Vinnie Harmon and Adriana Ewing, SRS human services specialists, returned to Pittsburg Friday night after working in New Orleans with victims of Hurricane Gustav.



“We just did applications for food stamps — lots of applications,” Ewing said.

Vinnie Harmon and Adriana Ewing, SRS human services specialists, returned to Pittsburg Friday night after working in New Orleans with victims of Hurricane Gustav.

“We just did applications for food stamps — lots of applications,” Ewing said.

“They took over 85,000 applications, and they were starting in on applications from Hurricane Ike victims when we left,” Harmon said. “We worked 12 to 14 hours a day, and averaged an application every 10 minutes.”

“They were really happy to see us, and very grateful for the staff that came in from other states,” Ewing said. “I think there were 23 who went from Kansas, along with others from Oklahoma, Nebraska and Missouri.”

Harmon, who also helped out after Hurricane Katrina, said the process of seeking assistance is better organized.

“They did learn from Katrina,” she said. “Guidelines are more strict now — before, we had senators and doctors who were eligible for food stamps. This time there were a lot of people we had to deny, but nobody got mad at us.”

However, there were many who did qualify.

“These were people who had been financially secure before, and now they had nothing,” Ewing said. “They would say, ‘I owned a business, and here I am applying for food stamps’.”

“We had people in tears because they had to ask for help,” Harmon said.

The two added that many of the people they saw were still suffering the effects of Katrina, which struck in late August 2005.

“During Katrina, the people I saw were in total shock,” Harmon said. “Now we’re seeing the same people, but they feel powerless. Many people haven’t gotten their money yet from Katrina. There are many people still living in FEMA trailers, and now the trailers have flooded.”

She said the hurricane has affected every part of the daily life of those in the storm area, from children missing school to the restaurant industry.

“The ports are closed and there’s no bait, so a lot of the fishermen are still out of work,” Ewing said. “That affects the restaurant industry, because New Orleans is famous for seafood. Now they say they might have to start bringing in seafood from other countries.”

So why do people stay in New Orleans and the surrounding area? Aren’t they afraid of future hurricanes? Ewing said two big factors are keeping people in the area.

“They don’t have any money to go anywhere else, and it’s home,” she said. “And New Orleans is still a beautiful city. I would love to go back there as just a tourist.”

“They sent us back with a message,” Harmon said. “They want us to tell everybody here that New Orleans is still alive and kicking.”