Blogathon for Pearlington

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

CNN on Pearlington

CNN has new video on Pearlington from this morning's broadcast. Like the previous Pearlington reports, this one focuses on Denise Swanson and her children.

Keep the Story Alive

One year ago today so many things changed in my life and in the lives of the people around me and in the very landscape of my state that it is impossible to name them all. I wish I had something worthy to say now. As if to highlight the fact that life simply must go on, I've been so busy today that I've had almost no time to sit and reflect, and now that I am finally home and able to say something, I'm too tired to think what it is I'd like to say if it were even possible to come up with the words.

Today is the end of the blogging I promised to do for Pearlington, but it is not the end of this blog, and it is not the end of my efforts to help my neighbors on the coast. I leave you this evening with only one thought, and that is to keep talking about Pearlington and keep talking about Katrina in whatever way you can. The rebuilding efforts have only just begun, but it would only be human for many to now lose interest in "last year's news." Don't let that happen. Whatever your own part in this may be, do what you can to keep the story alive.

And thank you. Thank you , America. Thank you for your help, for your love and for your prayers and for your time. Thank you for everything you've done.

God bless you. And God bless Pearlington.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Unknown Victims

Among the other events set to mark the one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina tomorrow is the burial of the unidentified storm victims in Gulfport. This is such a poignant way to observe the passing of time and the passing of hope for answers. We can only wish now that we were truly ready to bury the Katrina casualties and move on. Too much is still torn apart with no real idea of when or how it can be put back together, though. We are recognizing the fact that the days have kept passing for one full year tomorrow, but we are not by any means telling the end of the story. Katrina's wake will live on for many years to come.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

On a Clip and a Prayer

Yesterday afternoon, I went to the Pearlington site and watched the CNN clips taken at various times in the past year. Two particular moments stood out to me:

When nurse Angela Cole was asked how the media depictions compared to being there, she said that it was far more devastating and further reaching than the media was able to show, and that viewers were spared the effects on all of the senses, that is, we didn't have to smell the stench of sewage or fight off bugs and mosquitoes.
Her honesty and dedication is humbling: her persistence is admirable.

The second moment came during a piece on Mardi Gras. The town had had a parade, and there were shots of children in their multicolored necklaces having a good time. One of the residents said that she was afraid that viewers outside the area would take this to mean that residents were back on their feet--which they were far, far, from being. Pearlington's restoration is still a work in progress and they need volunteers to continue to come down and help out.

What I admire about the volunteers depicted in the CNN clips is that they keep arriving to help, and they do so without needing external validation. Church groups, med students, fire fighters and others travel to Pearlington to do what must be done.

In a video created by the UBC, Daniel Vestal, pastor, posed this question to his congregation: "What will you do with the pain of people affected by the hurricane?"
And I am reminded of writer Karen Armstrong, who, in researching acts of prayer, describes it as including selflessly doing something for others. The hard work being done in Pearlington by residents and volunteers can be seen, then, as one large, interdenominational prayer.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

What to Read?

Hello again! Sharon has asked me to pinch hit for her this weekend, and I'm glad to be here. Though I haven't been writing, I have been reading Sharon's posts, and, as the school year begins, I can't help but to think of all of the students in Pearlington who are heading back to school. I wonder what they have in the way of recreational reading--in fact, I wonder what the whole town has in that regard. My guess is, not much.

Because reading anything in your down time is good for you and sets a good example for your kids, I'd like to find ways to get books to Pearlington--to either augment an existing library space or to give each person a gift book. What I don't want to do is to open the town up to a flood of very used books that are too worn out to read. And yet, having spent the last two weeks packing and sorting my books, I do know that I've sent some decent books to Goodwill that could just have easily gone to Pearlington.

So, here's what I'd like to propose-how about a "Buy a Book For Pearlington" drive this Fall? We could canvas those of you who live in Pearlington about what books you'd like to have, and then set up a wish list on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, so that contributors would be able to send a book directly. Hmmmmm. The only problem with that is what happens when you're the one person on the wishlist who doesn't get anything? What can we do about that?

This is an idea that is worth pursuing, and I'd like feedback from everyone, Pearlington residents and blog readers alike.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Race, Poverty, Tragedy

The Hattiesburg American has a good editorial today about the slow recovery of the disadvantaged from Hurricane Katrina. We've all heard the complaints of racism in the relief responses, and I've been wanting to say something about this, but I haven't been quite sure what to say.

Katrina was no racist. Everyone in her path took the same beating. The resulting deaths and losses are not about race; they're about human beings. Yet we all know that when everyone is hurting a pecking order emerges, and some get help faster than others. My neighborhood is close to a main road, but it was a week later getting power back than my sister's more affluent neighborhood. These things happen. When there are so many needs, it is impossible to get to everyone at once. Someone has to come first, and someone has to come last.

Were priorities set in the Katrina recovery based on race? I don't know. Fortunately for me perhaps, I didn't see any of the TV coverage that has evidently infuriated the rest of the country. I was spared the feelings of helplessness in watching tragedies unfold that I could do nothing about because I was cut off from the outside world by that same storm. In the first few days after the storm, we heard very little news. Even radio towers had been knocked down. We were just busy cleaning up and figuring out how to get by. We didn't know what other people were doing.

Perhaps because of that I don't have the same sense of outrage at the government response that others have expressed. The first time I knew of any FEMA supplies coming to my town was on Thursday, three days after the storm. If I understand correctly, that's about when they really started getting people out of New Orleans as well. At the time, it all made sense to me. I don't think they could have gotten to us any faster. The roads were blocked with so many thousands of trees that I still see it as a miracle that they got to us when they did. New Orleans would have had the added difficulty of bridges being destroyed. In the best of times, there are only so many ways in and out of that city. With bridges out and roads blocked, the obstacles to getting help through to New Orleans were beyond measure.

Of course we all hope that the government has enough resources to save its own people in the wake of disaster. It seems like something could have and should have been done faster and better than it was. How much of that is about race or poverty and how much of that is about lack of preparation and lack of fortitude to make quick and forceful decisions, I just can't answer.

Regardless of all of that, though, the poor have less to draw on to help themselves recover. The poor have fewer resources to lobby for their own causes. Thus, government answers to rebuilding concerns have been slower to reach them.

What we need from the government now is not just help with housing but help with economic recovery. In many cases, like in Pearlington, Mississippi, the infrastructure to provide jobs so that the poor and the under-prepared can even begin to start helping themselves is just not there. Failure to address that now will only mean that problems created by Katrina, as blind to issues of race and class as she may have been, will continue to grow rather than to diminish as more and more time passes.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Salvaged Art

Shown above is a Walter Anderson watercolor, "Reddy Red Head." It's just one example of Mississippi's great works of art that have been salvaged from ruined galleries and museums on the coast.

From the Clarion Ledger...

A new exhibition at the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art in Laurel is a Who's Who of
the state's artists and a reminder of the hurricane that almost washed it out to
Saved from the Storm: The Sarah Gillespie Collection at William Carey
University, Friday through Nov. 12, features works that survived the storm
intact and several works that have been conserved.
"It is a terrific overview
of Mississippi art. The collector did a tremendous job making sure artists were
represented, and goes into great depth in terms of particular artists," Lauren
Rogers museum director George Bassi said.
"It's the Who's Who of visual
artists," featuring big names both historical and contemporary, such as Karl
Wolfe, Walter Anderson, Theora Hamblett and more.
It's considered the most
complete collection of art produced by Mississippians during the 20th century,
collection curator Iris Easterling has said.

No discussion of relief efforts in Pearlington would be complete without mentioning Iris Easterling of University Baptist Church who worked tirelessly all through the year to make sure families had their FEMA starter kits so that they could qualify for trailers and to make sure children had Christmas presents and many other needs were met. And no discussion of Iris Easterling would be complete without mentioning her other tireless endeavor of moving the Sarah Gillespie Collection from the ruins of the coast to a new, safer home in Hattiesburg.

To read more about the Gillespie Collection, visit the William Carey web site.

And if you are in the area, don't miss the Gillespie exhibit at the Lauren Rogers Museum this fall.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Eyes on Debby

Debby is way out there, and it really doesn't look like she's going to become a problem for us, but any storm activity this time of year (as we approach the Katrina anniversary) bears watching.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Pearlington Project

Be sure to check out CNN's American Morning next Tuesday, August 29th (the anniversary of Katrina). Angela Cole of Project Pearlington will be featured telling about some of the work she has done in Pearlington.

For earlier CNN reports on Pearlington, go to the Project Pearlington blog and click on Media Coverage. It is well worth your time, and it will certainly give you a better understanding of what the folks in Pearlington have been through this year.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Poll Results In

Here is some information from the latest Gallup poll of Katrina victims.

Of the Katrina survivors who owned a home before Katrina hit, 80% indicate that this home is currently livable, including 31% who say their home is completely repaired, and another 49% who say it is livable even though it still needs repairs. That represents a small improvement from the 2005 poll, when 72% of those who owned a home said it was livable.

This is encouraging. It does show progress. I'm not sure how much it really tells us, though. I'd be very curious to see a break down of these numbers by county. Katrina had such a wipe scope that if answers given by people in Jackson, Mississippi are being averaged in with answers given by people in Waveland, Mississippi, the results are certainly being skewed. Like I said, I'd love to see a break down. I don't think recovery numbers in Pearlington come anywhere close to 80% of houses currently livable. I know other coastal communities as well as parts of New Orleans are also very far from matching these percentages.

Still, it's nice to hear that progress is being made. Somewhere.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Glen and Karen Bazor

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is helping Glen and Karen rebuild. Glen is pictured here at the saw, and Karen is watching. They are delightful people to work with, and they work as hard as anyone who comes along to help.

Glen is attempting to rebuild his landscaping business. This is not such an easy proposition considering that many of his former customers have been unable to return to the area since the hurricane.

The Bazors have three children, and an assortment of dogs, cats, and baby raccoons--all living in one FEMA trailer. Consummate animal lovers, Glen and Karen are also feeding strays that have wandered up and adopted them in the past year. It's very likely that these strays belonged to families that were unable to return. Luckily for them, they have found someone who really cares.

God bless the Katrina strays human and animal alike, and God bless people like Glen and Karen who are making a difference even in the midst of their own struggles.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

50 in 50

In response to the devastation Hurricane Katrina did to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Vicksburg native Samuel Thompson ran - not from the problems, but for them.

Thompson, 25, of Vicksburg plans to complete his journey Saturday of running 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 consecutive days, all to raise awareness of the Mississippi Gulf Coast's continuing recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

I can't tell you how impressed I am. I'm finding it a strain at times just to keep up the blogging efforts for hurricane relief. This guy has made a true commitment.

Check out his web site, and note that in addition to running for the cause, he is also blogging.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Where Ya'll From

Canada Jon has been keeping track of where the volunteers have come from to come to Pearlington. You can see more maps like this one on his blog.

Pearlington is such a small town that most people in Mississippi had never heard of it before Katrina. It's very heartening to see how far and wide the love and concern for our little coastal towns has spread.

Thanks, ya'll.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

At Least Some Are Recovering

The Grand Casino in Biloxi reopens tonight. It was washed across the highway by Katrina and was demolished over a period of months. The Beau Rivage is scheduled to reopen on August 29, exactly one year after the storm.

The returning casinos are something of a bittersweet sight. It's sad that these are the main businesses that can afford to come back. It's sad that they will be there to tempt and draw in people who have almost nothing to spend and everything to lose. Yet they represent much needed job opportunities and a critical tax base to the area if there is to be any recovery at all.

Welcome back, I say. Welcome back, monstrosities. Welcome back corporate tourist traps. We might not always love you, but we do need you.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Before and After

The Sun Herald's Before and After series features Pearlington today. Be sure to read the article about the house pictured above. It's a fascinating story.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Insurance Companies 1, Flood Victims 0

From Reuters....

Paul and Julie Leonard were awarded $1,228 to cover wind damage but lost their argument that their Nationwide Mutual Insurance policy covered flood damage associated with the storm, which they said cost them more than $130,000.

The case has been closely watched by thousands of homeowners who believe damage from floods swept in by Katrina along the U.S. Gulf coast should be covered under policies generally meant to cover hurricane damage.

Of course, this is not by any means the end of the story. There will be more court decisions to come. It is, however, a stark disappointment to those who have been holding out hope that the insurance companies would eventually be forced to pay out for some of the Katrina flood damage in areas where flood insurance was not required.

Stay tuned for further developments...

Monday, August 14, 2006

Update on FEMA Campers

FEMA is going to do its own testing for formaldehyde in its trailers. I had somehow missed that before. This comes after the Sierra Club issued a report of finding unacceptable levels of formaldehyde in FEMA trailers tested in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama. It also comes after dozens of complaints from the residents themselves.

In the previous article that I linked to, there was a story about a couple that bought their own camper rather than continue to live in a FEMA camper after their pet bird became ill:

“We got up one morning and the cockatiel was lethargic, wouldn’t move, was losing its balance,” said Paul, a police officer in neighboring Waveland. “… (Later), the vet told us unequivocally, ‘Look, you either get the bird out of that environment or he’s going to die.’”

I've heard other stories of pets suffering respiratory problems in Pearlington. Those could either be cause by the toxins in the soil or in the trailers--or both. Everyone I've met in Pearlington has pets, and they all love their pets as part of the family. When you talk to someone about who they lost in the storm, they never fail to mention pets. I lost a brother, a nephew, and a dog, they'll say. The dogs always make the list of hardest losses.

Now many of those families are reunited with their pets, but the pets can't take the toxic environments of the FEMA trailers for long. Neither can the children. What we really have to be concerned about here are the potential life-long health problems the Katrina children are developing.

If anyone has any ideas about what to do to help, please share them.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Colleges Still Recovering

This picture is from the Pearl River Community College website. You can see more PRCC Katrina photos here. Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College also has storm damage photos posted online. USM's Katrina photos may be viewed here. And before and after photos of William Carey College's administration building are available here.

Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures from Jones County Junior College, my own campus, nor do I have any real information. The Hattiesburg American reports today that PRCC is now tearing down its coliseum. The article also mentions how long it is taking for even colleges to get processed through insurance claims.

I probably should know more about what's going on with storm repairs at my own school, but I don't. The buildings that were the most heavily damaged were not part of my normal stomping grounds. It was such a hectic year that I really didn't venture out exploring much. I do know that we never used the Home Health Auditorium again all year, and since it is our normal location for faculty meetings, I've just assumed it isn't repaired yet. But you know what they say about assuming. I'm making no claims. I just know that an enormous amount of work went into making it possible for us to even have school this year, let alone be back in the classroom only two weeks after the storm.

For more information about damage to Mississippi colleges, refer back to this September Chronicle article.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Toxic Trailers?

As if worries about mold in everything left behind by Katrina's flood waters and high arsenic levels in the soil due to industrial waste being dumped from the Gulf back onto land are not enough, hurricane victims are also suffering from the effects of formaldehyde in their FEMA campers.

Formaldehyde is commonly used in the particle board and wood panels of the small campers, and, for whatever reason, there seems to be a pattern emerging of real health problems caused by breathing in too much formaldehyde in the FEMA campers.

According to this recent MSNBC article,
The Department of Housing and Urban Development limits the use of formaldehyde-emitting products in manufactured homes -- setting a standard of 0.2 parts per million for plywood and 0.3 parts per million for particleboard materials. But the agency does not regulate travel trailers or motor homes, probably because it was never anticipated that people would spend long periods of time living in them, said the Sierra Club’s Gillette.
These trailers were a way to get out of a tent, and nothing more. They are not acceptable housing on a long term basis, and now it appears they could be creating health problems that will last far beyond the current crisis.

We've got to remain committed to helping these families get back on their feet in safe, healthy, secure environments. Interest in coming to the Gulf Coast to help appears to waning as we approach the one-year mark, but needs are escalating every bit as fast as they are being resolved. If there is anything you can do to help get a family out of FEMA trailer, please don't forget how much your help is needed. People are being embalmed alive in those things--literally.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Hurricane Cycles

There's no doubt that 2005 was an unusually active hurricane season. How often, after all, do we use up the whole alphabet and beyond on hurricane names? We're now 18 days away from the one year anniversary of Katrina, and we've only gotten as far as a Chris--only three named storms so far, which wouldn't seem like a reprieve at all if we hadn't been at Harvey by this time last year.

That terrible and terribly active 2005 season sparked lots of reports that we had entered a cycle of increased hurricane activity that could last another twenty years or so. It also brought up the question of whether global warming might be responsible.

Word from the National Hurricane Center is that there is "no consensus" on the issue of global warming's contribution to increased hurricane activity and/or intensity. On the other hand, Kerry Emanuel, an MIT professor, told NPR that after studying global hurricane patterns, he does see a clear correlation between warming ocean temperature and hurricane intensity.

I'm not scientist, nor do I pretend to be one on the Internet, but anyone who watches The Weather Channel can tell you that hurricanes get stronger in warmer waters. I don't know whether global warming is our culprit. I do know, however, that if Katrina was part of a pattern rather than an anomaly, we are far from prepared for future disasters. If nothing else, as a recent Pew study indicated, population growth alone in coastal areas will assure increases in damage caused by hurricanes.

We need to help storm victims recover, but we need to do more than that too. We need better plans for evacuations and for storm shelters. We need better building codes. We need to be proactive in repairing potential problems (like inadequate levees) before "the big one" hits. We need better communication and cooperation among all the various entities involved in storm preparation and recovery. In short, we need to learn our lessons from Katrina. We can't afford to be caught again and again by "the one we never thought would happen."

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Water, Water

Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.
Coastal residents can definitely relate to Coleridge on these lines from "The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner." Flood waters destroyed virtually everything south of I-10, and in doing so created a drinking water emergency. In Pearlington, there was no city water system. Everyone used well water, and Katrina destroyed the pumps for those wells. The first step to normalcy (or the new normal) was to start replacing those pumps. FEMA was parking trailers by the hundreds in that field in Purvis while families by the hundreds still lived in tents because they had no basic services. FEMA required access to water and electricity before those families could get a trailer. University Baptist and CBF worked hard through the fall to help people get new pumps and get set up in their FEMA campers. We still have so far to go, but thanks to all of those efforts, the water crisis that has vastly improved in the past year.
Click here to read an account by John Earle of some of the work that went into establishing safe water supplies in Pearlington.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Ada and Sunnie Palode

Two of the most loving people I've met in Pearlington are Ada and Sunnie Palode. Pictured to the left is Ada with Charles Holmes of CBF. Below is Sunnie with two of their eight children and Bruce Greer, a volunteer from Denver.

Ada and Sunnie spent some time living in tents last fall before getting their FEMA campers. Obviously, ten people could not live in one camper, so Ada lived in one with the girls, and Sunnie lived in the other with the boys.

Ever considerate, Ada is a woman who understands the way to the hearts of tired, overheated teenage volunteers. One afternoon I saw her demonstrate this as she dragged out a box of freezer pops for a group that was positively drooping under what little shade there was to find at the site of Ada's new house. Faces lit up, and bodies perked up, ready to get back to work.

Ada is also the first to tell anyone who comes along that God is taking care of Pearlington, and God is taking care of her family. She's also the first to pass out smiles and hugs even in the midst of her own devastation.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


You only have what you give. It's by spending yourself that you become rich.

It is in giving that I connect with others, with the world and with the divine.

~Isabel Allende

These are two of my favorite quotes about giving, and they both come from the same short essay by Isabel Allende shared with us via NPR's this i believe series. Allende comes to these conclusions as part of the process of accepting the death of her daughter. I love them because they are so close to my own beliefs, because they could have only come from a person who has learned her priorities in life the hard way, and because they exude such a spirit of redemptive hope in the face of great grief.

This is the kind of giving I've seen this year in the wake of Katrina. People continuously set aside their own overwhelming problems in order to help others. This is the kind of stuff that makes you believe in humanity. This is the kind of stuff that gives you a clear connection to the world around you and to the divine.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Pearl's Cafe

This is where volunteers gather in Pearlington for the evening meal. Now that the Red Cross and AmeriCorps have left, feeding the masses is a real cooperative effort. Groups of volunteers sign up to take turns cooking. Often, it’s burgers and beans, but sometimes the meals get quite elaborate. Various churches have sponsored fish fries, crawfish boils, spaghetti dinners, and all sorts of treats in the now infamous tent known as Pearl’s Café.

Recently, the tent has been air conditioned, making it one of the most desirable locals in Pearlington. I’m not sure who is responsible, but I have no doubt the air conditioning was contributed by some people who’d gotten their fill of working up a sweat by swatting flies and mosquitoes away from their food.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

We Made It!

It’s now 5:00 a.m. on Sunday in Mississippi, and we’ve been blogging for 24 continuous hours. Whew! We made it after all.

This is the end of this particular blogathon, but not the end of this blog. I’ve decided to keep this up by posting at least one new item a day to this blog from now up until the Katrina anniversary on August 29.

I know a lot of people are on their last summer vacations before the new academic year starts up again right now. Keep spreading the word. There is still a chance for them to contribute when they get back to their desks and back to their blogs.

And once again, thank you. Thank you to everyone who contributed to this blogathon. Thank you to everyone who has given time, talent, and treasure to the hurricane recovery efforts. From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you.

The above picture is from West Hancock Fire and Rescue.

Not So Slow Churches At Work

Remember those signs you used to always see on the sides of the road? “Slow Men At Work.” Or “Slow Children at Play.” I remember a joke from childhood when someone threatened to put a sign in front of the church: Slow Church at Worship.” I’ve seen my share of churches that deserved it too. Slow to change. Slow to take action. Slow to accept new people. Slow to try new music. Slow to get fired up about anything let alone an act of worship or of outreach.

One thing Katrina did was to shock the complacency right out of the local churches. Ask anyone from around here how we survived the first couple of weeks after the hurricane, and you’ll hear, “The churches saved us.”

Mississippi isn’t called the Bible Belt for nothing. There really is a church at every street corner. Those churches became the staging areas for what was by far the majority of relief efforts. Local churches passed out water, food, diapers, and other emergency supplies. They served meals and cleaned up debris. They checked up on the elderly and cut trees off of houses. They provided facilities for refugees and for relief workers alike. When some of their members started getting power and other utilities back, they did laundry for strangers and even offered places for people to take showers.

The whole world had turned to chaos as far as we knew. The traffic lights were out, and the roads that weren’t still blocked with trees were just an out and out free-for-all. The grocery stores were shut down. People would wait overnight in line just on the rumor that a service station might be about to get some gas. The cell phone and radio towers were down, and people had very little access to information. They had no way of knowing just how bad things were or how long it would take to restore order. In all of that, they were hearing rumors of lootings and shootings and all manner of crime that made them afraid to venture very far out.

As soon as supply trucks could get through, though, churches from all over the country started sending much needed aid to their local affiliates, and the local congregations came together to work day and night among the heat and insects and confusion just to get those supplies out to the people who needed them the most.

Katrina taught us many lessons. She taught us that we need to always be prepared to go without power, running water, bank cards, and 24-hour grocery stores for possibly weeks, or in the case of coastal residents, months at a time just in case disaster strikes. She taught us not to take our homes and families and conveniences for granted. Yet she also taught us that we aren’t in this life alone, and we don’t have to face tragedies alone. She taught us that the greatest strength in humanity is our caring for one another. She taught us what it really means to be God’s children.

Pictured above: Stacy of University Baptist handing out supplies after Katrina.

Katrina and the Media

We’ve heard a lot on the news this year about what the government did wrong in the face of Katrina, and I’ve heard a lot around Mississippi about what the media did wrong. Personally, I think they both have a lot to account for, but it’s the media I’m here to talk about at the moment, and the media, in my opinion, crossed the line into actually adding to the harm.

I missed the Katrina coverage in the immediate aftermath of the storm. I didn’t have T.V. for more than a month. I’ve only seen what’s been replayed or what’s been reported in the subsequent months. I have seen the results of that coverage, though, and I know that great damage was done by it.

When I talk to people who live in other places about the hurricane damage in Mississippi, the first reaction is often shock that there are still clean-up efforts going on. When I start to explain that the devastation was so massive that it will take at least 10 years to rebuild, I get confused, stammering, “But, but…why didn’t we hear about this? I thought the problems from Katrina were mainly in New Orleans.”

New Orleans, as horrific as the events there were and continue to be, is only a small part of the story of what happened in Katrina. And the horror stories of gang-bangers and thugs and rapes and fraudulent spending of aid money are only a small part of the story of what happened in New Orleans.

The media used the graphic nature of tragedies in New Orleans to run its own self-serving campaign against the government. They did this at the expense of the storm victims. That’s not to say the government didn’t make its share of mistakes. It is only to say that the media was so focused on sensationalizing government culpability that it failed to tell the whole story.

Reporters filmed people stranded on rooftops rather than using their helicopters to help in the rescue efforts. What’s worse, they harped so long and hard on the criminal elements among the storm victims that they turned a large portion of the public against doing anything to help.

Murderers using FEMA money to pay for jewelry and drugs is not the story of Katrina. Come to Pearlington if you want to learn some of the real story. Come to Pearlington and meet the kind of people who, when offered basic supplies for starting over, would say things like, “That’s okay. I already have a plate. You give those dishes to somebody who needs them more.”

And please don’t forget. When the government fails, and the media fails, the job is up to the people.

The New Normal

A few weeks after Katrina, people started bandying about the phrase, “the new normal.” We understood by then that the chaos was beginning to settle down into something we would have to recognize as normal, but it was like no normal we’d ever known before. In Hattiesburg, where I live, the signs of Katrina are abundant, especially for those who knew what it looked like before. I still get disoriented sometimes when I turn down a street that should be familiar to me. I have to double-check to make sure I’m in the right place because nothing looks the same. The main difference here is that there are so many trees missing that our whole landscape has changed. There are still houses being repaired and still blue tarps on roofs, but those kinds of signs are diminishing for us all the time.

In Pearlington, they have a long way to go to even catch up with their neighbors just a few miles to the north. Caved in houses and debris piles are still the norm for them. As are FEMA trailers, tents, and port-a-potties.

The psychological effects alone of living in a world that has been torn apart are enormous. When that world should be home to you but is unlike anything you’ve ever known before the anxiety and disorientation and fear wear and tear at you in ways most of us can only imagine.

Returning Pearlington to anything we’d want to consider as normal for a small town in America will take years. The commitment for outside help must be long term. If you can get to Pearlington to work, you’ll be needed for many months and years to come. If you can send money, it will still be needed even if it is a while before you have it to send. Most of all, though, remember that Pearlington needs your prayers. Those will be needed on an ongoing basis for a very long time to come as well.

Got Love Bugs?

No one who was in Mississippi in the wake of Katrina could possibly tell the story without a nod or two to the love bugs. They swarmed in before the clouds had even cleared and hung around for weeks smattering up every windshield and complicating every attempt to cook outdoors or even open a door or window in our sadly sweltering homes. It was surreal. It was a pestilence of Biblical proportions. It was worthy of any old Pharaoh whose borders needed smiting by the God of Moses and the Children of Israel. There was a shortage of everything, and amongst the long lines and people begging for ice to keep medications usable, there were also signs that said, “Can get love bugs off cars.” It was truly a sight to behold.

They say the love bugs had nothing to do with the storm, but I find that hard to believe. I’ve never seen anything like that before, and I’ve lived my whole life in Mississippi (unless you count a few years away at school).

Whatever the reasons, all I can say is somebody up there has a pretty twisted sense of humor.

Life and Death Go On

One of the most difficult, unfair things about Katrina is that the world can’t come to standstill while we recover. Not only do babies keep being born and people keep having birthdays and high school reunions and church potlucks, but all of the bad things that happen when we are least prepared keep rolling our way too.

My mother broke her hip right before Christmas after living in a gutted out house all through the fall. A vice president at my school was killed in a car accident after he and his wife spent the year displaced from their home. My friend just lost her father after spending a year going through constant ups and downs in trying to get into a new house after her home was destroyed.

In Pearlington, things are no different. Car accidents and heart attacks and fires have claimed lives. People have suffered illnesses. Children have had trouble in school. Puppies have been run over. In short, life has happened, and there is nothing anyone can do to change that.

Sometimes it gets to the point that you just want to throw up your hands and scream, “Haven’t we had enough, Lord? What happened to that no more than you can bear caveat?”

I wish I had something wise and immensely comforting to say. I’ve been to one funeral after another all summer, and by now I should have my sequence of comfort verses down—“Consider the lilies”; “I shall lift mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help”; “I have fought the good fight. I have finished my course.” And so on.

I have no adequate response to the tragedies upon tragedies I’ve seen this year. If I were the preacher I’d have to say something about how God never leaves us or forsakes us, but I think it’s only natural that people wonder where God has been in all of this.

My only answer is that we’ve seen as much good as we have bad, and we have to hold on to that thought. We have to remember the lives of our friends, not their deaths. We have to appreciate how people came together to help each other, not the way the storm tore everything apart.

I learned this year that plants put out new growth when they’ve gone through a trauma. We had things that bloomed out of season last fall for that reason.

Maybe people do that too. And maybe that’s where God has been—preparing us for new growth.

2:00 a.m.

I am actually awake. I'll be getting started with the last few hours of the blogathon any minute now. Thanks, Joanna. Thanks for giving me a chance to sleep, and thanks for all of the wonderful contributions you've made to the blog!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Poetry Break

Reading Lori Gordon's thoughts reminded me of one of my favorite poems, "To Be Of Use" by Marge Piercy. The poem speaks to the part of myself that likes to work for the sake of working, for the usefulness to others and for the meaning it gives my life. As I wind down my shift at the Blogathon for Pearlington, I want to thank Sharon for all of the work she has done pulling things together, and good luck, to all of you in Pearlington. I hope we've been able to help in some small way.

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who stand in the line and haul in their places,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

"To be of use" by Marge Piercy © 1973, 1982.

Pasted from


You say you want to support rebuilding the Gulf Coast, but ONLY if you'll get to wear a snazzy Cafe Press Tshirt? Well. We at Blogathon for Pearlington who are perhaps a bit too jacked up on caffeine on good days to calm down and design our own shirts (but support readers' efforts to do so), want you to know that someone else had a great idea:

Make Levees, Not War

If y'all can come up with a catchy tee slogan for Blogathon for Pearlington --well, by all means, let us know! We'll POST IT HERE! And, best of all, we'll let YOU (that's right), YOU pay for your own shirt.

Arsenic Levels

One of the articles that Sharon sent to me last week was about the danger due to the high levels of arsenic in the area around Pearlington. It seems that as the storm poured in and then washed out, it left extremely high levels of the chemical in its wake, which could, if it already hasn't, make some folks sick.

This is just another example of the disaster's aftermath--how almost a year later, people are still picking up and finding new concerns in their way.


CODRA sponsors a blog featuring stories about volunteers and residents of Pearlington. Called Sharing Pearlington, the blog gives some names and faces to those who are working behind the scenes. I'm heading right back there now to do some reading.

Home Insurance

I'm glad that Sharon wrote that post about the insurance companies rescinding on the claims being made or making it difficult for people to apply for their payments. On the one hand, I feel angry that the people have to wait and put up with so much nonsense and get so little in return. On the other hand, I wonder about how well insurance companies are prepared to process full-scale catastrophes like Katrina or 9/11. Both events existed in the collective imagination as "never'll happen," so the fact that everyone was left shocked and unprepared makes sense (except for the government--they should have been prepared for anything, and weren't).

Or does it? Let me know what bits of information I've missed in making this observation.

The Katrina Collection

Think of another way of looking at the debris. Think of another way to reconfigure the scraps you've been left with. It won't bring your house back or rebuild the town, but for a space of time, you'll be expressing what the year has been like.

That's what artist Lori K. Gordon has been doing. She writes:

This series is about the creation of something new from the wreckage of the past. I have used fragments of old paintings, keys to my home, clocks which stopped when the storm reached Clermont Harbor, and many other pieces of rubble to represent this journey. Several themes appear repeatedly. The eyes are representative both of the eye of the storm, and of the thousands of people who watched its progress towards the coast and witnessed the destruction it wrought. The abstracted human figures are meant to point to the tremendous human toll of Katrina. The clocks and watches are about the way in which time was made to stand still, and even reversed by the wind and water. The use of torn papers and fabric symbolize the countless pieces of clothing and bedding which hang from broken tree limbs all along the coast.

and later, she concludes her piece with these thoughts:

I have always known how important my work was to my happiness and wellbeing. I never felt that I had a choice as to whether or not I did my art; it is simply what I am about. The five weeks in which Katrina robbed me of that part of myself is a period of time in which I was not complete. It is only since I have begun to work again that I have been able to begin the healing process. In a very small and personal way, I have been able to make time start again. As I savor the relief that comes with moving forward, I am rediscovering the possibility of joy.

Shortly after the hurricane, a friend told me that it was the responsibility of artists to begin creating as soon as possible. It was our job, she said, to help us all understand what had happened to our lives. I don’t know if my work can do that for anyone else. What I do know is that each of us, in our own unique fashion, has to find a way to believe again, to dare hope for our future.

Visit her site to view her creations. They are magnificent.

Lucy Said:

Contributor Lucy had these thoughts to add about relief:

I don't think many people realize the full story of the damage in MS and LA.....the camper story really got to me. What waste of money. If not for the efforts of real people spending real time together helping each other DO something constructive, no pun intended, what might be the situation today, almost a year since Katrina washed away so many people's everyday lives?

Someone should make a documentary of this.Include scenes of all those towns before the event and after...of the efforts since to restore the lives wrecked by this event....I am not a videographer, but it would be a fabulous project for someone capable to tackle, in my opinion.

I'm not a videographer either, but I think Lucy's idea is great. Anyone out there willing to tackle the job?

Did I Forget to Thank Kiel D. Durst?

What was I thinking? Kiel is the wizard of technology who helped Sharon set up the donation button and Paypal site. If it weren't for Kiel, why, oh, let's not go there, okay?

Thanks, Kiel.

Thanks, Or, Since We Don't Have a Snazzy Toteboard,

Let's pound our keyboards in finger- tapping appreciation to:

Frykitty, Blogathon's organizing genius, for posting us to their site today;

Nell, for making a donation and for getting the word out to her church;

Patty, , who belongs to an online animal rescue group and is willing to help Pearlington folks. Email her at nahnahnah at aol dot com.

Lucy, for pledging money and spreading the word at her church,


Suicidal Mickey Mouse, for stopping by just to say that he liked Fr. Mychal's prayer.

Good on ya, as my New Zealand cousin-in-law would say.

Some Thoughts About the Aftermath

I was very moved when I read Sharon's recounting of her family's experience during the days of the hurricane. I can well relate to that feeling of disbelief in the face of tragedy. Although I've been fortunate never to have experienced a natural disaster, I did, like the rest of the country, live through the 9/11 attack, and spent my own day of thawing belief while I watched the Pentagon burn, not knowing if my husband was in or out of the building.

Like Sharon, I just didn't think it was happening, even when it was. I was waking up to the radio news, hearing talk about the WTC and a bomb. Assuming that it was a retrospective about the failed attempt of a few years ago, I drowsed until the voice announced that the Pentagon had just been hit. "Oh, he's okay," was my first thought, followed by "I'd better turn on the t.v," and then, while I stood in the living room watching the WTC hit again, "why am I not feeling anything?"

Thankfully, Paul made it out safely, and by four in the afternoon had returned home, safe and sound. But he had a home, nice and safe, to make it to, and he had a roof over his head in the weeks while the Pentagon began to clean up the debris. If he needed to chat with friends, he'd jump in his car and go to the pub or pick up his cell and call someone.

In the months to come, as the full measure of the damage sank in, we went through the mourning and grief along with the rest of the area and country, but we weren't also wondering where family members were, or trying to piece a life together by sleeping in a tent, like so many people in LA and MS were.

And so I look with awe at people living and volunteering in towns like Pearlington. y'all are amazing. Do you know that?

Back and Full of Caffeine

After a three-hour nap and plenty of Coca Cola, I'm ready to roll. I 'm going to try to write shorter pieces for each half hour, but technology being what it is, I might stray from that goal. Bear with me.

Changing of the Guard

Joanna should be back on at the top of the hour to pull another shift while I try to get some sleep. I'll be back to finish out the night at what will be 2:00 a.m. my time and 3:00 a.m. her time. It will show up as midnight on the blog postings, though, because the time stamp is set to Pacific time, and I don't know how to change that. Here's hoping a Blogger nerd will come along and explain it to me at some point.

I can't even remember the last time I was awake on purpose at 2:00 a.m. This should be fun.

Marion Black

Marion and Shirley Black are nothing short of Godsends to Pearlington. Marion is a retired contractor and the CBF disaster relief coordinator for South Carolina. He and Shirley discovered Pearlington on their first trip to the coast to survey the damage. They are responsible for bringing CBF to Pearlington through their contacts with Steve Street and Greg Wolfe of CBF. They’ve also given immeasurable time, labor, knowledge, and love to the rebuilding efforts, having spent much of the year living in a camper in Pearlington at their own expense.

But enough of all that. They’ve been good friends to me. Much of my own time in Pearlington has been vastly improved by Shirley’s cooking and company.

Pictured above is Marion working on blowing insulation into Vickie Netto’s house. This is the best I could do. He doesn’t stop working long enough to have a proper picture taken.

What to Give, How to Give

I'm having a wonderful time writing about Pearlington and watching this fully-grown blog come to life before my eyes all in one day. I'd be glad I did this even if no one made a donation, but let's not forget we are here for the people of Pearlington. Here goes one more shout out for the donation link to the righthand side of the blog. Online donations can be made by clicking the "Make a Donation" button. Anyone who prefers to send a check can click on the University Baptist Church link also to the side of this blog to get the mailing address. Please be sure to mark checks for Pearlington.

As for how much to give, the answer is anything you can. I like the idea of going by the old walkathon rules and asking people to give a certain amount per hour or per post. We're aiming for 48 posts in 24 hours, so $24 sounds like a nice tidy amount to pledge either $1 per hour or .50 per post. If that's what you're able to give, that would be an excellent donation. If that's too much, though, $1, $5, or $10 donations also make a real difference.

As always, keep those prayers coming.

Thank you, and God bless.

What if it Happens Again?

Without fail, people who come through Pearlington to work or deliver supplies or just to survey the damage end up asking, “What will happen when the next hurricane hits?”

The answer is nobody knows.

It’s certainly a valid concern that we could be doing all of this work and spending all of this money only to have it all blown away again. Nothing like this had ever happened before in living memory or in recorded history, but it did happen once, and there is no guarantee it won’t happen again.

It’s a valid worry, but one we can’t afford to let sidetrack us. We can’t leave these people without hope regardless of how uncertain we are of how long our help will last.

There are, I think, a lot of people around Mississippi and elsewhere who don’t want to put the money into rebuilding. Let the Coast rebuild the Coast, they say. They don’t want their taxes and insurance to go up to pay for the high risk of other people living on the waterfront.

Maybe those are valid concerns too, but the fact remains that we have hundreds of thousands of people who have nowhere else to go, who have known no other home, and who need our help to start over.

In Pearlington, it would be an especial travesty if the locals could not rebuild. Pearlington remains one of the few places along the coastline that has no real commercialization. The end result of abandoning the families to whatever befalls them would be something like a casino buying up all of the love, pristine backwoods property and building up a resort community. I, for one, don’t want to see that happen. I, for one, would like to save as much of the Mississippi I have grown up knowing and loving as possible—despite the risks.

Insurance Companies

Ask anyone who got hit with Katrina’s storm surge who the big, bad wolf of the recovery effort is, and they will tell you the insurance companies. Over and over I’ve heard stories of families that got almost nothing from the insurance companies after their homes were totally destroyed. They are paying for roofs but not houses, and they are not even paying that much if the roof was smashed up when the house when tumbling off its foundation. A tree has to have fallen on or something that was clearly wind damage and wind damage alone. However they are justifying it, the insurance companies are just not paying up in the hardest hit areas.

Add to that insurance rates that are now skyrocketing.

And insurance companies that are bringing in their own “hired guns” as one commenter put it. According to this article they’ve commissioned a report that downplays the wind strength of Hurricane Katrina and gives them more ammunition to fight having to pay claims.

Give me a break. There was more wind damage than you’d expect from 115 mph winds 100 miles inland.

Then there is the anti-concurrent causation clause that insurance companies are using as yet another excuse not to pay.

Watch for lawsuits. Lots of lawsuits.

I realize the storm has been financially catastrophic for the companies as well. I also realize there is a certain risk people knowingly take on by choosing to live on the waterfront. But no one could have predicted what happened in Katrina. No one could have foreseen the force or the breadth of the storm surge. No could have guessed that Pearlington, several miles off the beach, would have been completely immersed in flood waters. It had just never happened before.

This refusal on the part of insurance companies to pay for houses damaged in the storm surge is just plain wrong. But it is what it is, and it leaves the rest of us even more responsible for helping our neighbors get back on their feet. Don’t forget when you consider what you might do to help that you and people like you really are the only hope many families have.

Vickie Netto

Vickie, the mother of two young children, lost her husband prior to Katrina and lost both her home and her job to the storm. University Baptist Church adopted Vickie and provided most of the supplies for her new home. CBF volunteers who came to Pearlington enjoyed helping to get her back on her feet almost as much as they enjoyed watching young Dalton “help.” Dalton, as it turns out, can hammer as well as half the grown-up volunteer workers.

The Furriest Refugees

We’ve all heard the stories of pets left behind in Katrina, and the experience in Pearlington was no different. Post-Katrina many people are working to open pet friendly shelters, not only for the sake of the animals, but for their families as well. Newspapers are now reporting that as many as 10,000 people may have refused to evacuate so that they would not have to leave their pets behind.

In Pearlington, Lucy Mitchell told me about a house where two pugs were left behind but somehow miraculously survived. They were inside a house that was under high flood waters. No one knows where they went or how they managed to survive. But when the family came home, they were still in the house, trapped in all the muck and debris.

Lucy’s alligator was not so lucky. They haven’t seen him again since the storm. He was most definitely an outdoor only friend of the family, having wandered up into the yard as a mere hatchling, and having grown up playing chase with the dogs and feeding on leftover hotdogs from the family BBQs. Aquatic he may have been, but a salt water creature he was not. Now he’s one more casualty to remind us that Katrina was hard on all life, human and animal alike, domesticated and wild alike.

Before Katrina, no one expected Pearlington to flood. People were not all that scared of leaving their pets behind. Now that they have witnessed the very real dangers to their four-legged babies, pet friendly shelters are urgently needed.

I’m not sure how that’s going to work. If another hurricane hits this year or even next year, we’ll need far more shelters than we’ve used in the past because everyone is in sub-standard housing along the coast. People died from sitting out Katrina in two-story houses that had survived many hurricanes before. We can’t have anyone choosing to sit out a storm in a FEMA camper.

I don’t know the answers, but I do know that pets matter. And people who care about their pets enough to stay in harm’s way for them matter.

Some people have been called to come to the coast to work in the recovery. Somewhere out there are people whose calling is to help prepare for the next storm. If that’s you, please don’t forget the pets.

Field O' FEMA

There is a field alongside I-59 at Purvis, Mississippi that has become a kind of local landmark in “the new normal.” It’s full of empty FEMA campers. Thousands of them. And it’s not the only field like this in the new “GO Zone.” I’ve seen this in Louisiana as well and seen news reports of this happening elsewhere.

Why, you ask? Why after nearly a year are there still undelivered trailers sitting empty while Katrina victims are already being told they’ve had their temporary housing too long?

WLBT in Jackson says it’s all a matter of good old American red tape.

The Sun Herald reports that some of those trailers in Purvis are actually the ones being returned to FEMA after families return to their homes.

For months, every time I drove past that field I thought “each one of those campers represents a family in a tent.” By now I think most people are doing slightly better than a tent, but I wouldn’t say that means everyone who needs a FEMA trailer has one either. Many people have simply not come back, and I’m sure that one of the reasons for this is the amount of red tape required just to get started in the starting over process. And I don’t know how many of you have been in a FEMA camper, but they aren’t exactly the Taj Mahal. Lots of families have way too many people crammed into one camper, and I have seen families even as late as this summer where part of the family was still sleeping in tents even though they had a camper to provide at least some shelter (along with one, tiny camp-sized bathroom for everyone to share). Still, by now most of the larger families seem to have more than one camper—boys sleeping in one and girls sleeping in the other, or dad and the older kids in one and mom and the younger ones in the other.

At any rate, I don’t know what the field o’ campers is about in Purvis, but it’s beginning to look a lot like government inefficiency to me.

Ken Short

Ken Short is one of the more remarkable people to be met in Pearlington, and he’s not at all shy about telling you about everything he and his neighbors have been through and what they’ve managed to do by working together and pretty much anything else you want to talk about. CBF helped Ken some by sending volunteers and supplies, but he and his wife Cathi basically rebuilt their home themselves. They worked long and hard and were among the first in Pearlington to move back into a completed home. Through all of that they helped as many other people as possible, including Jesse Dickens, their 87-year-old neighbor whose home was also destroyed. Ken also decided to become a Christian in the aftermath of Katrina after talking to various church volunteers who came to work on his home.

As more than one Pearlington volunteer has discovered, sometimes listening to people is the greatest gift you can give--or receive.

The above photo is from the side of Ken’s rebuilt house.

How I Spent August 29, 2005

(Apologies for length)

I live in Hattiesburg, and every time there is a hurricane headed toward Gulfport, directly to my south, my mother calls and insists that I evacuate to Brookhaven. Just looking at the map, you might not understand what’s supposed to be so much safer about Brookhaven. It’s a little farther away from water, but only a little. What the map doesn’t tell you, though, is that during Camille, formerly known as the Mother of all Hurricanes around here, Hattiesburg got a bit of a whipping that Brookhaven did not. Hattiesburg is more likely to feel the effects of hurricanes, though I’ve never felt like Hattiesburg was really in danger before. People from the coast evacuate to Hattiesburg after all. We only have to worry about losing power for a couple of days. No big deal. No need to worry. The only reason to leave here is to miss the possible discomfort of a day or two without cable TV and hot showers.

Still, on August 29, 2005, I was in Brookhaven with my family, not home in Hattiesburg. I didn’t evacuate because of the storm. I went to Brookhaven after work on Friday to spend some time with my nephew who was visiting from Virginia. Max had a flight out from Jackson on Monday. As it turned out, though, we both got stuck at my parents’ house a little longer than anticipated. And as luck would have it, my house in Hattiesburg had no more damage than missing shutters. My parents were not quite so fortunate.

All afternoon Sunday, August 28 my brother in Virginia was calling to beg us to leave Brookhaven and go at least as far as Kosciusko where my mother’s sisters live. Evacuate Brookhaven for a hurricane? Come on. That’s unheard of. Besides, by that time, it was too late. Brookhaven sits right on Interstate 55, one of the main evacuation routes from New Orleans. Traffic was already nearly at a standstill, and the people to the south of us were much more desperate to find a safe place to wait out the storm. Evacuating was just not an option.

My mother and I discussed what we’d need from the store. We had flashlights, radios, batteries. We had some snacks and bread. We had plenty to get through a couple of days, and we decided we didn’t need anything more from town than a couple of bags of ice. If we lost power for more than two days, after all, we would be ready for a hot meal, and we’d just go into town then to go out to eat and get more groceries.

Never in our wildest imaginations would we have considered that downtown Brookhaven would still be without power after several days. Never would we have considered that there would be nowhere to buy groceries or gasoline. It would have never occurred to us to wonder how long it would take for FEMA to show up with ice and supply trucks because it never occurred to us that we would need any help from FEMA.

By Monday morning it was obvious that Katrina was bearing down. This one had not turned like Ivan or any of the others we’d recently dodged. We were scared for what would happen to our coast. We were not scared for what would happen to us. Nothing in our collective experience could have prepared us for what would happen.

My brother kept calling to ask us to take his son somewhere safe. We finally agreed to go to my uncle’s house where there is a basement. My mother and I sat in her den early Monday morning talking about how we didn’t see the need to leave the house, but we decided we would just to make my brother James feel better. We spent Tuesday shoveling insulation away from the furniture in that same room after the ceiling had crashed in.

Only Max packed to go to my uncle’s house for the day. He took a flashlight, a battery-operated TV, and a Nintendo. We all told him repeatedly to leave the Nintendo behind. We kept telling him there was no point in taking it, and he was just cluttering up the car. When we returned to the house that night, though, and found standing water in the room where the Nintendo had been, Max was the first to speak up. “See,” he said, “everything happens for a purpose. There was a reason to save the Nintendo.”

The day at my uncle’s house is a little bit of a blur. I remember that we had a hard time keeping Max in the basement. He didn’t want to miss anything. The more the winds picked up, the more excited he got. At one point, I handed him my cell phone and told him to call his dad and tell him we were okay. Max did call his dad. He said, “You won’t believe it. Trees are snapping off like pencils. They’re coming down everywhere.” Then the cell phone signal went dead.

I also remember that at some point before we lost the phones a neighbor called to say that shingles were flying off the roof at my parents’ house. My 74-year-old parents then got in their car and drove the three miles or so to their house in winds strong enough to break trees like pencils. In fact, they couldn’t get all the way to the house in the car. Trees were already blocking the road. They did all of this just to cover my mother’s dining room furniture with plastic.

As it turned out, my parents managed to navigate through a hurricane without getting hurt, and most of their furniture survived the storm, but the house itself was not as lucky. Shingles came off the roof, the attic filled up with water, and the water seeped down through the walls or in places crashed right down through the ceiling bringing everything in its way with it.

Before the storm was really even over my father was up on the roof nailing tarps in place. The house later had to be gutted, and they spent most of the year living in one room while everything else was being repaired.

We had no real access to information at that time because the power was off, the cell phone towers were down, and the radio towers were down. I remember that I kept saying, “If it’s this bad here, I hate to think what it’s like in the places the hurricane was actually supposed to hit.”

I had no idea.

Even the next day, I had no idea. I drove from Brookhaven to Hattiesburg on Tuesday right after the Monday hurricane. It was nothing short of a nightmare. I still get chills just thinking about it. If I had understood the extent of the damage, I would not have ventured out, but I remember telling my father earlier in the day that I was going to go, but I was going to wait until later in the afternoon so that the roads would be cleared. None of us had any concept of the days, weeks, and months that would go into clearing those roads.

Still, by Tuesday afternoon, an amazing amount had been done considering the number of trees and power lines clogging the roads. It was actually possible, if not advisable to drive from Brookhaven to Hattiesburg. Of course, the path I had to take did not always follow the road, and often it was only possible for one car at a time to go around a particular tree. And when I say often, I mean about every ten feet or so.

Later, I heard someone on National Public Radio talk about flying in a helicopter over Mississippi during this time. She said, “I think everyone in Mississippi must own a chainsaw and a tractor. They were all out there working as hard as they could to clear the roads.” Her perception could not have been far from the truth.

Because the story of what I did on August 29 is tied up with what I’ve done every day since then, I find it impossible to know where to begin or end. That day the winds were more terrible than anything I’d ever seen before. Trees were indeed snapping off like pencils, one right after another. But I was never scared during the hurricane. It never occurred to me that we could be in danger or that people far inland would die in Katrina. That just doesn’t happen. I didn’t know to be afraid of it.

I became afraid afterwards, though, and the first two weeks after Katrina were the real horror story. There was too much damage to understand at once. Every new day in the immediate aftermath was a new nightmare as we began to get more and more of the picture, yet at the same time every day took us that much closer to something resembling normalcy.

It’s a blessing that we could not see the news. This was our own home turf that was in absolute shambles. We couldn’t have handled understanding the extent of the devastation all at once.

Sheds For Jesus

I found this picture here where it was obviously posted by a Pearlington volunteer. I don't know anything about the white shed that claims to be for Jesus, but the shed to the right looks exactly like the ones I must have seen in about 100 places in Pearlington, 120 to be exact, according to this article from the University of Virginia website.

I knew someone had donated those sheds, but I wasn't sure who. I'm glad I had the occasion to look into this.

These sheds were as inspired as they were kind. They gave people a way to get electricity to their lots even when they were living in tents. And they give people living in FEMA campers a place to keep full-sized washers, driers, and refrigerators.

That, my friends, is what we call a Godsend around here.

Katrina's Scope

When I was in Chicago for the CCCC conference, I sat on the airport shuttle next to some people who struck up a conversation about Hurricane Katrina. A woman from New Jersey was quizzing a man who said he was from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. When I interjected a comment about the ongoing impact of the hurricane, she asked how close I lived to where the hurricane hit. I said I lived in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and that I was right in the middle of the hurricane area. She brushed me off with, “You couldn’t have really been affected there,” and went right back to questioning the guy from Baton Rouge.

To get a sense of the irony and injustice I felt at this, take a look at the wind maps from Katrina. Note that Hattiesburg is in the red part, the area where Katrina was still a major hurricane when it hit. Baton Rouge is not.

Weather Underground Wind Map

Photos From Katrina Wind Map

Even those of us who live here can’t really understand the scope of Katrina. The storm was not just devastating in a limited area. It was devastating and enormous. Damage to the entire Mississippi coastline was catastrophic. Whole towns, including Pearlington, Waveland, Bay St. Louis, Long Beach and others, were literally washed away. Due to the large number of downed trees, damage was immense far inland. In Hattiesburg, it was estimated that 80% of the houses and businesses had significant damage. Granted, this is not the same as 100% of the houses uninhabitable or non-existent, but it was unprecedented and traumatic and massive enough to change forever the shape of our town.

So when you start to question why the clean-up is taking so long, why we’ve still got so much left to do, why so many people don’t seem to have really been helped at all yet, why the government response has been so inadequate, just stop to consider how widespread the damage really is. Don’t worry if you really can’t imagine. Those of us who are here to witness it can’t either.

Me Again!

It’s my turn to do a few more hours of blogging while Joanna (Rosa G.) takes a rest, and since I neglected to say anything about myself this early a.m., maybe this is as good a time as any.

My name really is Sharon Gerald. I teach English at Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, MS. I got involved in the work at Pearlington through University Baptist Church in Hattiesburg, MS, and I got involved in UBC right after and because of Hurricane Katrina. Previously, I’d been sort of drifting along not really going to church anywhere. When the hurricane hit, though, I wanted both a place to go to church and a place to make a difference. I went to a couple of other churches asking what I could do to help before I tried UBC. Both places said they didn’t have anything for me, not because they weren’t doing anything but because they didn’t know me. When I went to UBC for a morning worship service, the pastor asked me if I wanted to help, and that’s the story of that. I’ve been volunteering in Pearlington off and on all year, and I’ve really come to love the town and the people there. I hope I am able to convey a little of that love through this blog.

We have to thank Joanna, though, for putting the bug in my ear about this blogathon. It was her idea, and I’m really grateful for her support as well as the creative energies she is bringing to the project.

Thanks to everyone who has contributed, and don’t forget every little bit helps!

Until 10 (or 11)--

I can't believe the time has flown by this afternoon! As I write my last post and head out for a break, I want to leave you all with a link to Poets and Writers, which has a page listing all of the good things that writers can do to pitch in and help with the Katrina clean-up.

I'll be back around 10 or 11, with more to post about the inspiring people of Pearlington.

And the clip art is, as always, from

A Prayer Break

One of my favorite prayers is attributed to the late Franciscan priest, Father Mychal Judge, who lost his life ministering to the victims of the World Trade Center bombing. My husband, like Father Judge, attended St. Bonaventure University in New York, and like all of the alumni, receives a yearly postcard on the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi. Unlike most years, which feature a prayer or saying by the saint, 2002's card contained Father's prayer:

Lord, take me where you want me to go;
Let me meet who you want me to meet;
Tell me what you want me to say,
And, keep me out of your way.

Pithy, direct and full of heart.

Help Build a House

If this video from YouTube doesn't break your heart, I don't know what will. Gertrude Stein's comment about returning to San Francisco, "there's no there there," almost fits the mood of the piece, except that there IS there, and there are people there who still need a place to live. If you want to help a family rebuild, visit this post and see how CODRA has developed a program whereby individuals can "adopt" a home and help a Pearlington family rebuild.

While there, read the stories of townspeople like Jackie Acker, who has pitched in to help others despite her own losses, or Ray and Cindy Diaz, organizing efforts to rebuild their house, or Ray and Debbie Drum, who were taken advantage of and lost all of their insurance money to a dishonest contractor. The remarkable Kelly women, Lois and her daughters Debra and Angie, currently live in a FEMA handicap trailer while waiting for help. Though the corps of engineers came by to tell them what might happen to their house, no one ever came back to tell them what did happen. Right now the three women are staying in the cramped trailer--in the yard, Angie has a tent for the animals she has rescued.

These are all good people who need a helping hand and the supplies to put their houses back in order.

Oh, Crap. Or, SupPort-a-Pottie

Now, before you all get on my case about my language, let's pause for a second and remember that the first toilet was named for a Mr. Crapper, so there's a dignified lineage to this, ummm, earthy word. The laurels, however, go to Mr. Albert Giblin for inventing the contraption.

But enough about 19th century British patent holders and plumbing inventors.

Pearlington needs porta-potties. Volunteer "Canada Jon" White makes this very sensible point in a document written for C.O.D.R.A.( The Coalition of Disaster Relief Agencies in Pearlington):

I am asking for groups who are interested in supporting the provision of a Port-a-Pottie, or two. It’s not that expensive and we need your help. We cannot continue to ask volunteers to come and help in Pearlington if we cannot even meet their very basic of needs.

The Port-A-Potties cost about 125.00 dollars per month to maintain, so Canada Jon asks that folks, individually or in groups, commit to a year's worth of support.

You can get more information by emailing him: jonw at bconnex dot net , and write "SupPort-A-Pottie Program" in the message bar.

(graphics from

School Days, School Days

Okay, maybe it's because I'm a teacher that I've always loved the start of the school year. New pencils, sharp, bright crayons, notebooks filled with empty sheets of paper. . .sigh. I could lose myself at Staples this time of year, strolling the aisles.

Enough of my reveries, though. Children at the Charles Murphy school in Pearlington need supplies to get off to a good start this semester. The school itself was decimated during the hurricane, and what remains are the students, the faculty, volunteers and a good measure of determination to make things as normal as possible for the children.

Here's a link to a list of supplies the students will need.

In an earlier post, Sharon suggested that you contact Laurie Spaschak at Pearl Mart for more information:
mississippilaurie at yahoo dot com.

I've just sent her an email and hope that we can get back to you all with more information as the day moves on.

Faith Without Borders

Without a doubt it’s the faith-based organizations that are really getting the job done on the Gulf Coast. And one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever seen is the way all of these people from different churches, different parts of the world, different races, and different political viewpoints are all working together toward a common goal—all united by the common belief that to serve God is to serve others.

I ran across a blog recently called "They Will Know Us By Our T-Shirts.” I love it. The hardest hit areas have been swarming with busy little Christian worker bees all year, and most of them have come with their church T-shirts. I wish I had a good picture to show what lunch-time in Pearlington looks like when the fellowship hall at the Missionary Baptist church fills up with Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists of all different stripes, and a variety of other faith-based volunteers. Better than that, I wish I could take everyone I know there to feel what true communion, true unity of purpose is like.

Canada Jon, as they call him in Pearlington, has established something called The Coalition of Disaster Relief Agencies in Pearlington. The code of conduct for this coalition pretty well sums up the attitude of all of the volunteers I’ve met there.

Take a look. For those who may have been burned out in childhood by the more mean-spirited variety of evangelism, this is truly refreshing and inspiring