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Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of the devastating hurricane Katrina that Bush/Cheney unleashed on the Mississippi and Louisiana coast — sorry, couldn’t resist! — and I’ve been thinking about the time I spent down there helping with the cleanup and, really, the basic survival of some of the victims that lost nearly everything.
After the hurricane had swept through and news reports began trickling out, I was hit by a huge desire to go down and do something to help. My wife worked with the Red Cross here in Tennessee and, through her, I learned that people down there needed things I could do. I just wasn’t sure how to put that into motion. Everyone recommended I stay away from New Orleans, and I was working on some other ideas when my brother told me that a group called ACTS World Relief needed volunteers in Mississippi. I was relieved to have a direction to my madness and began getting things together. Information about the situation on the ground there was spotty, so I decided to prepare for anything. I packed some clothes, loaded my truck and a 30+ ft gooseneck trailer with plenty of fuel, water, chainsaws, and some donated items, including a skid steer from Caterpillar (orange, of course and with a couple different attachments), and hit the road to Lumberton, Mississippi.
Approaching Hattiesburg on I-59, I could see the damage more than 100 miles from the coast. Trees were down all along the interstate. It looked like a mile-wide tornado had plowed through. Lumberton is just a little south of Hattiesburg and home to Bass Academy boarding school, where ACTS was setting up a relief station to distribute meals, tarps, and other emergency supplies. Even an hour from the coast, they sustained enormous wind damage. Here’s the school gymnasium:
I had zero idea where I was going stay or what I would eat, but I figured it would all work out. Thankfully, the dorms were sound enough to house us volunteers and they fixed meals in a big circus tent/cafeteria. So now, what to do?
As you can imagine, organizing relief volunteers is difficult (at best), so I offered to help take groups out to work. After talking with some of the ACTS organizers, we put a system in place to help the community deal with the downed trees that were everywhere. As people came to the relief station, they were given short forms to complete that asked their needs regarding meals, tarps, water, medicine, or the removal of trees that had fallen on structures or across roadways. I partnered up with two guys with saws from Texas and we added a couple of more guys from the Keys to our merry band.
Out we would go with a lead from the forms, roll in with our gear, and ask people if they needed a hand. The family in the picture below was just standing there with an electric chainsaw, looking bewildered, when I walked up and asked if they could use some help. When I explained it was free of charge the wife just started crying. We got that a lot.
The skid steer with a grapple bucket allowed us to remove the trees without additional damage to the home
Besides my new friends I was working with, another blessing was taking out groups of volunteers from high schools to work with us. Both there and on the coast, those kids’ helpful spirits and hard work in hot conditions was something to behold. God was definitely working through those young people down there and I am grateful to have witnessed it.
Soon, we had helped set-up a smoothly running base in Lumberton for ACTS, and were chomping at the bit to get down to the coast. Here’s part of my team on the last day of tree removal before heading down to the coast.
To be continued…