Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
Yesterday, I wrote about my experiences ten years ago setting up a privately-funded relief station in Hattiesburg, Mississippi immediately after Hurricane Katrina had swept through. This installment continues the story — now a week and a half after the hurricane had made landfall — as my team and I headed down to the FEMA “endorsed” station in Waveland, Mississippi. By the time we left, it was supposedly the largest on the coast. I don’t know how accurate that was, but we were definitely the only one I knew of that accepted clothing.
Waveland and neighboring Bay St. Louis had been absolutely slammed by the hurricane, with a storm surge of more than 19 feet. The closer we got, the more apparent the devastation was.
One surreal thing on the drive was seeing the cars along the highway. Any and all cars that had been parked along the slightly elevated roadway were washed off into the ditch. Hundreds of cars. We got used to seeing boats in trees, too. Since boats tend to float, they can end up anywhere basically.
When we arrived at Waveland, we found a mess with a relief station sign. The site was a shopping center parking lot that was still covered with debris and broken glass, with some supplies and clothes thrown in a pile. The volunteers would come down and try to sort it out, then let the public pick through everything, making it a shamble again. There was a hot meals truck down there churning out meals for the Red Cross to distribute, so it wasn’t all a disaster … it just needed some organization.
What we arrived to:
Before we could really do anything else, we needed to clean up. First, I went into the store shown here to try and “borrow” some brooms and cleaning supplies. Ever wonder what a store looks like after it’s been flooded to the ceiling and then left for a week in 100 degree heat? Believe me, it’s not a pretty sight:
After retrieving what we could, we began cleaning and organizing the parking lot. The bobcat skid steer we’d brought was perfect for pushing debris around and scraping up mud and broken glass, but a lot of it was push brooms and shovels. We also had to get a grip on exactly what supplies we even had to distribute! Those poor school groups and volunteers that came down to help really performed a miracle down there in the heat… and boy it was hot! The three of us in my team — Bruce, Andre and myself — became the defacto organizers for some reason, and — the next thing you knew — we fell into a routine of 12 hour days on-site, with an hour drive to and from Lumberton to eat, debrief, and grab some sleep.
Soon, however, we had things looking more like this:
We ended up with a system based on what they were doing in Lumberton. We would get down there at 7:00 AM and spend an hour organizing the volunteers and making sure everything was good to go before opening. People would then come through line in their vehicles and we would bring them whatever they needed. Their first stop was by the refrigerator trucks full of ice and then they’d go down the line to where the volunteers would bring supplies to them.
I loved interacting with the people coming through the line. Their unselfishness was so amazing. They would ask for only one or two bags of ice “to make sure there is enough for everyone” until I assured them we had more than enough. We kept coolers by the ice trucks (see above) full of all sorts of soft drinks and stuff for people that were sick of drinking water. I would stash juice boxes and stuff for the kids too. I asked a young woman with kids in the car if I could get her a drink while she was in line. She said she would kill for a Tab. Sure enough, I rounded up an ice cold one from one of my coolers. When I gave it to her, she totally fell apart in tears of stress and relief. Having her hug my neck was one of the best things I’ve ever experienced and I will never forget it.
I have so many pictures … so many stories. I can tell you that God was working there and crying there with us. Every morning and night Andre, Bruce, and I would pray for help and that we could make a difference. I have never been closer to God then in that mess with those people. Looking back at this post, it’s apparent I used the word “I” too often. Please don’t take this like I am bragging because I have nothing to brag about. I was a little cog in a big machine. The lesson here is about the human spirit and God’s mercy. Did I mention it didn’t rain, even with all that stuff out in the open and all those people living under tarps in their front yards? Maybe I will touch on that if I can crank out part three in this series.
Now, a couple more pictures: