Monday, September 12, 2005

Stranded Tourist Stays to Help Red Cross Relief Efforts

Sunday, September 11, 2005 — HATTIESBURG, Miss. – A young tourist stranded by Hurricane Katrina declined an offer to be airlifted out by the Spanish Embassy, opting instead to help with the American Red Cross relief efforts in this ravaged region.
Jose Felipe Garrido Escudero, 21, of Madrid, seen here helping with relief supplies, could have been airlifted out of the hurricane-stricken Hattiesburg, Miss., by the Spanish Embassy but opted to stay and help the Red Cross relief operations instead. (Photo Source: Steve Coleman/American Red Cross)
Jose Felipe Garrido Escudero, 21, of Madrid, had spent the summer visiting a friend in Hattieburg, Miss., and was scheduled to leave New Orleans the day after Katrina hit. The evacuation order came Saturday while he was in New Orleans celebrating his last weekend in the United States. He returned to Hattiesburg, thinking the area was relatively safe. The catastrophic hurricane on Monday ended up cutting a swath of destruction along the gulf coast and 60 miles inland to Hattiesburg.
After seeing the destruction and suffering left behind, Escudero said that his heart wouldn’t let him leave without helping.
“It’s very crazy this situation. At first I was worried about how I would get home to Spain, but I stayed because people need help,” Escudero said earnestly, tipping back his American Red Cross baseball cap to run his hand through his tousled black hair.
So the young man donned a Red Cross disaster relief vest and joined the other 260 volunteers at the Red Cross South Central Mississippi chapter in Hattiesburg. His days are spent bringing food to hungry residents living without power and running water. His nights are spent on a cot at the chapter. Sleep and showers are scarce but Escudero said that he’s happy to be able to help.
Escudero, who recently finished his studies in dramatic arts and wants to be an actor, had never experienced such a natural disaster. The devastation awed him. He weathered the hurricane at friend Brett Montague’s apartment with the wind howling and tearing down trees. After the storm, they emerged unscathed to help others who were trapped in their apartments by fallen branches.
It took several days to reach his friends and family back home to let them know he was safe. He indicated that the Spanish Embassy in Washington, D.C. offered to fly him out but he declined. His friend’s father, lifelong Hattiesburg resident and attorney Douglas Montague, told Escudero about the Red Cross and suggested the organization might need a Spanish-speaking volunteer.
“He’s a really fabulous young man. It’s a testament to his selfless attitude to help others under extremely horrific circumstances,” Doug Montague said.
Escudero said that he was familiar with the American Red Cross but had never been moved to join before.
“When you watch the television and you see something like this happen, you feel bad,” he said. “But if you are there it’s different,”
Babs Faulk, manager of the South Central Mississippi chapter, said that she was impressed by Escudero’s dedication to a place so far from home.
“He could have gone home, and he chose to stay not knowing what would happen because he wanted to be part of the American Red Cross” she said. “We really appreciate volunteers like this.”
Escudero indicated that he plans to stay as long as he is needed.
“I prefer to stay here,” he said. “I can wait to go home. I am okay.”


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