Katrina Relief Work III

28 January to 5 February 2006

Note: this was done in diary style; sorry about the tedious detail.

Saturday, 28 January 2006

I left Lexington, Kentucky about 9:00 in the morning. Anne and Mary had left about 6:45 to go to a speech tournament in Georgetown. I didn't have any breakfast but had a hot chocolate with coffee in it. It was a fairly boring drive, but I had a book CD to listen to. It was "Angela's Ashes" by Frank McCourt. It's not a book I would have read all the way through, but I could certainly listen to it. It was unabridged and read by Frank McCourt himself. Having listened to so many hours of it, I find that my mind now has an Irish dialect. I hope I don't sound Irish when I talk, but I wouldn't be surprised. The book is about this Irish kid and his family living in unbelievable poverty, largely brought on by the father's alcoholism. It's a true story and several of Frank's siblings died. I'm about 3/5th's of the way through and the action is taking place in the 1930's and 1940's (so far). The poverty is not too far removed from that in eastern Kentucky from the same time period and earlier. I think it must have been similar for my Grandfather "Pap-paw" Chesnut, except for one large difference--in rural Kentucky, people had gardens and could raise their own food, even if they didn't have any money.

I got to the Marriott in Huntsville, Alabama in the afternoon and made it on one tank of gas. I didn't feel like driving around to find a restaurant, so I went to "Porter's Steakhouse" at the hotel. This must be an off season for the hotel because there weren't many cars in the parking lot and I was the only person in the restaurant. I sat in a very large booth all by myself. The restaurant was filled with old photographs which must have been of Huntsville in the late 1800's and early 1900's. My waiter came and he was a large and jovial black man. I ordered my dinner, a tenderloin pasta dish. I asked the waiter if he was from that area. He said that he grew up in Alabama, New Jersey and Germany because his father was a Marine stationed in those areas. He still remembered some German and we spoke a little in German. I asked him about the photographs and he said that he didn't know much about them, but that the manager knew all about them. The manager was tickled to talk about the photographs with me and we walked around talking about the photographs on the wall. I told him I was interested in regional history and that my great-great grandfather Robinson was a photographer right after the Civil War. I told him how my great-great grandfather Abner Eversole and John N. Robinson fought directly against each other and yet their children married each other (my great grandparents). The manager was about my age and it turns out that he was a history major in college and had a master's degree in history and archaeology. We talked about early history of the Native Americans and I mentioned Tom Dillehay. He had seen Tom many times on television shows. I told him that Tom had taught for years at the University of Kentucky, but that Vanderbilt offered more money and won him over. "Which was a sad turn of events" (in my new Irish brogue). I told him that Tom was my son's soccer coach, and that my son now lived in Huntsville. Then the conversation moved on to discussions about Jared Diamond's book "Guns, Germs, and Steel." It was at this time that I realized that we had been looking at the photographs and talking for about half an hour or so. My supper had been served a long time ago and was sitting on my table cooling down. I went back to my table and ate my rather cool dinner. I could tell that it had once had a wonderful aroma and was nicely prepared. Several other people started to filter into the restaurant.

There is a reason why I mentioned all this and it is a tribute to Grand Daddy Westbrook. Grand Daddy would start talking to anybody he encountered and would become involved in quite a conversation with total strangers. If you knew Grand Daddy, you'd know what I'm talking about. Sometimes we had to wait quite a while till they finished their conversation, but he would come back with some interesting bits of information. I was always a little quite and standoffish when young, but I saw value in how Grand Daddy dealt with strangers. He turned every stranger into a friend.

After dinner, I went back to my room and watched television. I must have been tired because the next thing that I remembered was that it was about 2 or 3 in the morning and the TV was still on. I turned it off and went back to sleep.

Sunday, 29 January 2006

It must have rained pretty hard during the night. Everything was very wet and the ground was muddy. I left the hotel about 9 in the morning and headed to Mobile. I listened to more of "Angela's Ashes," and had gotten about 3/5th's of the way through by the time I got to Grace Presbyterian Church by about 2:15 PM, central time. There were about 10 adults having a Sunday School discussion, so I went into the kitchen and washed the dishes. When the dishes were done, they were still having their discussion, so I went to fill up the car with gas. When I came back the discussion had ended and everyone was starting to leave. They were surprised that I had done the dishes. Tracy Bryan, the host lady for volunteers, talked to me about the upcoming week and showed me where the new food was. I asked her about availability of the church for March (U.K.'s spring break). She said that the church was going to be shut down all March for renovation work, which had to be completed before Easter. Other church would probably be available for that month, however. Then she went shopping to buy more food for the week. I brought in my stuff from the car and stowed my chain saw and gas cans in the storage shed. In the shed, I also found my old grill and charcoal from my first trip. I then walked down to the local grocery store in search of white sweet potatoes and charcoal lighter fluid. No white sweet potatoes! They did have charcoal lighter fluid. I then drove to the larger grocery about three miles away. No white sweet potatoes! They must be out of season. Perhaps I will find them in Bayou La Batre; I remember seeing them in a grocery down there. I bought a sweet onion, kumquats, and a yellow sweet potato. Perhaps the kumquats will make up for the absence of white sweet potatoes. Anyway, then I went to Sam's Club and bought a packet of reduced-priced filet mignons. They were almost out of date, but looked good and didn't smell bad.

By the time I got back to the church, it was dark. I got the old grill and charcoal and got the coals started. For dinner, I had one of the best steaks had I ever fixed, squashed sweet potatoes, a salad that Tracy had left for me (from their church dinner), and grilled sweet onion.

Monday, 30 January 2006

I got up about 6:30 and had breakfast. It was 55 degrees this morning and very foggy. I got on the road about 7:30 and headed for Bayou La Batre. I went to Mr. Bosarge's place where we worked on our last trip. He had a storage pod with his furniture in it, but the debris from the trailer insulation and walls was still in front of the trailer. There was a light on in the trailer so I assume that he was using the trailer or working on it. I took a picture.

Then I went to Ms. Boucher's house and took a picture of the roof. It was well into night before we finished it and couldn't take a picture during that trip. I noticed that she still had tree limbs piled in front of her yard where we left them from our last trip.

I stopped by the NVOAD office and took a picture of John Centamore, Mark Johnson, Ruth Bloxham and her husband. Ruth is the new coordinator for volunteer workers their. Their (VOAD) mailing address is 13280 N. Wentzell St., Bayou La Batre, AL. They would like a CD of our pictures. John received the work hours that Mike Lynch sent them, but they appeared to have lost them. We will probably have to send another copy. John's e-mail address is centamore@mindspring.com (I don't remember the correct spelling of his last name. I walked over to the Food Tiger grocery store next to VOAD and found a whole bin of white sweet potatoes. I bought about six or seven.

I went on to downtown Bayor La Batre and turned around near City Hall. I stopped by the drawbridge and took a picture of the destroyed warehouse on the channel.

Next, I drove to Pascagoula, MS and went to the 1st Presbyterian Church of Pascagoula (228-762-2824, 1819 Pascagoula St., Pascagoula, MS 39567). I met Brad Lewis, the Youth Minister and his son Ben (about four years old). Brad is also the volunteer coordinator (228-217-2825, brad@frstpres.org), but he thinks that someone else will take his place as coordinator soon. Brad had attended Asbury Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky and loved the area. He would like to move back some day. Anyway, their church is being repaired from wind and storm surge damage. The church is fairly new and large. The congregation is well-to-do. The church can house about 15 people comfortably. They have 8 classroom-sized rooms (carpeted) that can be used for dormitories. They do not have cots or air mattresses, so volunteers would have to bring their own as well as linens or sleeping bags. They do have showers and a washer and dryer. They have a large kitchen which is being renovated, but should be ready soon. There are a few casseroles in the freezer, but volunteers would need to buy most of their own food at the grocery stores (there were plenty of stores). If people want to stay there, the coordinators would want to assign work tasks for volunteers. Most of the work would be for members of the congregation, but if that was completed, then there was a second coordinator in the area where one could work for non-members and low-income families. I took pictures of Brad and Ben and the facilities. There is a FEMA trailer city behind the church. It was an abandoned Grumman’s parking lot. FEMA asked if they could use it and Grumman said that if at least 25% of the trailers could be used for Grumman personnel, then FEMA could use it.

Then I drove to the Gautier Presbyterian Church (228-497-1706, 1009 Highway 90, Gautier, MS 39553) in Gautier, MS (it's pronounced Goshay). I met the pastor, Chris Bullock and he introduced me to the volunteer coordinator's office. Susan Duffee-Braun is the coordinator (228-282-2882, susangpc@cableone.net), but she wasn't there today. I did meet three volunteers working in the office. One of the ladies showed me around. She was from Oregon and planned to stay there five or six weeks helping out in the office. They are able to house 30 people in two dormitories, one for women, the other for men. Sleeping is on the floor and one has to provide their own mattress and linens. They have four showers that were built for the disaster relief workers. They also have a washer and dryer. They also have plenty of room for people who want to stay in their own tents or RVs. I took pictures of the Fellowship Hall which is used as a kitchen as well as a dorm room, showers and front of the church. I will be coming back to this church latter this week when I work with the Jacksonville group. I did receive a call from Jamie of the Jacksonville group and we will coordinate Wednesday night when they arrive.

After the Gautier visit, I drove to the First Presbyterian Church in Ocean Springs, MS (228-875-5326, 921 Ocean Ave., Ocean Springs, MS 39564). I couldn't believe the devastation there. The church is fairly close to the Gulf and the storm surge destroyed a great deal in that area. I took a lot of pictures, both before I got to the church and afterwards. I met Robert Lee (linda@firstpreschurchos.com) who was originally from southwestern Georgia. He volunteered to coordinate and was so good at it (Burt tells me) that they gave him the job. He looks to be in his 20's and seems very capable. Their church can house about 50 comfortably. Volunteers stay in the fellowship hall, men on the 2nd floor and women on the third. There are bathrooms on both floors, but the showers are on the 3rd floor. There is limited hot water and he recommends that people who are able take their shower (free) at the YMCA about a mile away. One must bring his own mattress and bed linens. The kitchen is in the fellowship hall and volunteers can use it. However, volunteers must buy their own food. The amount of destruction in this area is remarkable.

After driving around Ocean Springs, I went on to the Pineville Presbyterian Church (228-452-9902, 4476 Menge Ave., Pass Christian, MS 39571) in Pass Christian ("Chris-tee-ann"), MS. No one was there. I called Lou Marchette (pronounced Marshetty) and he said that he was coordinating work only on the church and that they wouldn't start that until they got all the materials. They had no facilities to house anyone; people would have to stay in the PDA camps. He told me that Dan Spreague, an alder at the church, would contact me about work in the area. I drove on down to the shore. The amount of damage here was even more extensive than at Ocean Springs, if that is believable. Because there were several inland bays, storm surge was able to reach several miles inland. There were so many trees down and houses completely destroyed, it looked like a bombed city in World War II. I took lots of pictures, but after awhile, one destroyed house looks pretty much like another. I was driving around in shock. Damage is so great that very little has been done in comparison (even though a lot had been done). It will take a decade or more to make this place look normal and it will never be the same. There is plenty of chainsaw work and other work to be done here. While driving around, Dan gave me a call. I pulled over and he gave me the names of three coordinators for work in Pass Christian, as follows: Lou Rizardi (228-216-1121), coordinating work groups in Pass Christian; Pierce Sunderman (228-547-7276) works with PDA groups; Travis Todd (334-328-8076) works with Campus Crusades for Christ and other religious groups.

By this time, it was late afternoon and I was an hour and a half from Mobile. I didn't want to drive back in the heavy traffic in the dark. I made it back by dusk. I took a shower and then went to Saucy Cue BBQ and had hot wings, gumbo and a salad. I haven't been very hungry for some reason.

Tuesday, 31 January 2006

I got up about 6:30 and had breakfast. The temperature in Mobile was 35 degrees and it was 34 in Pascagoula. The skies were clear and sunny. I was headed for Biloxi, MS by 7:30 on I-10. I took I-110 extension to the coast road, US 90. When I got to the coast road, I called George Bates on his cell line. George Bates (cell, 601-807-5863, office, 228-604-2424, home, 601-442-8956, gbates1002@aol.com, wife Linda Bates) is the main PDA coordinator for southern Mississippi. Their office is in the Handsboro Presbyterian Church, 1304 E. Pass Road, Gulfport, MS (between Gulfport and D'Iberville). Handsboro used to be its own community, but it got absorbed by Gulfport several decades ago. The Handsboro Church is the oldest in the area. The congregation began in 1877 and the church was built in 1891.

George says that they have 7 churches that can house people scattered from Pascagoula in the east to Bay St. Louis in the west. They all have showers, kitchens, sleeping rooms and laundry. They can hold from 25 to 125 people depending upon facility. All of them are largely booked up March through June. Spring Break is heavily booked. There are a few slots for February. They may be able to work in people here and there and there are groups that cancel. I think George is the first person to contact in Mississippi for work and housing there. I will have visited most of the seven churches in this region and have taken pictures of them as well.

After talking to George, I drove west down the coastal road (US 90) as far as it would take me (Biloxi to Pass Christian). This was the same stretch of road that I drove down immediately after Hurricane Camille in 1969. I remember being right behind the bulldozer as it cleared the sand dunes out of the road in front of me. I must have been the first person to travel that section of road (well, except for the bulldozer man). Today, I took lots of pictures along the road; it was much the same as at Ocean Springs yesterday. At Pass Christian, I pulled into a relief center and took some pictures. They distribute food, clothing and other necessities here. I also took a picture of a washed out Wal-Mart store. One can see all the way through it to the other side. I had to turn around where the road was closed and headed back to I-10. Based on my memory, Camille was bad, but Katrina was far worse along this stretch of road.

I next headed for the First Presbyterian Church (228-467-3921) at 114 Ulman Ave, Bay St. Louis, Mississippi 39520. As I drove from the interstate exit to Bay St. Louis, I noticed that there were large piles of insulation and paneling stacked against the road in front of businesses and home. The debris had not been removed by the government. As I got near the church, I was confronted with a "Closed Road" sign. The bridge across the bay was completely washed out. I took several pictures. The road (N. Beach Blvd.) along the bay in that area had also been washed out and it led to the church. A pick up truck with three fellows got out at the road block and followed me to the end of the bridge to take pictures. The were from Louisiana and one used to be a policeman at Slidell. He said that Slidell was in pretty bad shape too. We talked for a while and then they told me that I could make a detour through some back streets and probably get to the church. While trying to find a street that would take me there, I ended up at the back of the First Baptist Church of Bay St. Louis (141 Main Street, Bay St. Louis, MS 39520, 228-467-4005). The steeple had been knocked off. It was obviously set up for volunteer relief workers so I went in and talked to the fellow inside. He was Brian Rushing, the Education and Youth pastor (brushing@fbcbsl.org, cell, 228-342-3531). They did indeed host volunteer groups and would be pleased to host our Presbyterian group. They have showers, meals are furnished, but that they charged $10 per person per day to handle room and board. People need to bring their own mattresses and linens too; they didn't have bunk beds, but had plenty of floor space. He said that their website (www.fbcbsl.org) told a lot more about their facilities. I had a nice discussion with him and then went on to find the Presbyterian Church.

I didn't know if the Presbyterian Church had been completely destroyed or not; it was only two houses away from the Beach Road that had been washed away. I thought that perhaps they had set up an alternate church elsewhere. But after driving down a few back roads, I saw a sign indicating that I had found the First Presbyterian Church of Bay St. Louis (228-467-3921, Richard Jones, pastor) at 114 Ulman Ave., Bay St. Louis, MS 39520. I went in and found Sheldon Letellier (228-671-1163), originally from Louisiana. He was the physical plant person at the church. The coordinator was out. He showed me around and I took pictures of the facilities. They installed four showers along with an 80-gallon hot-water heater. They had a dinette tent, a kitchen with lots of food. a laundry and several rooms with recently-made bunk beds. I saw plenty of air mattresses too. They have had 50 to 60 people at a time (actually more than one hundred at one time!).

Sam Thompson (cell, 601-415-4577. 972-358-4200, e-mail, sam.thompson@nurunsports.com) was the volunteer coordinator but he was in Oregon or Washington for a visit. Sheldon turned me over to Richard Gabe (719-210-5720) when he came in. I talked a great deal with Richard. He said that they were close to being booked up through June. Most of the chainsaw work and mucking out had been done (at least there were fewer requests for that type of work). Most of the work requested now was sheet rock, float work, and roofing. They have on hand plenty of tools of all types and plenty of materials. They could also use electricians. If an electrician came into the state with a letter saying that they had a license, then they can easily get a license for temporary disaster work. Richard mentioned that they would like to get $20 dollars per person per week for room and board. They would also like to have a volunteer make breakfast. He had an excellent suggestion; he said that a group could request a clinic at Home Depot in sheet rocking, or roofing, etc. If Home Depot knew that a group wanted to do volunteer work, he felt certain that they would be willing to train people how to do it. That's worth investigating.

Richard said that the very high surge went almost 20 miles inland along the Jordan River. He said that one could see the watermark on the I-10 overpass. He also mentioned that seven bodies were found on top of the K-Mart where they had floated as the surge receded.

I thanked Richard and took pictures of him in front of the church. I also took pictures of the facilities.

Then I headed west on US 90. Storm surge had covered the road and there were washed up mattresses, cars, trailers, boats, etc. on the side of the road. I continued driving down the road and entered Louisiana. The road crossed several bridges and across several narrow and very shallow spits of land over a course of about 10 or 20 miles. The land was between Lake Pontchartrain and Lake St. Catherine and included the communities of Pike Fort and Greens Ditch. Storm surge was very strongly felt here. All the houses along this road were washed away by the surge. All that was left were thousands of pilings. Boats were stranded here and there. As I got close to New Orleans, I came to a large bridge at a place called Chef Menteur and in front was the large sign "Bridge Closed." I talked to some fellows in hard hats and fluorescent vests when the bridge would be opened and they said that they didn't know. They were doing "Right to Entry" work for the Army Corps of Engineers. They were actually working for a power company working for the Corps. Right to Entry gives workers permission to enter property to do work. Anyway, I took a picture of the bridge and turned around and drove back across the lowland. After crossing the last body of water, I turned onto LA 433 to Slidell. It traversed more lowland with damaged house. Eventually I came to the outskirts of Slidell and I-10. I got on I-10 and headed for Mobile, a two-hour drive.

When I got to Mobile, I had a little daylight left. I decided to check out the Spring Hill Presbyterian Church where my work partners for the rest of the week were staying. By the time I found it, it was hard dark. It was a very nice church and well funded. It was actually quite spectacular. I went into the area where volunteers stayed and talked to a lady working in the kitchen. I told her I was staying at Grace doing volunteer work. She invited me to eat, but I declined. She was the cook who cooked the meals for the volunteers. She asked a student from the Princeton group to show me around. The building had a basketball court (full size), computer room with five internet computers, a game room with pool table, foosball, etc., a TV room with large TV, on-and-on. I took pictures. I saw the dorm rooms. They supplied air mattresses and linens for everyone. There was no charge for room and board. The cook gave me the contact person for volunteer groups there--Ashley Brown (251-340-0918). This is a great place for young people to stay.

I went back to Grace and grilled steak and onion and had a salad and mashed yellow sweet potatoes. And now I'm getting sleepy.

Wednesday, 1 February 2006

I got up about 6:45 this morning. It was cold. The TV said that it was 40 degrees, but there was ice on my windshield when I left. I had breakfast and coffee and then looked up the Presbyterian Churches in Slidell and New Orleans, Louisiana. I left Grace Church under cerulean skies about 8 AM. I headed toward Slidell first. I listened to more of Angela's Ashes on the way. It was about a 2.5-hour drive to Slidell.

I went to the First Presbyterian Church of Slidell (643-0871) at 1041 9th Street, Slidell, LA. There I met Milton "Milt" Means (985-707-8333, means13@netzero.com) who is the Presbyterian disaster relief coordinator for the Slidell area. He was originally from Pittsburgh, PA. He said that their church could house 40 to 50 people. They have cots, a laundry, and kitchen. Volunteer workers could use some of the food that they had there or they could go to the grocery and buy their own. They had two showers, one in the men's restroom and one in the women's. I took pictures of the dorm rooms, the laundry, and the kitchen. He said that most of their requests were for sheet rock work, mucking out, wheelbarrow work (moving furniture and debris) and that there was still some yard work to do. He also gave me the names and addresses for coordinators on the west and east bank in the New Orleans area. He left before I could get his picture, but I did get a picture of the outside of the church.

Then I headed for New Orleans. The two big Presbyterian Churches (1st Presbyterian and Canal St. Presbyterian) in New Orleans had been damaged during the flooding, but coordination of relief workers on the east bank was being handled by the Parkway Presbyterian Church in Metairie. On the way, I crossed over the I-10 bridge; all four lanes are now open. Many guard rails are missing, but they have concrete barriers all along the edge. I took some pictures of the bridge. I saw a variety of damage along the way from storm surge damage to wind damage. A lot of big trees had also crashed into houses. I didn't have a chance to go to the areas that had been flooded by the collapse of the floodwalls.

I got to the Parkway Presbyterian Church (6200 Camphor St., Metairie, LA 70003, 504-733-1644) by about noon. The pastor of the church is Tom Oler (tom@ppc.nocoxmail.com, home: 504-887-9270). He wasn't there when I arrived. I talked to Jackie Hezeau ("Hayzu"), the secretary at the church office. She said that I needed to talk to Cindy Lugo who would be back momentarily. During the hurricane, Jackie's husband told her to leave with the rest of her family and stay in Houston till the hurricane was over. He stayed with the house; it had never flooded. This time it did, they had 16 inches of water which was just enough to ruin everything. The water took 24 hours to recede. Jackie and her husband and son mucked out the house in one and a half days, but they have to wait for all new electrical wiring of the house. She lives in a FEMA trailer in her front yard.

After a short while, disaster coordinator Cindy Lugo (office as above, 504-733-1644, cell, 504-214-1449, cindy@ppc.nocoxmail.com) arrived. She said that they could house 15 to 20 people and that some slots were available for February and March. They have 14 cots and hope to have some blankets soon. Otherwise, people could bring air mattresses, linens or sleeping bags). They had several rooms, one was large with a sliding partition to separate the room into the men's and women's area. They had nice kitchen facilities which would be available to volunteers and there were grocery stores nearby where they could buy their own food. She said that some of the congregation might volunteer to cook, depending upon the schedule. I took pictures of most everything. There were bathrooms, but showers were at St. Matthew's Methodist Church about a block away on Camphor St. They did not have laundry facilities, but that members of the congregation would likely volunteer to do laundry in their own homes. Actual work is assigned by another group called United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR)(www.laumcstormrelief.com). UMCOR had a standing list of job requests and most were still in the recovery stage as opposed to the rebuilding stage. The work needed included mucking out houses, debris removal, and chainsaw work. They didn't have much work for sheet rock, carpentry and roofing yet. She said that most of the tools would be provided to the volunteers at St. Matthew's Church.

Cindy took me all around the church. It was nicely laid out and the landscaping was very attractive. I met Tom Oler when he came in. He was carrying a guitar and was a very nice fellow. We went to the outside where I took a couple of pictures of Cindy and the front of the church.

Next, I headed for the coordinator of the west bank area near New Orleans, Steve Arndt (504-366-6831, 504-433-0217, gpcminister@earthlink.net). I proceeded to his church, Gretna Presbyterian Church, 101 11th St., Gretna, LA 70053. I crossed the Mississippi River on US 90, I think. I took a picture of the bridge. I arrived at the church but nobody was there. I called the numbers, but no one answered. I took pictures of the church from the front. Milt Means had said that they could house 20 to 25 people there and that Steve would help with work assignments. A lot of coordinators are at a meeting, I think, or taking a break before the big rush of volunteers for the March spring break.

Milt Means gave me the name of another church hosting volunteers, St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church (1545 State Street, New Orleans, LA 70118-6147, 504-897-0101, home, 504-861-3313, framptom@scapc.org). I didn't have time to visit this one.

At this point, it was getting late in the afternoon and I had a long drive back to Mobile. I crossed the US 90 bridge over to the east bank and this time they charged a one dollar toll. As I drove back I listened to the rest of Angela's Ashes and got to the end as I passed Pascagoula, MS. Before I got to Pascagoula, I noticed a long line of traffic on the westbound lane. None of the cars or trucks in either lane was moving. I must have missed seeing the wreck. The traffic was backed up more than ten miles and may have been as far as twenty miles.

view of commercial fishing boat washed onto land, I-10 near Pascagoula; taken through windshield while driving

I got back to Grace church and then took a shower. I thawed my steak, cut up two white sweet potatoes and boiled them, made a salad and toasted a bun. It was good, but I'm still not very hungry. I guess it's because I'm doing very little physical work, just driving and talking. That will change tomorrow when I meet the Jacksonville group at Gautier, MS for a work project.

Thursday, 2 February 2006

Thunderstorms awoke me at 4:30 in the morning. They continued till about 6 or 6:30. Television news indicated that we were in a tornado watch zone. When daylight came, I looked out the window and noticed that the little road around the church was flooded by about 6 inches of water. I had breakfast (cereal, toast and coffee) and headed out to Gautier by about 7:40.

The roads were wet and the traffic was as crazy as ever. On the way to Gautier, I started listening to my next book CD, Teacher Man, also by Frank McCourt. I got to the church in Gautier about 45 minutes to an hour after leaving Grace. It was the same church I had visited earlier in the week. This time, the volunteer coordinator, Susan Duffee-Braun, was there. I also met the group from Jacksonville (Riverside Presbyterian Church). We all introduced ourselves and then went into the sanctuary where Susan told us about some of the storm damage and the lady we were supposed to help later that day. She gave us several examples of some of the problems that they had experienced.

In one case, they had begun helping one couple, about 50-years of age. The husband, while mucking out the house, had caught a flesh-eating bacterial infection on his thigh. The wife asked that the group halt work and come back after Christmas when his leg would surely be healed. Unfortunately, the infection spread and he died over Christmas.

She also told the story about the group that called on a house to begin work on it. They went into the house and it was wet, moldy, and had wet furniture and walls all throughout the house. In one back room, they found an elderly couple living in one room that they had partially cleared. The couple was lying on their bed. The couple asked what they were doing there. The group said they had an assessment sheet for the house and that they were supposed to work on it. The man asked to see the sheet. He said that they had the wrong house; the one they wanted was two blocks away. They said that no one had ever called on them and that they were completely alone and helpless. The group volunteered to work on their house. Later, the man confided that they had planned that day to commit double suicide the next day because they had lost all hope. The group fixed their house and now the couple is fine.

Susan said that she and her husband had just moved to the Gulf Coast two weeks before Katrina hit. Their house came through without much damage, but they both lost their jobs Susan then started working as a relief volunteer coordinator.

Susan told us that we would be working on the house of Virginia Browning, a widow, at 606 Pascagoula St., Pascagoula, MS 39567-7231 and that most of our work would be putting up sheet rock. While everyone was preparing to leave, I asked the pastor, Chris Bullock and Susan Duffee-Braun to come to the front of the church where I would take their picture. I took their picture along with two from the Jacksonville group.

Ed, a volunteer from Oregon, led us to the home site and told us what to do. We met Ms. Browning at her home. She was living in a FEMA trailer in front of her house and her daughter was living in another trailer to the side of the house. They were only two blocks away from the Gulf. She said that water came to about 5 feet in her house and that she lost all her furniture and most of everything, including files with all the old family pictures. Her children's senior pictures which were on the wall were saved, the water just came up to the bottom of the frames. She said that she went to Jackson, MS to stay with her son and family, but returned to her house as soon as they were allowed to go back to the neighborhood. She got her FEMA trailer in December. The city inspectors said that her house was salvageable and gave her a building permit. Many of the houses in the next two blocks toward the Gulf were demolished (I have some pictures, including one where a house had washed up against another). Ms. Browning said that she had a small backyard full of toys wash in from somewhere and a roof had washed into her front yard. She said that her brother (or brother-in-law?) and his son stayed in a house nearby and the storm surge filled their house. They had life preservers on and floated up to the roof where they only had a foot or so of breathing room. Heavy furniture floated up against them as the water rose and pinned them, one at a time against the wall. The free person would move the furniture from the pinned one and then it would happen to the other one. They pushed the couch down a hallway and wedged it in so that it would pin them any more. After three hours, the water receded to the point that they could touch the floor.

We started work. The guys from Jacksonville broke up into teams and started dry walling. Ms. Browning took me into the sunroom and told me that paneling needed to be taken down from the upper part of the walls (it had already been taken down to the top of the windows by another group). I asked her where she wanted us to put the debris. She said out front between the sidewalk and the curb. She mentioned that she had a large pile of bricks in the side yard that the city wouldn't pick up and that the pile should also probably be moved to the front. The only problem was, there was lots of broken glass in the front that should be removed first. The Jacksonville ladies started removing the glass from that area, which was a very tedious job; some of it had to be dug out of the muddy ground. After picking up some litter from the yard, I went into the sun room and started removing the paneling. I carried out the debris and pounded the nails down so that no one would step on a nail. I found a lot of cockroach droppings, mouse nests with leaves, pine needles and bits of insulation on the horizontal lumber in the walls. This had to be cleaned out too. I brushed it out with a broom to remove the big pieces and then went back with a shop vacuum to get the rest. I then swept off the ledges around the room. Another fellow and I then swept the floor and put the trash in a trash bag and carried it to the front. After carrying out other trash from inside the house I went out to look at the large pile of bricks. It looked like a day-long job to move them to the front. Ed said that he would bring a wheelbarrow for us to use tomorrow. By then the men had almost completed putting up drywall. We were winding down for the day. Ed told me that I should walk down by the seashore and see some of the destroyed houses. Grace, one of the pastors of Riverside, and I walked down to see these houses. She was from Virginia and went to William and Mary for college; she also lived in Danville, KY for awhile and liked the rolling hills. She said she missed the ocean while living there, though. Many of the houses that had been destroyed had already been demolished. I took a picture of one being demolished while we were there. We then walked back to Ms. Browning's and we all left from there. On the way back, I noticed that the First Presbyterian Church of Pascagoula was just a few blocks away from Ms. Browning's house. I wondered why the church in Gautier was helping Ms. Browning and this church wasn't. There probably was some coordination between the two groups. I'll ask about that tomorrow, if I remember.

I still had some daylight left, so I made a detour to Bayou La Batre to buy some white sweet potatoes for my sister Susan Lewis. Susan, I got them. Then I drove back to Grace church and got there about dusk. I took a shower to get the "poppy seeds" out of my hair and then wrote this. I plan on cooking my last steak and eating my latest batch of squashed white sweet potatoes. I will probably work on my laptop tonight, watch some network TV and eat some Cajun popcorn. Tomorrow, I will be moving bricks. I am to meet the group at Ms. Browning's house in the morning.

Friday, 3 February 2006

I got up about 6:45 and had breakfast. It was about 55 degrees out with a very dense fog. I drove to Ms. Browning's house in Pascagoula. I got there about 8:30. I talked to Ms. Browning quite a while before the others got there. She said that she had been widowed only five weeks before the hurricane hit. She didn't know what to do with so much damage. She thought about getting an apartment or living with her son in Jackson, MS, but she wanted to stay in her house in Pascagoula where she knew everyone. She was overwhelmed and in a state of shock for a long time, but then someone told her about the Presbyterian Church in Gautier and their volunteer workers. She is an Episcopalian, but it didn't matter to the Presbyterian Church. They sent her a steady stream of volunteer workers. She said that really lifted her spirits.

Ms. Browning wanted to keep the bricks, but wanted the debris piled up in her side yard removed to the front curb so that it would be picked up. The side yard was covered in packed dirt with broken bricks and mortar. I started shoveling the debris into a wheelbarrow and carting it off to the front curb. After completing this, I used a steel-tined rack and started raking the debris and brick out of the side yard. The men from Jacksonville arrived about 45 minutes after me. The ladies were stopping off at Lowe's to get gardening supplies and flowers to plant in Ms. Browning's yard. The ladies did such a nice job yesterday in fixing up her front yard. They arrived about 45 minutes after the men and I carried the cypress mulch and pine-needle mulch that they bought to various spots in the front yard.

I went back to what I was doing in the side yard. Grace went to the brick pile and started high-grading the bricks into piles that were rejects and stacked piles of useable bricks.

I worked through lunch, as usual. At mid afternoon, the ladies went to another house in Pascagoula to dust off the walls in preparation for painting. Another group was coming in this weekend to paint the walls of that house, but they had to be prepped first.

After clearing the debris from the side yard and hauling the rejected bricks to the front curb, I had pretty much finished all I could do on the side yard. My back was really starting to ache. I went into the house and was amazed by all the work that the Riverside men had accomplished with the sheet rocking. They asked me to run a router along one edge of a closet to trim the sheet rock. That only took a minute. My back was really hurting, it was 3:30 in the afternoon and I was covered in orange-brown silt from the side yard. I told the others that I would see them later, that I was finished for the day. I drove back to Grace Church, took a shower, changed clothes and felt much better afterwards.

I haven’t been hungry all week. I don’t know what it is. My eyes have been burning all week too and it may be that I’m having a small reaction to the mold and smoke in the air. I have certainly put in enough physical work that I should be hungry. I don’t really feel like eating, but I guess I will. I’ve got blisters on my hands from all the raking and shoveling, and that’s with heavy gloves.

I forgot about the washer and dryer so I washed my clothes tonight. I will pack up and leave tomorrow and head to Huntsville, AL to visit Donald. The Riverside group will return to Ms. Browning’s tomorrow and will return to Jacksonville on Sunday after devotionals. They were a great bunch to work with.

I went to Saucy Q BBQ and had a bowl of gumbo. While there I saw a lady with her family that looked very familiar. I thought that she must have been on one of the local TV shows, perhaps a newscaster. While watching the news later that night, I recognized her again; she is Rose Ann Haven of Channel 5 news in Mobile.

Saturday, 4 February 2006

I got up about 7:00 and fixed breakfast and coffee. I packed and loaded the car. I took my bed linens and washed them. Tracy Bryan arrived to prepare for the next group expected later on Saturday. I talked to her about the week and said goodbye.

I headed to Huntsville, AL and listened to more of “Teacher Man” as I drove. While driving, Anne called from Kentucky telling me that they were having a snow storm and that I might want to consider staying an extra night in Huntsville. I got to the Marriott about 3 in the afternoon. I checked in and took a nap. My son Donald called me and we decided to meet at his house at 7 and then go out for dinner. We went to the “Sitar” on Jordan Ave. and had a very nice time. The young waitress was from Nepal. She asked me if I were from England. I said no, but did I sound like I was from there? She said yes. I told her I was from Kentucky. That was the first time in my life that anyone ever thought I had an English dialect (I have a U.S. Southern Highland dialect). After dinner, I took Donald back to his new house and went back to my hotel.

Sunday, 5 February 2006

I got up, showered and met Donald for the breakfast buffet at my hotel at 9 AM. After breakfast, I checked out and headed for Kentucky. I finished the “Teacher Man” CD and listened to the new Kurt Vonnegut CD “Man without a Country.” I started to see snow on the ground by the time I got to the Kentucky line and it got thicker the further I drove. I got to my home in Lexington about 4:30. The trip meter read 2487 miles. That’s a lot of driving for one week and I’m glad it’s over. Everyone was glad to see me and I was glad to be back home.