As the rain started to fall around 5:30 p.m. in Alexandria, La., Kate Conrad was safely inside an American Red Cross shelter, distributing emergency backpacks to children who had been displaced by Hurricane Gustav.
Conrad, emergency communications director for Save the Children, one of the largest humanitarian agencies in the world, said some of these children had been displaced once before — exactly three years ago, when Hurricane Katrina hit.
“This is an added shock to the system,” Conrad told FOXNews.com in a phone interview. “This is all the more reason to keep them feeling safe and comfortable while they are away from their home and friends, things they know.”
Inside the backpacks are teddy bears, flashlights, safety and hygiene items and crafts.
“The kids seem happy right now, but this shelter is basically two giant rooms, the size of two giant football fields,” Conrad said. “There are a bunch of cots. It's not a normal environment. Right now it may seem like a big adventure, but it will wear thin.”
In addition to handing out backpacks, Save the Children has set up “Safe Space” areas at many shelters around the Gulf Coast to ensure these kids have a place where they can play or study, enabling parents to think through the families’ next step in the emergency situation.
The organization is also providing displaced families with emergency supplies such as diapers and baby wipes.
And, after the last raindrop has fallen, Save the Children will be there to ensure the back-to-school process is seamless, said Mike Kiernan, the agency’s senior director of media and communications.
“We recognized the needs of children weren’t being addressed during Katrina,” Kiernan said. “That is why we set up the Safe Space areas. Only children go there, they are monitored, but it’s important for kids to have a place to call their own.”
Kiernan said his staff is also available to talk with parents about the mental health aspect the hurricane may have on their child.
“Nightmares, crying, bedwetting — these are normal responses that parents can expect,” he said. “Parents need to know that. Children are enormously resilient, if given the opportunity to express themselves. They don’t need counseling, just activities and to know their friends feel this way too.”