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Bascom Palmer Eye Institute

Gulf Coast Reflection, Sept. 23-24-25, 2005

Dr. Benjamin Mason
Dr. Benjamin Mason

We returned on Friday to River Center in Baton Rouge and a never-ending line of people with diverse needs, from glaucoma medications to glasses to infections. The weather steadily worsened all day, yet the line continued even though winds were gusting to 30 knots.

Dr. Benjamin Mason, ophthalmic technicians Ramon Diaz and Bruce Bailey were kept continuously busy throughout the day, and we again worked with Red Cross officials in the shelter to determine those with greatest need. As has been true in the past, a large number of glaucoma suspects were found, and several had treatment initiated with our donated medications that we carry onboard.

At about 5 p.m. our awning collapsed due to the weight of water that continuously accumulated throughout the day. By the end of the day, Baton Rouge had been inundated with over 7 inches of rain.

Repair on AwningAs I searched for tools to do a temporary repair on the awning, I saw all the National Guard Humvees pulling up against the side of the building for protection against the threat of Rita. After we tied up our awning, we did the same, having already identified a Wal-Mart where we could hide from the wind.

Friday night we bedded down in the Vision Van to the howl of Rita. It was an eerie reminder of Katrina to watch the electrical transformers exploding in the distance. Even tucked behind the wall, the van was buffeted by sheets of rain and rocked by winds of at least 50 knots as the feeder bands came through. We were tuned in to a Lafayette radio station all night to listen for tornado warnings and keep abreast of any changes in the path. At landfall, we were only about 125 miles from the eye, and rain bands continued to skid into Baton Rouge until the afternoon.

We spent Saturday wiping down the dust and disinfecting the van thoroughly after being on the road almost 2 weeks. Much of the time was spent in New Orleans, with all of its mud and filth from the floods. The van is now stored with the intention of coming back next week to either bring it back to Florida, or respond to the Rita Emergency in Southwest Louisiana or Texas, as the extent of the need becomes clearer.

As I write this, Dr. Mason, Bruce Bailey and I sit in the Memphis airport. We were one of the last flights in on Sunday morning, having left Baton Rouge at 6:20 a.m. They just announced that the plane we were supposed to take to Miami has been grounded in Nashville, unable to fly in. The center of circulation of the storm “formerly known as Rita” is about 50 miles away, and we are being hit with heavy thunderstorms and tornado warnings. We have been told that we will only be delayed by 2 hours, but don’t really believe it.

We are ready to be home.

Mike Kelley
mkelley@med.miami.edu