Hope After Disaster: Siebou’s Story

By Jane Dean, Red Cross Volunteer

One day, Disaster Health Services team Nancy and Regina scheduled a visit to Siebou.  This is a recollection of events from Nancy, Regina and I.  With kudos to Nancy who advocated for Siebou early on, and eventually the Red Cross got to “Yes.”

Siebou lived in America for 15 years, he came from Africa and his native language was French. He was working as a valet in a hotel when the hurricane hit.  He stayed there for the first days and hunkered down. Siebou got word that people were looting apartments.  He didn’t have much, and he wanted to protect his property, especially his TV that he saved up for, for a long time. His friend dropped him at the highway and he began to walk to his apartment.  Siebou could not swim and realized it was going to be difficult. A walk that would normally have taken him 10 minutes, took 4 hours. Siebou grabbed onto wire fences, gates and whatever he could to pull his way along through the water. As he got closer to his apartment, the water was up to his neck and he struggled to stay afloat. At times Siebou would slip under the water, swallowing mouthfuls each time. Little did he know how contaminated it was.

Once home, Siebou was trapped in his apartment until the water subsided.  After running out of bottled water he had no choice but to drink water from his tap, which of course was also contaminated. During the 4 days he was trapped, Siebou felt increasingly ill, he knew he had to get some bottled water.  The trip to the store was another hurdle and on his return, struggling to breathe Siebou collapsed to the ground. He managed to call 911 and was taken to hospital. Drinking the contaminated water caused Siebou to become desperately ill, resulting in a prolonged hospital stay requiring surgery. Eventually he was discharged from hospital and returned home.

During the time Siebou was trapped in his apartment and his subsequent hospitalization, he was not able to go and pay his rent; this resulted in an eviction notice being served. Thankfully his good friend was able to help Siebou by paying his rent and court fees.  Siebou’s recovery from surgery would take 6-8 weeks. He would be unable to work and his employer couldn’t hold his valet job for him.

When we visited Siebou his apartment was in disarray, and  it was clear he was in much pain. The water had come through the walls, destroying his TV and other electronics. Siebou had no hope for any improvements in his apartment and no money to replace his possessions. We listened to his story and gave him several resources to try and get more help.  Red Cross was able to assist Siebou with some funds to help with his medical needs.  Siebou was very grateful, and although it didn’t begin to make a mark on everything he owed, it was a start.

We made two follow up visits to Siebou, taking him medications, toiletries, snacks and water. Siebou was still in pain and not able to sleep, we were able to give him some tips and advice regarding this.  Although Siebue was worried and did not know what his future held, he was accepting of his situation. He resigned himself to the fact he would just have to deal with it.

Nancy states, “As soon as I met Siebou I could feel his kind, gentle spirit.  He wasn’t bitter or angry and he was so thankful for any contact we made. In spite of everything bad that happened to Siebou, he maintains a calm, peacefulness that is just commendable.  He is very thankful to all that the Red Cross has done for him. That was the last day of my deployment with the Red Cross and as we drove away I wept because I was so happy we could do something for Siebou.”

Sometimes it takes just going one step further that makes a difference in someone’s life.  That is what happened in Siebou’s case with the drive and determination of the whole team, we got to “YES!”

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