Copyrighted by Don Chesnut, 2005
Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana 29 August 2005 as a Category 4 hurricane. Destruction was immense and extensive. I was contacted by Hunter Presbyterian Church of Lexington, Kentucky and asked if I would like to volunteer to do chainsaw work along the Gulf Coast. A message had been sent out by the Presbyterians of Alabama that the coastal area need a lot of help with chain saw crews to remove fallen trees. I contacted the group in Mobile, AL and told them I would volunteer to help.
The following is my account of this experience. My wife suggested that I keep a diary. I e-mailed daily entries to my family and after I came back, I reassembled them, with additions, into the following. Sorry that it's tedious.
Saturday morning, 15 October, Fairfield Inn, Bowling Green, Kentucky:
I stayed in Bowling Green last night and am on my way to Mobile. I'll be staying at the Grace Presbyterian Church in Mobil and work in Bayou La Batre on the coast. I should be in Mobile tonight. Cheers
Saturday, 15 October, first day in Mobile, Alabama:
I arrived in Mobile about 4:30 in the afternoon, central time. Grace Presbyterian Church is a small church in a quasi commercial-suburb area of western Mobile. It is a brick, one-story building set in a small field. I am the only person here for a week, then, next Saturday, a group of 10-12 from Leland or Deland, Florida will arrive. The group from North Carolina that was supposed to be here this week cancelled for some reason. The men's sleeping area is part of the main worship area, but partially blocked off with sheets and moveable partitions. Members will be arriving about 8 in the morning (Sunday), so I have to be sure to be up and dressed. It would be embarassing to be asleep and snoring loudly during their service, especially when they are 10 feet away.
The church has a nice kitchen, refrigerator, etc. The shower is in an outbuilding. The church office has a computer with a dial-up connection and I am welcomed to use it, hence this e-mail.
This week, I am supposed to be working with a group of four, but they are staying at another church. I have not heard from them yet. I will call the main organizing office tomorrow, but because it will be Sunday, they may not be there. It is possible that I may not have any work to do tomorrow if I can't locate anyone.
I asked about good places to eat and they gave me a list of fast-food and semi-fast food restaurants. I asked about BBQ and they said that Saucy Q Bar BQ, 1111 Government Street was the best. That wasn't too far away, so I drove down that street. Once I got away from the commercial outskirts and car dealers, I entered the older part of the street and was astounded. It was a tree-lined street, sort of like Richmond Road (Lexington, KY) near Henry Clay's Ashland, but the trees were live oaks. It was a beautiful street, but what was astounding were all the large Victorian southern mansions on either side. I'll try to take pictures, maybe tomorrow, if I have time. Anyway, I found the BBQ place and had a half rack of wet ribs and a platter of the best hot wings I have ever had.
I'll go to the grocery store tomorrow to buy some food to cook for dinner this week. I may eat out some too. Next week, when the larger group will be here, the church ladies will cook for us all.
Sunday morning, 16 October, 8:30 am central time:
I got up about 6 AM and took a shower. The weather is very pleasant with clear sky and perfect temperature. There is a mockingbird nearby. I parked my car under a live oak and acorns fell on it all night long. There are acorns all over it; they are not large acorns and didnt damage the car. I fixed coffee and had Cheerios and whole-wheat toast for breakfast. I contacted the main Presbyterian office at 8 this morning and got a recording. I asked them to call my cell phone when they figured out what I am supposed to do. Meanwhile, I organized everything in the car. Next, I will get gas for the chainsaw. There is still no one else here at the church.
Sunday afternoon, 16 October, 5:00 pm central:
People started arriving by 9 AM. They told me that I would probably hear from the main office tomorrow morning (Monday). I attended Sunday School where we studied the Book of Judges. After Sunday School, I excused myself to find an open gas station so that I could fill up my plastic container with gas and oil for the chainsaw. After mixing the gas and oil, I filled the chainsaw and started it to make sure everything worked. It did. Services were still going on at 1 pm, when I left to get groceries. The local grocery store had white sweet potatoes, so I bought some. When I got back (about 2 pm), everyone was gone. I heated up the BBQ ribs I had left over from last night. Then I washed all the silverware and coffee cups left over from Sunday School and Church. Its going to be a long day.
Sunday evening, 16 October, 8:30 pm:
It got dark about 6:30 this evening. I cut three white sweet potatoes and boiled them. After they were done, I mashed them, skin and all. I put one third of them on a plate and put the rest in the refrigerator for later in the week. I also had a salad. The sweet potatoes were excellent. Ill have to bring some back to Kentucky.
The television reception is limited to three channels, all seeming to be about sports. I micro-waved a bag of Cajun popcorn, but severely burned the first bag. Smoke filled the kitchen, so I took the bag outside. Apparently their microwave oven is stronger than the one at home. The second bag was just fine. The whole place smells like smoke though. Ill probably go to bed about 9 tonight. I cant wait to have a whole day of work.
Monday morning, 17 October, 7:00 am:
I got up at 6 and took a shower. I ate a piece of whole-wheat toast and peanut butter, a bowl of cheerios and made a pot of coffee. I havent heard from anyone yet. I will drive to Bayou La Batre. The person in charge there is at the town hall. I will probably meet the other team there.
Monday, 17 October, 8 pm:
Early in the morning I took off for Bayou La Batre. When I got to the city limits, I called Ada Williamson at City Hall who is coordinating volunteer help for that area. She told me how to get to City Hall. On the way I saw a FEMA compound with a lot of trailers in a sort of FEMA city.
Then I passed another about a mile down the road from the first. At City Hall, Ada told me that she had been the librarian till the surge from Katrina went through the library and ruined all the books. The building still exists, but with no books. The storm surge was around 20 feet, not counting waves. She told me that if I wanted to see some interesting storm damage, I should drive down Shell Belt Road, when I got the chance.
The good news is that all the roads appear to be cleared and there were no longer any trees on the houses. Thats what I though I would be doing, chain sawing trees in the road and on houses. There are plenty of trees down everywhere, just mostly in yards, fields and along the right of way. Ada told me that I would be working with William E. Meredith, a 90-year-old fellow with a liver condition of some sort. The other group that I was supposed to be working with had a flat tire on their trailer and would be late. Mr. Meredith came to City Hall and I followed him about 7 miles to his small farm. There were trees down all over the farm. He said he tried to hire people to cut them up, but there just werent people available to do that. His health was too poor to do anything himself.
I spent the first three hours dragging limbs to the fence and throwing them onto the right of way. There were lots of hanging limbs so I just twisted them until they came off. Most of the trees during this part were pecans and the limbs werent large.
The other team, four people from Clemson, SC arrived and started working about a hundred yards from me. At that point, I started working on a couple of downed trees along the hedgerow, they were covered with vines (not poison ivy) and had bent over lots of springy saplings. It was like working in a jungle, the vegetation was so thick. I used the bow saw to remove the limbs smaller than 3 inches thick, and I drug all of these over to the side. Then I used the chain saw for short intervals, as I exposed the larger limbs from the vines. It was back and forth all the rest of the day, on these two trees. Mr. Meredith wanted the big wood cut into firewood size to burn in his fireplace. The price of natural gas was at an all-time high after Katrina.
It was very hot work, so I didnt eat lunch. I drank lots of water though. About three oclock in the afternoon, I stepped into a gopher hole that had been covered over by grass. My leg went down the hole to my knee. I didnt hurt my leg, but my back got a sharp jolt. The others advised me to take the rest of the day off and give my back a chance to recuperate. I quit at 3:30 and decided to drive back to Bayou La Batre. I drove down the road that parallels the channel where all the commercial fishing boats dock. It was amazing to see so many very large boats washed onto the land. Many of the warehouses were destroyed. I took a bunch of pictures. I hope they turn out. At the end of the channel, the road made an L and followed the coast. I took pictures of some of the destroyed houses that were just a few feet from the waters edge (the Gulf). All of the pine trees had red needles because the saltwater from the surge killed them.
Then I took Highway 188 and Highway 90 to Pascagoula in Mississippi. I had heard that it suffered similar destruction. I did not drive along the seashore, but just along the major roads. Even inland, lots of trees were down and houses were damaged. On the way back, I took I-10 to Mobile. A lot of the billboards and interstate signs were damaged and many trees down. There is a faint odor of smoke everywhere, I assume from burning trees, lumber and garbage. Mobile had a lot of damage too. Not to the degree of Bayou La Batre.
view from high bridge at Pascagoula, MS, note large boat on land
When I got back from Pascagoula, it was time for dinner. I thought I needed lots of protein, so I went to Logans Steakhouse and had a steak with potatoes. On the way home, I stopped at an ice cream shop and got two scoops to bring back to the church. I could only eat half of it. Three church ladies were here when I got to the church. They told me that the group of 12 from Deland, FL that was supposed to be here next week cancelled out. The group of 12-15 that was supposed to be here from Mooresville, NC this week had also cancelled. I dont understand why so many volunteers are canceling. Is it because there is the potential for another hurricane?
Tuesday evening, 18 October, 9:40 pm:
I couldnt make any earlier entries, because the office was locked when I arrived at the church. I called Tracy Bryan, one of the church ladies, and she had someone who lived close by to unlock it for me. Now I can write and post my diary.
This morning, I got up a little after six. I had a couple of bowls of Cheerios, filled up my water container and took off for Bayou La Batre. I got to Mr. Merediths (Coach Meredith) farm about 7:30. I started bow sawing a fallen pear tree. It was a shame to cut up a nice fruit tree like this. It still had blooms and immature fruit. I did find one ripe pear, so I picked it and ate it. It was perfect, very sweet and just the right crunchiness. Anyway, I sawed a lot of the little branches. When the other team arrived, about 20 minutes after me, I started using the chain saw. By the way, its a Stihl O25 that my Dad bought and brother Steve brought to me during the ice storm a couple of years ago. Its a great saw.
One of the Clemson group came up to me and told me that they were going to leave after lunch and work on a ladys place that had a greater need than this nice little farm. She lived much closer to the waterfront than the Coachs farm. She also had a medical condition. Apparently, a FEMA trailer couldnt be satisfactorily positioned on her property because it was blocked by debris of some sort. I told them Id help.
I finished cutting up the pear tree and then a fallen Japanese chestnut (not relation). I got both trees cut up and the team loaded the debris and firewood onto a trailer and we stacked the firewood. By then it was lunch time. Mr. Meredith (everyone calls him Coach) told us he had reserved a table for all of us at the Lighthouse Restaurant on Padgett Switch Road. The restaurant was a popular spot for the locals. Mr. Meredith and his wife knew everyone in the place. He said that the family owned several commercial fishing ventures and that they got the most choice seafood anywhere around. He ordered several platters of batter-fried crab claws, and they were excellent. I highly recommend them if you ever find yourself there. I ordered one of the two specials; I had shrimp alfredo pasta, greens of some type, and fried okra. And sweet iced tea.
After lunch, we went back to the farm and loaded everything up. Danny had a Kubota front-end loader and he drove it onto the trailer and chained it down. We said our goodbyes and headed to the next place. We had directions but little additional information. We drove back through Bayou La Batre and down Satsuma Street and found the place. FEMA had spray painted Bosarge and 9211 on the old trailer. The yard was covered by weeds and saplings. A dilapidated old house with broken windows was on the right side. The owner, Ruth Bosarge, arrived with her kids or grandchildren driving. The old house had been destroyed by a previous hurricane some years back. The old house and the new FEMA trailer and three flooded cars blocked the lot and the old trailer couldnt be removed. The old trailer was where she had been living before Katrina. Everything she had owned was in the trailer. Two of the cars had already been on the lot but the third had floated up against her house (or the trailer, Im not sure which). FEMA had dragged it away from the place where they put the trailer, but it was still blocking access to the lot. We tried to contact a coordinator to ask what to do with the ruined cars, however, our cell phones didnt work (they didnt at Mr. Merediths farm either). I had been able to use my cell phone in downtown Bayou La Batre to ask directions to City Hall and it worked then. However, we couldnt get a signal to the coordinators phone. It was starting to get late in the afternoon and hot too. So far, everyday has been in the upper 80s with a blazing sun and clear sky. We decided to call it a day and be back at Mrs. Bosarges place the next morning. Meanwhile, Dean would contact the coordinator and find out what to do with the cars. I suggested that they use their remaining time to drive down Shell Belt Road and check out the wrecked boats and storm-damaged houses. I stopped at a local T-shirt store, Bayou Shirt Company, Inc. (14060 S. Wintzell Ave.). The owner, Rick McLendon, prints the T shirts with his designs while you wait. I bought three shirts for the girls and one for Anne. I got a hat that had Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, Bayou La Batre on it. Bayou La Batre was the site for the Bubba-Gump Shrimp Company in the book, Forrest Gump.
I drove back to Mobile and took a shower at the church. Then I found that the office had been locked. Then I went to the grocery store and found what I had been searching for several days, a cheap charcoal grill. It was the only one the store had and I had looked there before. So I bought the grill (about five dollars) and some charcoal to use for later in the week. Next time I come down to help, Ill bring a little grill so that I can cook out. Hopefully, when I come down again, it will be a little cooler.
After shopping, I got back to the church and fixed tuna fish sandwiches and a salad. And then I wrote this. Good night.
Wednesday evening, October 19:
I got up about 7 (an hour later than usual) and had Cheerios and yogurt for breakfast. I had received a phone call the night before saying that we would meet at Ruth Bosarges place at 8:10 in the morning and this gave me plenty of time. I drove to Ruths place at 9211 Satsuma Rd., not far from the water front and got their by 8:10. Ruth had had a storm surge and waves that ruined her trailer. FEMA had placed a new trailer near the front of her property, but it had blocked any way to get the old trailer out. The place was in ruins. Mrs. Borsage had several daughters and granddaughters and I believe a great granddaughter living with her. The place was like a garbage dump and I think it was like that before the hurricane. The old frame house was ruined and was to be torn down. There was a big, dead tree in the front of the house and lots of brush and garbage and three ruined cars blocking the house. We went around the back to the old trailer and the stink was unbelievable. We went into the trailer and and all the furniture was moldy and the refrigerator had fallen onto other furniture. Water had gotten pretty high in the trailer. The most notable thing was the smell. I had never smelled anything like it before and my immediate reaction was that it was not a healthy place to be. It smelled like a combination of decomposing body, feces, and the most intense moldy smell.
We formed a plan. Mrs. Bosarge wanted her wooden chairs and dinning room table and several other mementos. The two ladies in our group spent the day retrieving these items and cleaning them with disinfectant. They wore respirators (the big jobs that made them look like Darth Vader). Meanwhile, the three men (Danny and Dean from Clemson and me) worked on the front yard. Danny called a junk car dealer and the fellow agreed to come get the cars to be put in the crusher. We used the front-end loader and tow chains to drag two of the cars onto the side of the road on the right of way. That gave us room to start cutting the overgrown hedge/weeds/saplings. After we cut these, we drug the debris to the front to be picked up by the city. The junk car man came with a roll-bed truck and got one of the vehicles loaded and took it back to Mobile. Then we started cutting the old tree. It was very hard, aged oak of some kind and a chainsaw killer. It also had lots of nails driven into it. We tried pushing it over with the front-end loader, but the roots were too strong and deep. We would have to cut it down. It wanted to fall into the old house (which probably would have help), but we decided to fell it in the direction of the street. We cut a very large notch on the street side and knocked the wedge of wood out with a sledge hammer. I then climbed up into the tree and attached a tow chain around it. The front-end loader then tried to pull the tree down, but it was too tough. With the loader putting tension on the chain, I used my chainsaw to cut the backside to allow the tree to fall. The tree was about 2.5 feet in diameter so it took awhile to cut the back cut. When I got close, I backed away and the loader pulled several times till the tree broke at the hinge between the notch and the back cut. Then we unhooked the chain and started cutting the limbs. It was very heavy oak wood. Meanwhile, Danny used the loader to clean up the front lot and we piled more junk onto the pile in the front.
It was too hot to eat lunch, so I sat under the tree in one of the newly cleaned chairs and drank water and ate a Granny Smith apple. Dean and his wife went to a restaurant and the rest of us stayed to watch the equipment. Two ladies in a pickup truck drove by and asked us if we needed anything. They were working for the governor and distributing food and drinks to the locals in need. They thought we were locals. We told them the owner was in the trailer, so the ladies went in to talk with her. They had a big stuffed animal that they gave the little girl who lived there.
After we got the wood cut up and pushed to the front, we cleaned up some of the rest of the yard. Later, other people with larger equipment will come and knock down her house and pull the old trailer out and junk it. I left the others to return to the church in Mobile and to get gas for my car. We agreed to contact each other to find out what were would be doing the next day.
After arriving at the church, I took a shower to get all the sawdust and the terrible moldy odor off. Then I set up the cheap charcoal grill on the concrete patio along the side of the church. I filled it with charcoal and started it. There is something very comforting about a fire. I located some turners and pot holders and a large stainless steel bowl. I figured Id use it as a lid for the grill. I had bought four steaks at Sams Club the night before, and a yellow onion at the grocery store where I bought the grill. I put some salt and a lot of black pepper on all four steaks last night and put each one in a Ziploc bag. I froze three of them and I kept the other one in the meat compartment. I brought a steel folding chair and set it up on the patio. It took a long time for the charcoal to burn off all the lighter fluid and for the charcoal to be covered with ashes, but it was pleasant to sit and watch it. When the coals were ready, I spread them over the grill and placed the stainless steel grill over the coals. I put the onion slices and steak on the grill and placed the big bowl over the whole thing. I cooked both sides of the steak for about five minutes. So for dinner, I had a nice medium rare steak, grilled onion slices, heated and mashed white sweet potatoes, some rolls and a nice salad. Its the best meal Ive had since Ive been gone.
I got a phone call from the Clemson group. Well meet up at Rosemary Greens house at 8651 Midway Street, Bayou La Batre. I have not seen the site, but I think were supposed to tear down a bunch of moldy drywall inside a house. I dont have any equipment for this, nor do I have a respirator. I have a face mask, but that is not enough. We may be supplied with the necessary equipment.
Ill check in tomorrow evening; Ill try to send this out and then go to bed.
Thursday evening, 20 October:
I got up this morning at 6:30 because we had agreed to meet at 8:15 in Bayou La Batre and this gave me plenty of time. I had Cheerios and yogurt and a cup of coffee. Then I filled the water containers, and loaded the gas cans into the car. I store the gas cans next to the shed every night. I left the church about 7:30 or so and arrived at Rosemary Greens house at 8651 Midway Street in Bayou La Batre. Before I found Rosemarys house, I had stopped about four houses up the street and asked some fellows for directions. I noticed a large sycamore and a pecan tree fallen across the backyard. The backyard was essentially blocked off. The fellow I talked to said the lady who owned the house was Nancy McCall (8701 Midway St.) and that she would want the trees cut up, if we were interested. After getting directions, I went to Rosemary's house. She let me in to take a look. She had wanted someone to help her move the items out of the house into a storage pod, but she didnt have the storage pod yet. The others (the Clemson team) arrived about fifteen minutes later. Because she didnt have the pod, there was nothing we could do for her. We couldnt stack the items outside. I mentioned the sycamore up the street, so we all went there. We waited a few minutes for Mrs. McCall to arrive. Meanwhile the Clemson team had brought food to give out to people that needed it. Dean took a box of food to the lady across the street. She had the remains of a large tree still crashed against her house. The tree had been trimmed of wood less than 20" in diameter, but the large trunk was laying against her roof; it actually crushed part of her house. However, it required heavy equipment to lift the tree out of the house, so I told her that we couldn't help her.
Meanwhile, Mrs. McCall arrived and said she would be delighted for us to cut up her fallen trees. We noted where the power lines were and how we'd drag the limbs out to the street. Then we developed a cutting plan for the sycamore. We trimmed out the little limbs and then started working on the six-inch limbs that weren't supporting the tree. We would cut for awhile, then we would drag limbs for awhile. After clearing out the little stuff, we were left with small limbs under pressure (from the weight of the tree) or with large limbs. We talked about each large limb. If we could reach it, we would just cut it off, section by section, toward the trunk, into pieces that we could move by hand. After the free-standing limbs were cut and dragged away, we started working on the limbs under pressure. We put cut logs under where we thought the logs would drop, we noted where the pinching (compression) and opening (extension) side of the limbs were and made an initial cut on the pinching side down to a depth of the saw blade and then we cut the rest from the tension side of the log. We were careful to predict where we thought everything would drop after cutting it and whether the limb or tree would settle or roll. We did this till most of the tree was cut up. We left the upturned roots and main core of the trunk and some big limbs holding up most of the weight of the tree. We didn't have equipment big enough to handle that. From about 10 AM on till the rest of the day, it was very hot and humid and we had to stop often for a water break. It took us all day to take care of the sycamore and drag the limbs to the road. Danny's front-end loader was helpful in hauling off the larger pieces.
We broke for the day, loaded Danny's front-end loader onto the trailer and agreed to meet early the next day to take advantage of the cooler part of the morning. We would start on the pecan tomorrow. I drove back to the church in Mobile. As I was driving past Mrs. Green's house, I noticed a large team of volunteers with T-shirts saying Christian International Outreach (or something like that). I stopped to ask them what they were doing. They were from Indiana, but I didn't catch from where. They were either shy or afraid of me. Perhaps I looked pretty bad by that time. They were moving all of her stuff from the house (her other house) onto the side of the road to be junked. It was all water damaged from the surge. This group had been called in to remove it all. I'll find out tomorrow what happened with Mrs. Greens house.
When I got back to the church I took a shower to get all the sawdust off. Now, I'm going to grill another steak.
One thing that I did notice is that there weren't many mosquitoes at Mr. Meredith's farm, but the last two days, they were much worse. We were closer to the seashore and were in the area of the storm surge. I guess a lot of standing water helped the mosquito population. I had to use spray several times today and yesterday. I have chigger bites, mosquito bites, heat rash, and sunburn. My clothes are filthy. I'm going to have to find out where the laundromat is.
Friday evening, 21 October, 8:30 pm:
I got up this morning at 5:45 because I was to meet with the other team at 7:00. I had corn flakes, orange juice and a cup of coffee. I left the church about 6:30. I got to Mrs. McCall's house about 7. I got out the bow saw and gloves and investigated the pecan tree. Mosquitoes were bad, so I went back and sprayed bug spray. By then Mrs. McCall came out and we talked a bit. About that time, the others arrived, so I put up my bow saw and got the chain saw. With three chain saws going, we set to work on the tree with the same plan as yesterday. Pecan is good firewood, so Mrs. McCall wanted us to cut it up as firewood and have the debris pushed back into the woods behind her backyard. Even with cutting it up into firewood, we were through in a couple of hours. We spent the next hour carrying limbs and raking leaves. With the front-end loader, Danny was able to partially push the stump and roots back into the hole it made when it fell.
While we were working on Mrs. McCall's yard, another lady pulled up and asked if we'd help with her yard. She was Betty Royal of 7836 (I think) Highway 188, about three miles east of Mrs. McCall's. We told her we would check it out when we finished there. After Danny got the front-end loader on the trailer, we set out for Mrs. Royal's place. It was an interesting place. Next to her house was a sort of picnic area surrounded by fences, all sorts of odds and ends, and ornamentations including little sculptures, refrigerators, decks, hot tub, large grills, tables, chairs, recliners, netting, Christmas tree lights, a boat's yard arm, and lots of other things. The area was well-looked after (except for the storm damage). In that area, she hosted school reunions, church picnics and all sorts of other get-togethers. She also had a large tilapia pond where one could catch fish. She took us to the pond and brought a bucket of feed to show us the fish. There were geese, ducks, raccoons, cats, dogs and all sorts of wildlife. There was also a very large metal-working building (everything rusted by the storm surge), a bus, several carts, a 1958 Pontiac and other vehicles. Mrs. Royal was very nice and quite interesting. She is also a lay minister at a Nazarene church in Mobile. Her husband Irving works at a scrap metal yard.
Mrs. McCall asked if we could help get the pine limbs cut up and removed as well as carry out the surge-damaged furniture. We carried out two box springs, and three mattresses. While doing this, she screamed in delight when she found a hand-made quilt that she had made with pictures of her children; it was fine. We also carried out two couches, a refrigerator (that had a lot of water in the insulation), about four wooden lawn chairs, a wooden table, a door, and a chair. We raked up a lot of pine cones and leaves and other trash and discarded these as well. We also moved some large propane tanks, a stainless steel refrigerator or cooler. While doing this we noticed a lot of roofing nails on the driveway, after we had parked there. Danny had a rolling magnet (he had everything) and he rolled it all over the driveway. He must have recovered 30 or 40 nails. Luckily, I don't believe we got any in our tires. After we got through, Mrs. Royal wanted to pray with us and she said the prayer. It was a very heart-felt thanks for our help.
By now, it was lunch time. The Clemson team had a quantity of relief supplies that they had agreed to give to the Methodist relief workers; they had a warehouse on Padgett Switch Road where they were making up boxes to give out to people. After this was done, the Clemson team had to go back to South Carolina (Danny had to go to Florida), so we said our goodbyes and exchanged addresses and went our own ways. It certainly was a pleasure to know them and work with them. It was actually fun.
I didn't think I'd have time to locate another team and start another project, so I decided to do some exploring. I had heard that Dauphin Island had been pretty badly hit by the hurricane, so I headed there. After about a 20-mile drive eastward from Bayou La Batre, I turned south on the road to Dauphin Island. It soon turned into a causeway across the marsh and finally a long bridge to the island. Signs had said that a toll booth was ahead, but apparently they weren't charging tolls; it was too much trouble for all the workers trying to fix things up, I guess. The bridge was low over most of its length, but at the middle it made a very high arch for ships to pass under. The island has a Coast Guard station, an Estuarium (Aquarium), pilot boats (to take ships to the port), an old fort, Fort Gaines, built in 1821, and lots of very nice beach houses along the Gulf side of the island. The eastern end of the island didn't look as bad as Bayou La Batre, but the western end had been hit hard by huge waves. Sand had been pushed over the island. At one point, a police guard booth was set up to stop people from entering the westernmost part of the island. The quantity of sand moved by the storm was staggering, and I hadn't seen the worst. I took several pictures on the island.
After Dauphin Island (pronounced like dolphin without the "L"), I headed back to Bayou La Batre. I went to City Hall to report to the relief coordinator, Ada Williamson. I told her what all we had done during the week, which yards and houses we had worked on, and what we could and could not do. I told her that the team I had been working with had to go back home and that I needed another team to work with. She mentioned that a team of four chainsawers from Foley, Alabama were supposed to arrive soon and that I could work with them. She would contact me by cell phone when she heard from them. I have not received any calls yet, and Ada won't be back in to work till Monday. I can contact Steve Carr of the Methodist group and perhaps work with them. I wish I had my own team from Kentucky.
It had been a very hot and humid day, and I was glad to get back to the church to take a shower and cool down. I called Tracy Bryan, a lady who is in charge of hosting the relief workers at Grace Presbyterian church. I told her all about the past week. She said she would come by and bring some new groceries and pick up my dirty laundry. This church has been very nice in supporting this relief effort. I hope that if I come here again, that I can stay here. They even brought me charcoal for my grill.
For dinner, I grilled steak, onion, green peppers, and apple slices with cinnamon. I also had lima beans from the freezer and a salad.
During the evenings, I have been working on their computer. There internet connection was a very slow dial-up connection. I downloaded and installed an anti-spyware program (I found 82 spyware programs after scanning), an antivirus program, and updated Windows (23 updates, it hadn't been updated since 2001). I cleaned and scanned the disk and will defragment it later. The internet connection is much more stable now and faster too. I think spyware had been hijacking the internet connection.
I don't know what I'll do tomorrow; Ada has my cell phone number. I called Guy Mendes' brother (Guy is my next-door neighbor in Lexington) and he invited me down for a visit Sunday. I look forward to that. Ned and his wife live at Orange Beach, on the east side of Mobile Bay. They didn't have any storm damage to speak of, according to Ned.
Saturday, 22 October, 6:30 pm:
I slept later than usual today and got up at 7:15. I had corn flakes, yogurt and a cup of coffee. I left for Bayou La Batre and arrived at the GTT plant, where the Methodist Church relief assistance group was warehousing their relief supplies. From there, I called Steve Carr who is coordinating the Methodist relief effort. He said that he had 60 relief workers that day and had divided them up into six work groups. He was busy trying to contact them and distribute them to the different work sites. He didn't have a list of places that need chainsaw work and suggested that I drive around and try to find places that needed this type of work. After I had located several, he would send a team out to help me. I drove around most of the rest of the morning and afternoon looking for yards with the biggest tree problems. The biggest problem was that no one was at home at most of the houses and I wanted to be sure that I had permission to do work. I did locate several where there were people at home. They were tickled to get some help. They were universally frustrated with any government help and said that the volunteer groups were the only ones getting anything done.
I saw mile after mile of destroyed or damaged houses. I met a number of people with desperate stories including one lady with two retard teenage sons. She started crying because she didn't know what to do. Their house was completely destroyed and everything that they had was gone. I gave out the telephone number of Steve's group to most of these people and told them that they could probably get some help from them. Some of them needed my help and I got permission from them to come back after Sunday and cut and carry their tree limbs (mostly on Satsuma, Collier and Niolon streets). I also met some interesting individuals, some who had a great need to talk, a lot. So I listened, a lot. Two fellows I talked to had stayed for the hurricane and both had stories about the storm surge coming up so quickly around their houses. A boat was blowing against one of the fellows as the 150-miles-an-hour winds pushed the boat, pinning him in the water against the shed for awhile. His brother thought that he had drowned.
I drove back to Mobile and entered town via Dauphin Island Parkway. I remembered that Tracy mentioned that a good place to buy seafood was a place on the Parkway with a sign that said "Mudbugs." I saw this place and pulled in. The name of the place was Cajun Seafood, located at 408 Dauphin Island Parkway. I talked to several of the people standing in line about what was the best to get. They liked the crabs and the shrimp. I bought two pounds of shrimp, some Louisiana brand crab boil and cocktail sauce (same brand). Tonight, I'll boil some shrimp and maybe some white sweet potatoes and save it for Sunday. Hopefully, I'll have some shrimp left over for another night. How long can you keep boiled shrimp?
Tomorrow, I'll get up before the church members arrive (I hope) and head for Orange Beach to meet with Ned Mendes.
In memory of Leon Calvert
Sunday, 23 October, 8:30 pm:
I woke up about 6:30 and took a shower. The weather has turned decidedly cooler in the last couple of days. The temperature was in the 40's this morning. Good working weather, only I'm not working today. I had a couple of bowls of corn flakes, some yogurt and a couple of cups of coffee. Then I set out for Orange Beach, Alabama. I haven't been on the east side of Mobile Bay before. I went through the I-10 tunnel under the Mobile River(?). I saw in the distance the USS Alabama, a battleship that is now a museum. Continuing southeastward, I noticed that the hurricane damage was significantly less than that of Mobile. I arrived at Ned and Pat Mendes' condo about 9:30. Ned is the brother of my next-door neighbor, Guy Mendes. Before I left for Alabama, Guy suggested that I visit Ned. I called them as I approached their condo and they said that they would meet me there. They were on their way back from church. I bought some flowers from Burris Market on the way to Orange Beach to give to Pat. I got to the condo early and talked to some boys fishing along the boat slips next to the condo. I tied some hooks onto the line for them and told them where I had seen some fish. They fished there most of the day and caught about 12 very small fish. They accidentally dropped one in the swimming pool. You know boys.
Pat and Ned arrived and we all introduced ourselves. We talked for awhile and I stood on their balcony overlooking the water. It was a very nice day. I could see a line of high clouds off to the southeast that were part of the hurricane Wilma as it approached Florida. Ned told me all about the damage from Hurricane Ivan in the past. Katrina had done some damage here, but not nearly as much damage as Ivan. Ned found two of his old fishing tackle boxes and gave them to the two boys. He had to throw away some of the rusted lures that had gotten wet with salt water when Ivan came through. The boys seemed very happy about their new treasures.
Pat decided that we should grill hamburgers and they called their friend Bob to come over as well. Bob works with the New Orleans sheriff's department, and he talked about the damage in New Orleans from Katrina. He works three full days and then comes back to Orange Beach for the rest of the week.
About that time, I got a call from Anne, with some bad news. My brother-in-law Leon Calvert had died this morning in Jacksonville, Florida. He had just played 18 holes of golf, his favorite activity, and collapsed at the golf course. I think back about the nice long visit that my daughters and I had with Leon and Sherry in Jacksonville this summer. The girls did a "make over" of Leon and it was the funniest thing. He was a good uncle to patiently let them make up his face and hair. He also taught them how to play poker, to bluff and to make bets. I'll miss Leon and the girls and Anne will too. About 20 minutes later, I got a call from my daughter Elizabeth, also telling me about Leon. The rest of the day, and I'm sure the rest of the week will be pretty somber.
Pat got a phone call from one of her long-time friends, another Pat, who happened to be in town. They decided that we should all meet at Lulu's, a bar and restaurant on the intracoastal waterway. Lulu is the sister of Jimmy Buffet and Jimmy owned a part of it, Ned told me. We didn't stay very long and then we went back to the condo. By then it was time for me to go back to Mobile. It was certainly very generous of Pat and Ned to invite me into their home. It was a welcome respite from what I had been doing. I enjoyed our visit very much.
On the way back to the church I crossed a long bridge over the bay, just as the sun went down. The clouds from Wilma were now highlighted by the now invisible sun and had changed considerably since I had noticed them from the condo balcony. This time they were not thin clouds but were very tall and high. This was not a typical set of clouds at all. I could tell that something serious was going on, far away.
I got to the church and had half of the boiled shrimp, some smashed white sweet potatoes and some salad. I'll go to bed pretty soon; tomorrow is another chainsaw day, if I can get a team together.
Monday evening, 24 October, 7 pm:
I got up about 6:30 this morning. I went out to the shower house and took a shower and the weather was very cool and gusty. The temperature was about 40 degrees from what I understand. It remained cool and windy the rest of the day, only getting up to about 70 degrees, excellent working weather. I had a couple of bowls of corn flakes, a cup of yogurt and some coffee and then headed out to Bayou La Batre. I went to City Hall, but my contact there, Ada, said that the group that was supposed to show up, never did. This is becoming a theme. [That's about four groups I was supposed to work with that didn't show up. They must have heard about me.] She didn't have anything on the list referring to chain sawing. She suggested that I contact the Methodist group. I called Steve Carr and got a phone answering machine. I told him that I had a place to cut downed trees but that I needed some help in carrying the limbs, etc. I gave him the address. It was Frank Vincent Collier's place on Collier/Satsuma Street (it has two names). I had visited him Saturday. His grandson was working in the house, but he said he would watch me for safety, till the others arrived. Frank had two big pine trees down in his back yard and several other trees behind those (I couldn't see because of all the limbs in the way). One of the pines was about 18 inches in diameter and the other about 20. They crossed each other and were covered with vines (not poison ivy). Both trees were lying in a thicket of saplings, so getting around them was difficult. I attempted my first cut on a small limb and wasn't getting anywhere at all. I realized that the chain was dull. Last Friday, the very last log I cut had had a nail buried deeply into the wood. I remember having a tough time cutting through it, but after it fell, I saw the nail. The nail must have been hammered into the tree many decades ago and I had the luck to hit it exactly. I had an extra chain, so replaced the worn chain. It cut much better after that.
I cut off the small limbs of both pines and threw them out of the way. Then I worked my way to the trunk. The sections toward the trunk were pretty darn big. I had to cut from both sides with my 16-inch blade. I got done with the two pines about one in the afternoon. No one else showed up. But Mr. Collier was there. He was in his 80's and had worked for the Merchant Marines, had owned and operated an oyster company with as many as 75 people and had worked in a shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi. He said he had helped build two luxury liners and a submarine. He was an interesting fellow. His grandson had torn out all the gypsum board and much of the interior of Mr. Collier's house, and he was working on paneling the walls. Mr. Collier offered me coffee, which I took, and also offered me lunch, which I declined. I told him that I didn't eat much, especially when I was working.
I realized that no one was coming that day to help. I then started working on a moderate-sized oak tree and cut it up. I got it completed just as the chainsaw ran out of gas. At that point, I didn't have any more chain oil, so I quite the chain sawing and started carrying pine limbs to the side of the road. I did this for awhile and then told Mr. Collier that I was going back to Mobile to buy some more supplies for my chainsaw and that I would be back in the morning.
I got back to church, took a shower and then went to Wal-Mart to get the chainsaw stuff. I used Jaci Carfagno's Wal-Mart Shopper's card that she donated to the cause. I was not able to find an extra chain, so will have to look elsewhere. I went to Lowe's and their chains were rusty from a roof leak during Katrina. I poured water out of one of the chain boxes. I didn't buy their chain. I got a call from Steve Carr saying that he had received my message and that he would send a group out to help me tomorrow about 10 in the morning. I went back to the church to finish off the shrimp and have a salad. I may go see a movie tonight, if I feel like it. I've been going to bed very early.
I love working in this kind of weather. Everyone else is wearing winter jackets, etc. and Mr. Collier said that not many people were working outside because it was so cold. It surely beats last week.
Tuesday evening, 25 October, 9 pm:
I woke up about 6:30 this morning and had two bowls of cereal, a cup of yogurt and some coffee. It is brisk again, about 39 or 40 and windy. I loaded up the chainsaw and gas and headed out for Bayou La Batre. I arrived at Mr. Collier's house, but no one was there. I scouted out the remaining trees to work on when Rodney Collier, son of Frank, arrived. I got a call from Steve Carr, the Methodist disaster response team coordinator and he said that he had two volunteers to help me, but first he would like for me to meet them at the volunteer fire station to help clear out some building. They were driving down from Mobile and would meet me in half an hour. We all met outside the fire station on Padgett Switch Road. The volunteers were a middle-aged couple from Florida. The person who was supposed to open the building for us didn't show up, so Steve said the volunteers could help me at Mr. Colliers. So we drove back there. I introduced everyone to Rodney. They started talking about the construction job on the house and Steve said that they had several contractors who were volunteers and that they were arriving tomorrow. They would be sent here to help with the construction. By then Mr. Collier arrived and he was pleased that he was going to get some construction help. The couple from Florida who were going to help me decided to work inside instead. So Mr. Collier said that he would watch me. I worked on a bunch of 10-inch or smaller trees and got them cut up by lunch time.
There were several oaks that had uprooted an fallen on two sets of fences in the back left corner of the lot. Most of the trees had fallen onto the back neighbor's lot. Mr. Collier told me that they were a Vietnamese family of crab fishermen and that they were very nice and spoke English. He said he thought they had abandoned the trailer and were living temporarily somewhere else; he hadn't seen them since the storm. He said he thought that they would like for me to cut the trees on their property. After pulling on some limbs, I found that there was a chain-link gate to the back neighbor's lot. I started working on the small limbs when I heard a shout. The fellow from Florida said that they were going for lunch and would I like to go. I declined and they left. The trees that had fallen were four oaks. I got them all cut back. It was very curious to see the stumps and root mass move back into place after my last cuts. It looked like a ghost had pushed them back. While filling my chain saw, I saw a lady from the governor's office and she was checking the trailer. She asked if I knew who lived here. I told her what I knew. She said that the trailer appeared to be uninhabitable with the broken windows and storm surge damage. No one there seemed to know where the family was. I finished working on the other trees in the Vietnamese lot. The chain saw hit a fence that I couldn't see under one of the trees. I was on my last good chain. The chain seemed to be alright, but I wanted to get another, just in case. After finishing, I went back to Mr. Collier's yard. The Florida couple had not returned by then. I told the Colliers that I had done all the cutting that there was to do. I told them that I was quitting for the day and that I would go back to Mobile to look for a chain and that I would meet them back there tomorrow morning to drag the cut wood and limbs to the side of the street. I was covered with sawdust; the wind always seemed to blow it onto me, no matter where I was standing.
I drove back to the church in Mobile and looked in the phone book for Home Depot and Sears. I had tried at Wal-Mart and Lowe's yesterday, but no luck on chains. I went to Sears first because it was closer. They had a variety of chains, but none that would fit my saw. I drove a long ways to Home Depot on Schilinger Road. They had a big variety of chains too, but none that would fit my saw (the Home Depot in Lexington had had them). I remember seeing a Stihl equipment rental place between Mobile and Bayou La Batre, so I thought I'd stop by there tomorrow to see if they had chains.
I put the gas and chain saw into the locked storage shed. Then I took a shower which felt very good. I opened a can of chili with beans. They have a lot of canned goods in the kitchen; lots of spam, vienna sausages, deviled ham, beanie weenies, pork & beans and other items. I heated a pot of chili and added chopped onions, sliced jalapenos, and topped it with some sour cream. I had a part of a bag-o-salad as well. I'm getting sleepy now. I don't think the church's heat is on and it's supposed to get down to the mid 30's tonight, I believe. I'll add some bed covers if I can find some. Last week I just needed sheets. I never did go to the movies last night and I'm too tired tonight too. Maybe Ill go tomorrow night. Network TV is worthless.
Wednesday, 26 October:
I ate a Reuben sandwich and other odds and ends for breakfast and began packing. I had decided in the night to go back to Kentucky today for the funeral service on Friday. That meant that I had to drive all day Thursday and part of the day Wednesday. I had originally planned to stay till the weekend and visit with my son Donald in Huntsville, AL on Saturday night. I cancelled my hotel reservation for Saturday night and tried to make a reservation for Huntsville for tonight. However, some convention was going on and all the rooms in Huntsville were taken. So I made a reservation for a room at the Fairfield Inn in Nashville, TN on Music City Circle, I think.
I drained the chain saw and started it to use up all the residual gas. After packing the car, I took off for Mr. Colliers place in Bayou La Batre. When I got there, he had a bunch of people helping him, including the couple from Florida and their niece (their niece has a daughter that goes to Centre College in Danville). I told them that I had to go back to Kentucky and gave them information about Mrs. Greens house and the house on the corner of Niolon Lane and Railroad Street. [Mrs. Green needed help unloading the furniture from her house to a storage pod. The house at the corner of Niolon Lane had lots of limbs, logs and other items that needed to be moved.] I gave them the five-gallon container of gasoline for the chain saw and asked them to give it to Steve to use for other chain saw crews. I said goodbye and started my long drive to Nashville.
I got to Nashville in the evening; I dont know what time it was, but it was dark. I checked in and walked over to a nearby steak house and had a very mediocre ribeye steak (absolutely no flavor). [I don't normally eat this much meat, but with the physical work, I guess my body was telling me it needed the protein.]
Thursday, 27 October:
I drove the rest of the way home and arrived at my house in the afternoon. I was glad to see my family.
9 November 2005, I presented a Brown Bag Seminar about my Katrina relief experiences at the Kentucky Geological Survey, University of Kentucky. We may get together a volunteer group from the KGS to go to the gulf coast soon.
14 December 2005, I presented a talk about my experiences at Hunter Presbyterian Church, Lexington, KY.
Kentucky Volunteer Group