So many people who need just about everything

She was supposed to start chemotherapy, but a hurricane got in the way. Now Renee Gustavson's hospital is under water. She can't find her doctor. She's got no home and no car.

"I don't know what to do," said Gustavson, who is living in Houma, La., just southwest of New Orleans, in a mobile home with some people she didn't know until Hurricane Katrina threw them together.

Gustavson and her husband, Bart, got married last March in Dayton, where her father lives. She called the Appeal on Wednesday morning to let us know what it's like in the heart of the disaster.

It's worse than you can imagine. Nobody has anything. Nobody can get anywhere. "We lost everything," she said. And she's worried that the water is full of disease. The bodies, you know.

"These people can't even buy a bar of soap," said her dad, Curley Harrall, who lived in the New Orleans area for more than 50 years before moving to Dayton about three years ago. "Even if they had the money, there's nowhere to get it."

Houma, a city of 32,000 or so people, sits a little higher than the surrounding countryside. Now it's an island in the flood. Harrall said he was told they turn on the electricity for a couple of hours at a time.

"They're just camping out with some people they met," he said of his daughter and son-in-law. "All their friends, well, they're in the same boat. There's nothing they can do."

As hard as it is to conceive of the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina and the floods, the picture for the future is nearly as grim.

The economy there depends on two things, Harrall said - seafood and the oil industry. Both are gone for who knows how long.

For fishermen, the boats are wrecked, the processing plants are under water, and the shrimp and crawfish beds are disrupted. They'll be fortunate to catch enough to eat.

The oil industry is no better. No matter the damage to the rigs, Harrall said, the refineries are swamped and the flow lines are broken.

Without jobs, without money, how is the whole thing going to get started again? Millions of people are waiting to hear from an insurance adjuster.

Bart Gustavson, Renee's husband, repairs swamp coolers and air conditioners. Ordinarily, it's a pretty good job. "But who's worried about fixing an air conditioner today?" asked his father-in-law.

Harrall, 75, is concerned about all three of his grown children. One son, an attorney, took a pistol to the office the other day. Just in case.

Renee, who's in her mid-40s, has liver damage and was supposed to start injecting herself with a chemotherapy drug that costs $200 a vial. Medicaid would pay for the drug, she said, but she can't find her doctor to write a prescription.

The folks at the hospital said they hadn't heard from him. "Besides," they told her, "we're closed."

She's hoping she can somehow find a doctor who can go over her records and write a prescription. She has no idea how, though.

I told her people were being evacuated to Reno, and that the Nevada National Guard was in New Orleans helping wherever they were needed. But trying to hook them up seems a remote possibility. If anybody has a better idea, give me a call.

So many people are in desperate straits. Whatever you can do to help, do it.

Harrall would like to send money to his daughter, but he's tapped out after five surgeries himself in the past few months. "I feel bad because I can't help her financially anymore," he said when I called him.

You might know Harrall. He's a member of the VFW in Dayton and vice president of the board for Citizens for Affordable Homes. A professional auctioneer before he retired, for 37 years in Louisiana, he volunteered at the 4-H livestock auction in a little town called Schriever.

In fact, if you were at the Collin Raye concert for the Boys & Girls Club last year outside the PiƱon Plaza, he's the guy who stood up and offered his services to auction an autographed guitar. Did a heckuva job, too.

As worried as he is about his daughter, he's overwhelmed by the number of people who need help. "She's only one of many, many, many, many," he said.

He's seen the TV reports of devastation in New Orleans and surrounding cities, and he's been through a few hurricanes himself.

"There are so many people there who are destitute and can't get any help. You just can't imagine. You know, up here a $100 bill is nothing. To them it looks like a flag on pole, son. They've got nothing but the clothes on their backs.

"They say you can't take material things with you when you go to the hereafter, but they sure come in handy until you do."

- Barry Smith is editor of the Nevada Appeal. Contact him at editor@nevada or 881-1221.


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