In reaction to the horrific disaster of Hurricane Katrina, a group of 22 students and five staff members from Catawba College ventured to the Gulf Coast over fall break (Oct. 21-25). The students ranged from freshmen to seniors, chemistry and athletic majors to business and religion majors, and were teamed with staff members from various departments on campus to make a very diverse group of volunteers.
They group left on Friday, Oct. 21 for Pascagoula, Mississippi, the town that Salisbury adopted for recovery efforts after the hurricane. The group slept on the floor of a church in Ocean Springs and daily meals were provided by the Ocean Springs Hospital. The students and staff were divided into three groups and spent three days doing much needed physical labor in the homes and yards of members of the Ocean Springs and Singing River Hospital system.
A total of approximately 20 locations were visited by these three groups. The trip was quite an eye-opening adventure for all involved and many students wrote of their experiences in daily journals. These are their stories…
Day 1 – by Student Eric Finland of McLean, Va.
Today was the first day on the job. We drove from Ocean Springs into our adopted sister town, Pascagoula. We were split into three groups: Beth’s Baboons, Emily’s Emus, and Kurt’s Kangaroos.
The first house that I went to had been flooded halfway up on the front door. The backyard was somewhat a mess and we moved a massive tree that had split at the roots and toppled over a fence. The owner of the house has a Chihuahua named Sam. Sam’s story was as funny as it was sad. When the flood came in through the house, Sam floated on top of a couch and saved.
The second house that Kurt’s Kangaroos went to was a nice house that had received minor damage. In the backyard, there was a shed that had apparently been flooded. We removed kids’ toys and adults’ lawnmowers, etc. The sad part about this visit was the house next to it had been completely demolished and here we were throwing away nearly new machinery and toys.
Our group’s third task was a house in a low-income area. The street was called Midway and the drive there took us 45 minutes for what would typically be a 10 minute trip. Debris on the street and open refrigerators along with other gruesome visuals on the sides of the road could not prepare us for what we were about to see.
When we walked up to meet the owner of the house, Melody Horton, she and her husband were standing in the front lawn just staring at the destruction of what used to be called home. They hadn’t touched their home since the hurricane hit it. Without knowing where to start, we came in and furiously tore up carpets caked over with remnants of contaminated water. In the side rooms, there was kids’ clothing from the man’s daughter and son, scattered across the whole house. While throwing these putrid smelling clothes outside the window, I picked up a Britney Spears CD that was filled with water. This brought a new found sense of reality to me. It showed how insignificant the lives of celebrities and how trivial my worries in life were compared to the ruins of this place.
While working, Melody’s husband jokingly said if you look hard enough than you will find the hidden million dollars within the confines of the house. A fellow student pulled out a jar with quarters in it. This was the million dollars the man was referring to. Even though the jar was filled with contaminated water, his eyes lit up. He explained how happy his daughter would be that we had found her bank. In the front of the house, I saw the husband’s father picking up ruined pennies and nickels. This sight was also a reminder of how good I truly have it.
The back of the house had been blown out by the pressure of the water. What had caved it in was described as a massive swell, like in the movie “The Day After Tomorrow.” Standing in the hole of the back wall, you could see the Gulf of Mexico through the trees. This was an indication of how badly they got hit. After tearing up the carpets and throwing out ceiling and wall debris, we had one last task left. This was to move the untouched refrigerator.
The refrigerator had been sitting in the flood with no electricity filled with food. Flies were buzzing around it. The worst aspect about it was the smell which emitted from it. Unopened, there was still a hint putrid rotten stench. Immediately, two students rolled this refrigerator outside to be left at the end of the drive with the other abandoned belongings of the household. As the house was finished and gutted, the owners gave us many thanks for all our efforts.
As my roommate and friends were at home with their families, the Mission Trip volunteers of Catawba College students and staff had formed a family out in the muck and debris in Pascagoula Mississippi. There was bonding and an experience that was a fall break I’ll always remember.
Day 2 – by student Tiffany Cox of O’Fallon, Ill.
This house was an experience. The family who lived there had not opened the house for two months, except to get their dogs out after the storm. They stayed at their aunt’s house during the storm and were not allowed to bring the two dogs along. The water line in the house was about 5.5 ft.-6 ft. high. When the family returned after the storm, the dogs were found sitting on their master bed which was floating in 4ft of water. The refrigerator was in the living room and the dryer was on top of the kitchen sink counter. There was no furniture in the house but the pillows from the couch they had before were still there.
We wore masks, goggles, and two pairs of gloves… Everything was stuck together with mud, old flood water, and black mold. The mold was absolutely everywhere. Everything was furry. I got nauseous several times which has never happened before. Kurt decided that due to the unsafe conditions we would retrieve whatever we could and head out. We found a lot of jewelry and china that was salvagable. The owners were extremely grateful for our efforts.
Although the situation was dangerous, we all wished we could have done more because there was no way that they could have cleaned the house all by themselves.
Day 3 – by student Lauren Weaver of China Grove
We had breakfast and then headed to Mrs. Edna Bates’ home. Aunt Edna, as we called her, had the best Gone-With-the-Wind-Mississippi accent. They were living in a mobile home provided by FEMA. Her young grandson Jared was there also. She showed us the items that she could keep that were outside under her carport.
A man was there building a shed behind her house. Some of us moved things into the shed while several other students and I began tearing up the hardwood flooring inside. Two students took turns pulling up the 1” x 5” pieces that were super glued to the cement floor, while I swept them up and another student carried them to the curb. Jared told us it took five minutes to do what it took them an hour to do. We all just about cried.
We worked so hard to get as much done for them as we could. Mr. Bates insisted on taking us to lunch. All the seafood restaurants we tried were closed; he told us it was the first time they had been out to the main road since the storm. We ended up at What-A-Burger.
Edna told us about how she sat on the couch with Jared while two feet of water rose in an hour and a half. She said she prayed until it stopped because she is deathly afraid of water and can’t swim. The water went down in about an hour and a half. Mr. and Mrs. Bates and Jared hugged us all. She almost cried, telling us how much we had helped them. I’ll never forget Jared telling another student, Nate: “Wow, you’re awesome mister!”