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Article Archive >> Featured Topics

Katrina Recovery Still Needs Volunteers

Katrina Recovery Still Needs Volunteers
by Pat Fridgen

The Sunday after Thanksgiving four people from Franklin County, Pennsylvania packed a car with sleeping bags, duffel bags, and toys, and began a journey that would change them forever. The mother and daughter, man, and woman did not know each other. Pat, Noel, Bill, and Crystal had met once with trip coordinator Angel Myers of Mercersburg to finalize travel details.
The destination was Pass Christian, Mississippi. The purpose was to help with Katrina relief efforts.
One Town
Pass Christian, population 6,000, is representative of all communities stretching the Gulf Coast. Eighty-percent of the town was damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Katrina that hit on August 29, 2005. Neighborhoods were leveled. Debris still clutters the landscape.
The Seabees erected a tent city on one block for displaced residents. FEMA trailers have been set in yards that have electricity and water restored. The streets are generally silent. Traffic is sparse. Most of the people are gone. Some have returned to survey the damage to their homes, but still have no place to live locally.
Psychologists have discovered that post-hurricane stress is more pronounced than expected. People are in anguish. This displays itself in grief, mood changes, anger, substance abuse, and respiratory distress. Residents are weary, suffering physical injuries as they try to repair their homes. The emotional after-affects of this hurricane are predicted to last years instead of months.
Classified ads in a Biloxi newspaper are particular to the situation:
"Sheetrock hangers. $15/board."
"Paying cash for flood damaged construction/timber/farm equipment."
"Cat: Katrina rescue. Blind, fixed, declawed, shots."
"A local roofing company needs housing for workers. Will trade new roof for rent or discount on roof for home rental."
"3BR/2BA, 2100 sq ft., pool, elevator, flooded but cleaned out. $135,000."
Keith's Story
At 35, Keith was proud to own his first home. He had two classic cars and an extensive Nascar memorabilia collection. Mid-morning on August 29, his house flooded in 15 minutes. He and his girlfriend climbed into the attic. He tried to drill an escape route through the roof with his chain saw, but couldn't pierce a layer of metal sheeting.
When the water level was six inches below them, they decided to get out of the house. They said their goodbyes, just in case. Keith dove into the water and swam through a broken French door. He grabbed the roofline. He saw his girlfriend's hand and pulled her up. They swam to a tree and clung for six hours. As the water receded, they lowered themselves as well. The water was warmer than the freezing air.
Keith's three cats drowned, which he still grieves deeply to this day. His dogs survived. One swam to the roof while the other one stayed in the attic.
For three days Keith and his girlfriend wandered. There was nowhere to seek medical attention, no sure supply of food or water. The federal government was late getting to communities beyond New Orleans. After a week they got to relatives in North Carolina. Keith has come back twice to assess his house. He lost everything.
He is currently looking for work. Insurance covered the balance of his mortgage but he has no money to pay for repairs. His girlfriend has nightmares every night. Three and a half months later, they are on a waiting list for a FEMA trailer.
Keith told a group of volunteers, "Thank you for coming down. You give people hope."
The Volunteers
Greg from Kentucky went to Pass Christian days after the hurricane. He started serving burgers in a parking lot. The operation has expanded to a volunteer-run, donation-supported tent kitchen that serves over 1,500 free meals daily.
Phil from Canada set up a distribution center next door. It is volunteer-run and donation supported, providing food and personal items to 250 people daily.
A retired contractor from British Columbia drove 70 hours in his RV. He eats in the relief tent with the intention of meeting local citizens. He finds people he can help with his skills. He plans to stay several months.
Brett rode his bicycle from Texas enroute to Key West to help a relative with hurricane repairs there. He detoured to Pass Christian to share his carpenter skills for a week.
Donna from Ohio chaperoned college students for six days. "If we hadn't shown up, the distribution center couldn't have opened today," she said.
A lady from North Carolina came down for a week to help sort books donated to the public library, which was temporarily set up in a trailer.
Mike moved from Michigan to live in a church and coordinate volunteer groups. He said, "Whatever else you do, go home and tell people about this. We need volunteers to keep coming down."
Journal of a Pennsylvania volunteer
Sunday- The three plastic toy bins were strapped to the car roof. In Tennessee one of the bins came loose and slid across the interstate. We could not safely retrieve it, so tightened the cords on the other two and continued on. Bill drove 11 hours today, ending up in Birmingham, Alabama.
Monday- The lids of the other two bins flew off near Mobile. We gave up and stuffed them in the car with us. After another six hours of travel, we found our church host in Pass Christian.
Tuesday- We ate breakfast at the relief kitchen. Crystal decided to stay there for the week. We joined a crew from Virginia to muck out a house. Our uniform consists of safety goggles, a face mask, a long sleeve shirt and pants, work boots, and leather gloves. We tore off sheetrock, pulled nails from the studs, took down ceilings, insulation, and ductwork, scraped tile from the floors, and hauled everything to the curb.
Wednesday- We mucked all day. Crystal flipped 600 pancakes, boiled 100 pounds of chicken, and cooked 50 pounds of noodles.
Thursday- The Army Corps of Engineers picked up our trash. An employee from Missouri said, "If you come across a refrigerator don't open it. Never open it. Know why? It's likely got three-month-old meat in it." The Virginia crew sprayed the house with a bleach mixture to kill the mold. We went next door. Noel and Bill gutted a bedroom. I took down insulation from two rooms. A lady picked up our toys for a local Christmas celebration.
Friday- Bill went back to the house. Noel and I worked at the kitchen and distribution center.
Saturday- We left for home. Got as far as Wytheville, VA.
Sunday- Arrived home late morning. Our house is clean, dry, and full of a lifetime of memories.
To Volunteer
Check with your church. Most denominations have volunteer programs in place and will plug you in.
Or you can contact Angel Myers of Mercersburg at 717-328-2848. By the end of December she had coordinated eight group trips with volunteers from Hagerstown, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
To serve in Alabama/West Florida, call Ron Baughman 866-340-1956.
To serve in Mississippi, call Chris Bowers 866-435-7091.
To serve in Pass Christian, call Mike Zimmerman 228-452-4080.
There is much work to be done. There are hundreds of families that need your help. Please continue to donate money and supplies.

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