Creek, Houston, U.S. August 28, 2017. U.S. Army National Guard/Capt. Martha Nigrelle/Handout via REUTERS

By Emily Flitter

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) – Adrian Schwing knows how grueling it can be to survive the aftermath of a major storm: He and his family of five spent seven months living in a single bedroom offered by a friend after their home in New Orleans was destroyed more than a decade ago by Hurricane Katrina.

He now has advice for the people of Houston as they emerge from days of record rainfall brought by powerful storm Harvey that overwhelmed nearly a fifth of the city and forced tens of thousands to flee to shelters.

“They have to open up their hearts to their friends and family,” said Schwing, 63.

Other survivors of the storm that ravaged New Orleans in 2005, killing more than 1,800 people, had more practical suggestions for storm-weary Texans, like getting a quick start on purchasing building materials once the waters recede.

“Sheetrock and door frames sell out the fastest,” said Anthony Puglia Jr., 37, who, along with his wife and their newborn baby, spent weeks after Katrina with relatives, only to return to face a scramble for building supplies.

“They might also want to start getting contracts for roofers,” Puglia said.

Harvey struck Texas as a hurricane late on Friday, tearing off roofs and snapping utility poles with winds of 130 miles per hour (210 km per hour), making it the strongest storm to hit the state since 1961.

It weakened quickly to a tropical storm but lingered over the Houston area for days, dumping more than 50 inches (130 cm)of rain in some sections, submerging thousands of homes and killing at least 17 people. On Wednesday, it was lumbering east toward Louisiana, where it continues to threaten areas with flooding.



Puglia, who operates the family’s sporting goods store in Metairie, Louisiana, chatted on Tuesday with a customer, Trent Gray, 49, who had also survived Katrina.

“When it comes to insurance, sign up for everything you can, even if you don’t need it,” Gray said.

Gray said Katrina had done minimal damage to his house, but his home insurance provider gave him money to live while he was away. He said a government insurance program had also helped him install hurricane shutters to protect against future storms.

Puglia said giving his name to agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the American Red Cross also helped him get baby formula from distribution centers.

FEMA said on Wednesday that 195,000 people had registered for federal assistance so far as a result of Harvey.

Puglia said several of his neighbors had come into his store earlier in the day to get supplies – including all 25 of the life jackets he had in stock – before heading to Houston with boats to help with rescue efforts.

He said that during Katrina he and his relatives had fed volunteers with meat they had stored in a freezer that had lost power due to the storm – handing out free meals of cooked trout, duck, deer and even squirrel.

“Feed the rescue workers,” Puglia advised.


(Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Jonathan Oatis)