Katrina Experiences, Part II: Relief Station, Waveland MS

 


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.

See the gas pumps?

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:

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:

There are 16 comments.

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  1. Blondie Thatcher
    Blondie
    @Blondie

    C-vol, you are telling this story in first person. You were there. We understand you were just a small part. It’s ok. It is amazing how people can come together in the face of such tragedy. I just wish it happened without the tragedy.
    I remember seeing a picture of nothing left but the concrete slabs that houses once stood on. I assume that was pretty much what this area looked like. God bless you all for going down and helping out.

    • #1
  2. DocJay Inactive
    DocJay
    @DocJay

    What a nice hug you got there.  God bless you and your fellow helpers.  Kindness is what is best in humanity and this a great story and pics.

    • #2
  3. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    Thank you for the report and pictures.  And just think, this hurricane would never have happened if only Al Gore had been elected president!

    • #3
  4. David Sussman Contributor
    David Sussman
    @DaveSussman

    You and your fellow volunteers are to be saluted. Cogs in a wheel are what gave those people hope, and makes us readers hopeful.
    Cheers.

    • #4
  5. Tedley Member
    Tedley
    @Tedley

    I’ve been an emergency management officer (EMO) for the Navy. You are doing a great thing by telling us some of your experiences. You had a lot of foresight to bring those great capabilities with you. Your team’s ability to organize people and efforts at Waveland was critical to giving the local residents a sense of hope in the middle of such destruction. I hope you are able to tell us more about your experiences.

    • #5
  6. Concretevol Thatcher
    Concretevol
    @Concretevol

    Tedley:I’ve been an emergency management officer (EMO) for the Navy.You are doing a great thing by telling us some of your experiences.You had a lot of foresight to bring those great capabilities with you.Your team’s ability to organize people and efforts at Waveland was critical to giving the local residents a sense of hope in the middle of such destruction.I hope you are able to tell us more about your experiences.

    At first when thinking about going down I just thought I could help remove trees and debri.  It was interesting to discover my occupation was pretty good training for the conditions at the relief station, which was basically organized chaos.  Organizing that chaos was very similar to organizing a large construction site.

    http://ricochet.com/katrina-experiences-part-3-the-coast-and-a-truck-from-kansas/

    • #6
  7. Mark Thatcher
    Mark
    @GumbyMark

    What a terrific series of posts.  Thanks

    • #7
  8. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Concretevol: 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.

    You don’t sound like you were bragging but — even if you did — I think it’d have been justified.

    You and the others did a wonderful thing volunteering your time, expertise, and equipment to help those people. My hat’s off to you, sir.

    • #8
  9. drlorentz Member
    drlorentz
    @drlorentz

    Great series, great work. You can’t overestimate the importance of giving people hope (sometimes in the form of a Tab) and of the human touch.

    • #9
  10. Lucy Pevensie Inactive
    Lucy Pevensie
    @LucyPevensie

    I too am really enjoying reading about this. Thank you so much for the posts. And, wow, I am hugely impressed by the transformation of that chaos into order.

    • #10
  11. Ward Robles Inactive
    Ward Robles
    @WardRobles

    So this is what heartless conservatives do in their spare time? It’s amazing what we’ll-organized volunteers can accomplish with limited resources in a short amount of time. It’s a shame that it takes a terrible emergency to bring people together in this way. Thank you for reminding us of the wonderful service so many volunteers gave during that time.

    • #11
  12. Pilli Inactive
    Pilli
    @Pilli

    Concrete Vol, you are a shining example of why Tennessee is called the “Volunteer State.”  You lead in a grand tradition that goes back to Tennessee’s earliest days. Salute!

    • #12
  13. Trink Coolidge
    Trink
    @Trink

    This account of your experience through this disaster is so moving and ultimately heartening.

    The world often seems so dark . . . our country’s trajectory – worrisome.

    These pictures, the proof of the essential goodness of people .  .  thank you.

    • #13
  14. Concretevol Thatcher
    Concretevol
    @Concretevol

    Ward Robles:So this is what heartless conservatives do in their spare time? It’s amazing what we’ll-organized volunteers can accomplish with limited resources in a short amount of time. It’s a shame that it takes a terrible emergency to bring people together in this way. Thank you for reminding us of the wonderful service so many volunteers gave during that time.

    This is what people do when they don’t wait for the government to “do” for them.  Ever day we passed a huge field an hour or so from the coast filled with campers as far as the eye could see, with more coming in each day.  FEMA (at least the Feds) were bringing them in from everywhere.  I rarely, if ever, saw a single one in someone’s yard on the coast.  They may still be in that field as far as I know.  As a conservative, I was in no way shocked by the federal government’s inefficiency.  It was expected.

    • #14
  15. kelsurprise Member
    kelsurprise
    @kelsurprise

    Their unselfishness was so amazing. They would ask for only one or two bags of ice “to make sure there is enough for everyone”  . . . . . .

    . . . . 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.

    I think I mentioned in our comment exchange about Waveland a few days ago, how the girls who drove over there from our shelter came back in tears – – first, because they couldn’t get over the devastation they’d seen, and the conditions in which some of these people were living (this was almost a month, remember, after the storm).

    But you just reminded me of the other thing they related – – the deep and sincere gratitude that everyone they met expressed for even the smallest amenities  – and the thoughtfulness everyone there showed – – always asking if there was enough to go around and if those in worst shape had already been helped.   (If I ever manage to collect my thoughts on the very different experience I had in the River Center and post them, you’ll have a good idea of why this was doubly moving, to me.)

    Waveland was this mythical, beleaguered, and stoic place, in my mind, much discussed but which I never got to see.   Thank you so much for this introduction I’m finally getting, and thanks for being there.  :)

    • #15
  16. Concretevol Thatcher
    Concretevol
    @Concretevol

    kelsurprise: (If I ever manage to collect my thoughts on the very different experience I had in the River Center and post them, you’ll have a good idea of why this was doubly moving, to me.)

    I certainly hope you do!  What better time then now?  I would love to hear what it was like there and compare notes.

    • #16
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