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[Editor’s Note: This is the fourth part in the author’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, here, and here].
In addition to the chaos of the relief station, we needed to get out into the community and help. The problem was time: no matter how hard we worked, there was only so much daylight and we were already pushing the envelope. That’s when God stepped in and sent an angel named Renee and her crew. They had come down from the Atlanta area and set up next to our lot in a camper. Her priority was bringing relief to people that couldn’t get to us. The reason I call her an angel is because that is exactly how so many of the people she helped — many of whom had lost everything — saw her. In short time, and with the help of her small crew, we developed a tremendous partnership.
Renee would spend hours scouring the back roads and neighborhoods in the area surrounding our station. Then, she would come to me with a list of supplies people needed and we’d load her up. I decided it was more effective to just make it happen then to go through a lot of paperwork, since we were barely able to keep track of what was coming in and out. Frankly, inventory was not a priority to me while people were still living under tarps in their front yards. Having a “mobile arm” was invaluable to our efforts. I was able to meet people with her occasionally and see her in action.
Here’s some of the people we visited on one of her missions of mercy:
Below, is typical example of the living quarters many families endured. A tent and whatever they could dry out in the yard:
As we organized things in Waveland, we constantly worried about the prospect of rain. Everything we had was stored outside, and most of the tarps we could round up were used to cover roofs or build makeshift tents. Even though it was very hot, we prayed against rain.
Debriefing at the base in Lumberton each night, we would plead for tents. Big tents. Over and over, we heard that the military would bring some down any day. Well, one day some tents did arrive: from the Chinese military! We had a truckload of green, extremely heavy, canvas tents, maybe 16′ on a side. All the paperwork and writing on the tents was in Chinese, but we figured them out eventually.
Renee was ecstatic when I told her about the tents and she was invaluable in getting them out to the public. It was another instance where some paperwork may have been somewhat … retroactive. Believe me, there were several jokes made about how we got tents from the Chi-Coms (and a few private donors) before the US government. Here is one of our Chinese beauties and a “civilian” tent we were able to commandeer as an older gentleman’s new home.
Remembering now how unbreakable the locals were after such devastating losses has been encouraging. There was the cheerful little old lady who had ridden out Hurricane Camille in her house years before, but who came home to find that Katrina had dropped a tree on her house; as if that wasn’t bad enough, the waters had floated and wedged her refrigerator between the door and the wall, making it impossible for her to get in. There were also groups of men that waited at a local country store for donated chainsaws so they could help their neighbors. There were the defiant messages people would leave on their businesses and destroyed homes (many of which were not Code of Conduct compliant).
I hope these posts have given some perspective on what it was like for some of the inhabitants of the Gulf Coast. It was muddy, moldy, and hot but the people there weren’t beaten. They just needed a hand up.