By now everyone with electricity has seen images and video of the devestation that befell New Orleans and the surrounding areas yesterday. 80% of the city has been destroyed. Over 100 people have been killed, tens of thousands injured and hundreds of thousands left homeless. The magnitude of the disaster is impossible to express in simple words. When words fail, all we have are deeds. Now is the time to help in any way we can.

According to Canadian Red Cross Disaster Relief coordinator Sherri McCloud, the first and most important way to help is to provide the basic necessities of life. As authorities in the region are still assessing damages and response, the Red Cross is currently only accepting donations by cash or cheques

Supplies of blankets, tents, sleeping bags, non-perishable food, and clothing are likely to be collected by local fire stations for distribution in the coming weeks. Check your local newspapers or call the Red Cross for further instruction.

In both countries, the Red Cross is collecting disaster relief funds though as many remember from last year’s Tsunami relief, it is important to specifically ear-mark these donations by writing in the memo section of the cheque “Hurricane Katrina Relief”. The Canadian Red Cross also maintains a list of skilled Red Cross volunteers ranging from medical personnel to counsellors which will be activated when needs are fully identified.

While not yet organized, teams of workers will be needed in the coming weeks. If you have vacation time coming and want to lend a hand to neighbours in distress, let them know your availability by calling your local Red Cross office. Again, the same can be said for the American Red Cross branches.

In the coming days, building supplies and skilled workers will be needed to help clean up the city and rebuild housing and civic infrastructure. Materials are needed to rebuild sewers, water treatment, and other critical services. As with all major disasters, they will need blood as well. If you haven’t donated blood recently, this is a good day to do so. If not today, tomorrow or Friday. Don’t waste time thinking about it, just do it.

To say, “give till it hurts” would be trite. Watching the news last night and reading this morning’s papers already hurts too much. Just Give.