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[Editor’s Note: This is the third part in Concretevol’s series describing his experiences volunteering on the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina 10 years ago this week. Catch-up with the other parts here and here].
To give volunteers a break from the blistering heat — and because they were dying to see something other than that parking lot — we started taking groups to the coast to see for themselves what a 20′ wall of water leaves behind. Now, I will try to tell you, or show you, as best I can. Though I’ve never seen a bomb-blasted landscape before in person, I’ve seen pictures and that was really the only way to describe the first quarter mile inland. There was very little left of the houses other than bare concrete slabs… maybe a mailbox, or a post here or there. There wasn’t much debris there, either: most of it sitting on top of other destroyed houses further inland. It was also very quiet, with only the occasional sound of a helicopter flying overhead or a motor grader clearing sand from Beach Boulevard. There was very little talking in the truck on these outings. Just shocked silence.
As we went further inland, the devastation became more apparent.
The Highway 90 bridge across the bay to Gulfport didn’t fair too well. The harbor, railroad bridge, and piers had all mostly disappeared.
After seeing such tragedy, the people I took out worked even harder than before to help their fellow Americans. Their fellow human beings. There was so much to be done. So much need everywhere you turned. I can’t emphasize enough how uplifting it was to see people help strangers.
One of the best examples involved a truck from Kansas. It was getting late, and we had a big group of college kids from Southern Adventist University who were about to head back Lumberton to get some rest after a long day’s work, when a massive truck with a 48-foot trailer pulled into the lot. It had been packed to the gills with donated goods and the drivers had simply taken off for the coast. They had been to several relief centers, but no one would accept — let alone unload — their truck! The drivers were pretty frustrated with the rejection by the time I went over to talk to them.
I soon called over the college leaders and told them what we needed, and we then got a bunch of the kids over for a pep talk. You see, there was a catch: nothing on the truck was sorted, labeled, or on pallets. That meant we had to hand-unload the trailer and sort through all the goods and it was already 5 PM. Hardly a picnic by any means. But after I’d explained the situation, the leaders and the kids gave a resounding “Let’s get started!” It was another of those “never forget moments” for me and we did our best to keep everyone happy and hydrated.
Here are a few shots from that day:
In all the sorting, a few of the girls found matching mini-skirts that were donated for God knows what reason … perhaps just for us that day. The truck drivers had a big time taking pictures of our “models.” Too bad Mike LaRoche couldn’t be there!
There might be one more installment coming to wrap things up; so many stories keep coming back to me. It’s hard to sum up a month or more down there, but I hope some of this gives a small look at what happened a decade ago.