On the road to disaster | AspenTimes.com

On the road to disaster

John Colson

A body in the floodwaters on Canal Street in New Orleans. (Rick Bowmer/AP)

Two Roaring Fork Valley good Samaritans were nearing Arkansas on Sunday afternoon, headed for the fringes of what has been described as the worst natural disaster ever to hit this country.Mike Hondo, a Basalt businessman, left town Saturday evening in a rented U-Haul truck filled to the brim with cases of canned goods and other items for the thousands of victims of Hurricane Katrina. Traveling in a cab jammed with food and personal gear, Hondo is traveling with Travis Blair, one of Hondo’s employees in his sandblasting business. The truck was towing a trailer, donated by Basalt U-Haul, also filled with supplies, including baby and adult clothing, tents and sleeping bags, underwear, bottled water, bleach and personal hygiene items.They were hoping to make it to Bastrop, La., by Sunday night. The city is on the state’s northern edge, near the Arkansas state line.

Bastrop, a town of about 12,000, is likely to be one of numerous cities to catch the overflow of refugees from the Gulf Coast region. Katrina is now believed to have been the most destructive hurricane ever to hit the mainland United States. Some estimates put the loss of life from the storm and its aftermath at more than 1,600 so far, with the number growing every day, according to the Web-based encyclopedia, Wikipedia. More than 20,000 people were listed as missing as of Sunday, Wikipedia reported.According to Hondo’s girlfriend, Holly Miely, the truck was in eastern Oklahoma, nearing the Arkansas line, around 1 p.m. Sunday. Hondo and Blair had been trading driving duties and sleeping in the cab, not stopping for meals or anything else, other than gas and to use a toilet, in order to get the truck to its destination as soon as possible.”They were hoping to get there tonight,” Miely said.Hondo, reached on his cell phone at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, said they were nearing Fort Smith, Ark., and confirmed that they expected to be in Louisiana some time that night. He said they picked Bastrop because they heard the town put out a call for help, explaining that “they had several hundred people and no supplies.”On arrival in Bastrop his plan was to find someone involved with the relief effort and determine whether organizers there need everything in the truck and trailer. If not, “We’ll head further south” to see if other towns can use the goods in the truck and trailer.

Hondo said he had not seen many trucks or other vehicles that looked as though they were on a similar mission, but added, “There’s definitely a lot of people headed that way,” including several hundred military trucks.As far as the trip had gone so far, Hondo said, “We’ve had a great day. We cooked some brats [wrapped in tinfoil] on the engine while we were driving and just finished eating them. They were delicious.”Miely, who has been in relatively constant touch with the two since they left, reported that their brakes overheated on the downhill side of the Eisenhower Tunnel near Loveland Pass, and that they actually “saw flames” at one point. But other than that, the group reported, the vehicle is running well.Miely said they collected “about $1,800 in cash” over the two days they were parked at the Community Banks lot in El Jebel, in addition to the donated goods that were packed into the truck by Hondo, Blair, Miely and a group of helpers – Ed Armstrong, Jim Hanna, Michelle Maccaroone, Ken and Patti Miely, and Dan and Leah Roland.Part of the cash, Miely said, came from an 8-year-old girl who donated the proceeds from a day of selling popsicles at a roadside stand. The cash contributions also included a check for $750 from Miely’s employer, Lorrie B. Aspen, a real estate company.

The money, she said, will go toward the estimated $600 in gas and $1,500 rental fee for the truck.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com