As New Storm Approaches Gulf Coast, Remembering Katrina

Devastation in New Orleans from hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“My name is Nicolas Strayham. I finally have been able to track down the people who brought the ShelterBoxes to my house. We had a distribution site in the driveway of our yard and a total of 20 of your boxes were dropped off there. You cannot understand how thankful we (my community) were for these boxes. We had 20 boxes, including 40 tents. These tents made temporary homes for 40 families and friends. Since the first day we received the tents my goal was to find out who the tents came from and personally thank them. It was because of people like you that allowed us to satisfy our need for safety and shelter.”

Nicholas lived in Biloxi in Mississippi, one of the states in Southeast USA that Hurricane Katrina struck on August 29, 2005.

The hurricane force winds and a massive storm surge slammed into Biloxi and other towns along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, causing scenes of destruction and flooding.

Listed as the fifth largest hurricane to hit the United States, Katrina began as a very low pressure weather system that strengthened into a hurricane as it approached the Florida coast on the evening of August 25.


One hundred thousand homes were left without power as it crossed southern Florida and it strengthened further as it veered inland to Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, devastating areas along a 200 kilometer stretch of coastline that claimed 1,836 lives and left thousands homeless.

The storm passed straight through the city of New Orleans, carrying a sustained wind speed of around 200 kilometers per hour, destroying many lighter buildings and causing extensive damage to others.
ShelterBox sent boxes the next day with freight company DHL, which arrived in Houston on September 1, to be distributed to the affected areas by local Rotarians, who had already been supporting their local communities by providing food, clothing and shelter.

Even though homes were flattened, the majority of survivors were desperate to stay on their own property.

Biloxi Rotary Club member Tracy DeDeaux volunteered during the tragedy and coordinated the local ShelterBox effort. Her home in Diamondhead, Mississippi, had piles of rubble outside the front of it and a blue tarp was used as a roof:

“I hardly know anyone who has a house to live in, so I guess I’m lucky.”

‘All we’ve got’

One of the people she assisted was Marion Bedlington. She helped him carry a disaster relief tent and other lifesaving supplies to his truck that was full of belongings. His dog, Chew-Chew, was also happily waiting for him.

“This is all we’ve got–my wife and me,” said Marion. “I found him (Chew-Chew) a week after, running around the neighborhood. I couldn’t believe it.

“I never cry, but I almost did. The tents came through when nobody else did.”

ShelterBox’s response to Hurricane Katrina was the first time the international disaster relief charity had deployed to the United States and could not have been possible without the help from local Rotary clubs and generous gifts from donors worldwide.

Thank you

With your incredible support, ShelterBox was able to send a total of 1,320 boxes, each packed with two tents and other equipment to help shelter those whose lives had been torn apart in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Today, seven years after the disaster, there has been focus on the movement of Tropical Storm Isaac as it nears the same Gulf Coast with direct aim at New Orleans.

With its top sustained winds currently at about 113 kilometers per hour, the National Hurricane Center in Miami has predicted that Isaac would intensify into a Category 2 hurricane, bringing winds of approximately 170 kilometers per hour by early Wednesday around the time it’s expected to make landfall.

Hurricane warnings extend across 450 kilometers, from Louisiana’s Morgan City to the Florida-Alabama state line.

Isaac not as powerful as Katrina

Isaac is not as powerful as Katrina, which landed as a Category 3 storm and New Orleans’ updated levees are equipped to handle stronger storms than Isaac, according to FEMA Officials. The breaking of levees led to the devastating flooding in the area after Katrina.

The storm has already ripped through Haiti and the Dominican Republic, displacing thousands, but didn’t cause too much damage as it blew past the Florida Keys. There has been isolated flooding and heavy rains over much of Florida, with around 80,000 homes left without power.

A ShelterBox Response Team arrived in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince on Monday to assess the need for emergency shelter following Tropical Storm Isaac.

Posted by Susan Ireland, Fairfax Rotary PR Director


Polio Eradication – Are We There Yet?

Did you know Rotary’s top philanthropic goal is to eradicate polio worldwide?  Since 1985, Rotary members have contributed more than $900 million and countless volunteer hours to help immunize more than two billion children in 122 countries. Rotary has also been a spearheading partner in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative since 1988, along with the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is also a key supporter of the initiative.  Rotarians have worked to match a $355 million challenge grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Rotary and its partners have reduced polio cases by 99 percent worldwide, from 350,000 cases in 1988 to less than 2,000 in 2008!  An estimated five million children have been spared disability, and over 250,000 deaths averted.  However, polio continues to threatens children in parts of Africa and South Asia, and remains endemic in Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan.

Rotary club members worldwide are cautiously celebrating a major milestone in the global effort to eradicate polio. India, until recently an epicenter of the wild poliovirus, has now gone for more than one year without recording a new case of the disease. India’s last reported case was a two-year-old girl in West Bengal State in January 2011. The country recorded 42 cases in 2010, and 741 in 2009.

The world must remain committed in order to achieve a polio-free world. The threat of polio anywhere is a threat to children everywhere.  If we don’t stay the course, experts say polio could rebound to 10 million cases in the next 40 years, negating the world’s $6 billion global investment.

Rotary is committed to fighting polio until every child is safe from this devastating disease.  In addition to Rotary’s fundraising efforts, hundreds of Rotary members travel at their own expense every year to join fellow Rotarians in polio-affected countries to immunize children against polio during national campaigns.

Posted by:  Dr. Laura Hills, President Rotary Club of Fairfax

2012 Marks 25th Anniversary for Women in Rotary

On May 4, 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Rotary clubs may not exclude women from membership on the basis of gender. Rotary issued a policy statement that any Rotary club in the United States can admit qualified women into membership. The Rotary Club of Marin Sunrise, California (formerly Larkspur Landing), was chartered on May 28 of that year. It becomes the first club after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling to have women as charter members. Sylvia Whitlock, of the Rotary Club of Duarte, California, became the first female Rotary club president.

The 1989 Council on Legislation vote to admit women into Rotary clubs worldwide remains a watershed moment in the history of Rotary.  The vote followed the decades-long efforts of men and women from all over the Rotary world to allow for the admission of women into Rotary clubs, and several close votes at previous Council meetings.

The response to the decision was overwhelming: By 1990, the number of female Rotarians had skyrocketed to over 20,000.

Women have served in leadership positions as high as the RI Board of Directors and The Rotary Foundation Board of Trustees.  In June 2011, there were 197,044 female Rotarians worldwide, and 91 women were district governors that year.

2012 marks the 25th anniversary for women in Rotary. Currently, women account for 15% of Rotary international membership. In North America, 22% of club membership is female.

Posted by Dr. Laura Hills, President Rotary Club of Fairfax