- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Joanne Lalla spent September 11, 2001, nursing burn victims at the Washington Hospital Center.

Now, the registered nurse is among the missing in the flooded-out city of New Orleans. The last time her family spoke to her, she sounded desperate and scared.

“She is always worried about other people first. Knowing that Joanne is such a calm individual, it’s really hard to hear from her sister that she is desperate,” said Nancy Peele, 34, of Arlington who met Miss Lalla when she lived in the District. “As soon as I heard she was there, I immediately went into mode of operation to try to get the word out that Joanne was stuck.”

Hundreds of aid workers from across the country are converging on the hurricane-ravaged regions of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama to search for the missing like Miss Lalla and rescue — and take care — of other victims.

In one of the largest search-and-rescue operations in U.S. history, the Navy sent from its Virginia ports four ships loaded with drinking water and other emergency supplies. The hospital ship USNS Comfort is expected to leave Baltimore tomorrow.

The Army and Air Force were providing search-and-rescue helicopters. The American Red Cross, in its biggest-ever relief operation, is sending thousands of volunteers to help pass out food and assist in searches.

About 130 soldiers and airmen from the Maryland Army National Guard and the Maryland Air National Guard were deployed to Mississippi yesterday to help with security and traffic control. The troops are from the National Guard’s 115th Military Police Battalion and the Air National Guard’s 175th Wing.

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said yesterday the state sent dozens of doctors and nurses and two state mobile health clinics to help hurricane victims.

“This is a test of our compassion as Marylanders and as human beings,” he said.

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner activated the Virginia Emergency Operations Center to track relief efforts and offers of assistance.

“Virginians are eager to help in what the president has called one of our nation’s worst natural disasters,” he said. “[After] Hurricane Isabel, other states were quick to come to our aid, and we will always remember that kindness.”

A 34-person search-and-rescue team from Fairfax County began setting up in Gulfport, Miss., yesterday, authorities said. Another 35 members of a similar team from Montgomery County were at Stennis Space Center in Louisiana.

The crews are among 18 urban search-and-rescue teams and two incident-support teams deployed to the Gulf Coast. An additional eight swift-water-rescue teams also have been deployed, federal officials said.

The crews arrived in the Gulf Coast region as the number of deaths from Hurricane Katrina reached at least 110 in Mississippi alone. In New Orleans, the mayor said yesterday that thousands of people could be dead.

The region’s utility crews, including Potomac Electric Power Co. and Dominion Virginia Power, sent crews to help restore power to thousands of businesses and homes.

Miss Lalla was among hundreds stuck in the Memorial Medical Center in downtown New Orleans after Katrina made landfall Monday. The hospital had not yet evacuated yesterday afternoon.

When her family spoke to her Tuesday night, Miss Lalla was with cancer patients in the hospital, praying to be evacuated. That was the last time they heard from her.

Miss Lalla’s sister, Carolyn Lalla Bailey, 32, spent yesterday in her family’s hotel room in Shreveport, La., waiting to hear word from her missing sibling.

“We’ve been talking with her for the past few days, and she said the conditions are just horrible,” said Mrs. Bailey, a former Capitol Hill staff member who now lives in New Orleans. “The looters are trying to break into the hospital. They have no electricity; the backup generator went down. They are having to ration the water so the patients can get their medicine. They even have a portable oxygen tank that they are having to ration.”

Miss Lalla moved back to New Orleans to escape the stress of living in the District after the terrorist attacks.

In addition to worrying about her sister, Mrs. Bailey said Katrina destroyed her lakefront home and her family’s home.

“There are moments of my day that I don’t believe this has really happened,” Mrs. Bailey said. “It’s like a bad dream. I just want to go back to my normal life and home life, but then my husband reminds me that life will never be ‘normal’ after this. … Everything, everything is gone.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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