Hurricane Gustav: a volunteer's perspective

By Ben Wolf - email | bio

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - Hurricane Gustav shelters got a bad rap from many media outlets.  Even state and local officials said some facilities were not up to par.
A volunteer nurse now claims while improvements were needed at the shelters, the main problems stemmed from some irresponsible evacuees.
Her name is Sherri Hagerhjelm and she says she volunteered 120 hours while only hearing the words 'thank you' 10 times. 
"I've been called every word I've ever been called in my life in the past week.  I've been threatened," said Hagerhjelm.
Sherri Hagerhjelm volunteered for as many as 40 hours straight during Hurricane Gustav.
It was what some evacuees did and didn't bring with them that shocked her most.
"Their cell phones, their chargers, their cigarettes, and their lighters, but they would come to me and say I don't have any insulin for my child.  How didn't you remember any insulin for your child?" said Hagerhjelm.
After what she describes as a week of watching some people demand prescriptions for narcotics, buy alcohol yet claim they couldn't afford medicine, and some mothers disregard sick children, she let it all out in an e-mail.
She sent the e-mail to just four or five friends and it circulated across the world prompting phone calls and e-mails from television networks and hundreds of volunteers.
"A mentality that said you owe me something because I'm a victim, rather than you are providing a service because I am in need," said Hagerhjelm.
KSLA News 12 witnessed some people cry out for things like diapers and baby formula -- things Hagerhjelm says they should have brought themselves.
"We weren't pulling people off roofs, they had time to gather their things they had time to get to the buses, they had time to get their medicines," she said.
This was not the view of every volunteer who helped at the shelters, rather, one woman in particular.  However KSLA News 12 did see many responses from other volunteers who backed up Hagerhjelms e-mail.