Lending a hand

Over Labor Day weekend, nearly 100 students from Oglethorpe University in Atlanta descended upon Dekalb-Peachtree Airport to load food and supplies destined for victims of Hurricane Katrina into GA aircraft owned by Angel Flight of Georgia volunteers.

The students and Angel Flight officials bought more than $50,000 in food, medicine and bedding over the three-day holiday weekend, then packed it into airplanes so it could get to the Gulf Coast as quickly as possible.

Oglethorpe President Larry Schall also made two trips to take supplies to the Gulf Coast. On Sept. 3, he and his wife, Betty Londergan, flew to Baton Rouge with two Oglethorpe students, Alex Watterson and Kim Wiley. Then on Sept. 8, he flew to Mansfield, La., a city that had not seen any state or federal assistance. While in Mansfield, he traveled to a local shelter to distribute food and clothing, meet with evacuees and help prepare a meal for them.

His efforts, along with those of his students and the volunteers of Angel Flight Georgia, were repeated thousands of times across the nation as GA pilots rushed to aid in rescue missions and provide much-needed relief after the hurricanes.

Airport officials across the nation also joined in the efforts to save the storm-battered airports in the region. For instance, the businesses at Kissimmee Gateway Airport in Florida — battered by last year’s hurricanes — are joining in the city of Kissimmee’s decision to adopt Long Beach, Miss. Part of the adoption process includes an immediate $30,000 donation and a promise by the city to match employee contributions up to $15,000. The city also has set up food drives, donated police uniforms and vehicles and sent fire rescue personnel to the area.

Ranger Aviation, a Kissimmee FBO, flew a team of city staff to Long Beach to assess the hurricane damage, while another FBO, Attractions Jet Center, set up a Hurricane Katrina fund, donating 5 cents from every gallon of fuel sold to the relief efforts.

“We know how important it is to help others, given the destruction Central Florida endured in last year’s hurricanes,” said Terry Lloyd, director of aviation. “As soon as we are able to collect equipment, comfort items, and other needs identified by Long Beach, we hope to send several large aircraft directly from our airport to Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport (GPT).”

While GPT is open, many airports in the storm-ravaged areas are not, including Lakefront Airport (KNEW) in New Orleans, which is closed indefinitely because of damage done by Hurricane Katrina. Photos of the airport taken after the storm show it underwater with the tops of buildings looking like docks.

While Angel Flight and other organizations tend to evacuees and the homeless, help in the form of supplies, money and manpower continues to arrive in New Orleans for the cleanup effort, including making repairs at damaged airports.

A team of building maintenance workers and electricians from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport offered its services to help rebuild and repair the damage at Louis Armstrong New Orleans Airport (MSY). They left Phoenix hauling trailers filled with tools, food and other supplies a few days before Hurricane Rita hit. The group waited out the storm out of harm’s way, then were directed to go straight to Lake Charles Regional Airport (LCH) where they immediately went to work repairing the airport infrastructure, such as the water system and perimeter fence, and replacing broken windows in the control tower. The Phoenix team is part of a small army of civilian aviation workers made up of pilots, mechanics and airport workers bent on restoring air service to the battered region.

Their efforts have not gone unnoticed. At the opening session of the 14th Annual Airports Council International conference, Roy Williams, MSY’s director of aviation, expressed his gratitude for the support airports nationwide have offered in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

“Hurricane Katrina has been a monumental crisis with a large portion of the recovery action taking place at the airport, including the rescue and healing effort,” he said. “We are tremendously grateful for the support of our airport colleagues who have helped us to get back up and running, setting the stage for recovery efforts and full operations.”

Help also came from Chapter 513 of the Experimental Aircraft Association. Instead of swapping hangar stories during its third annual Cajun Fly-In in late September, members of the chapter from Houma, La., gathered some 3,000 pounds of relief supplies for the storm ravaged areas. The group is based at Houma-Terrebone Airport (HUM), which is about 45 miles from New Orleans.

SIDEBAR: Rita’s Wrath

While the devastation of Hurricane Katrina was still being assessed, Hurricane Rita ripped through Texas and southwest Louisiana. Unlike Katrina, however, Rita left much of the region’s airports and air traffic control facilities unscathed.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta reported that the FAA had resumed ATC operations at airports in Texas and Louisiana. All airports in that area, except Lake Charles Regional (LCH) in Louisiana and South Texas Regional Airport (BPT) in the Beaumont/Port Arthur area of Texas, were handling traffic just days after the storm.

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