Hurricane Katrina relief trip

We drove over the weekend to help with Hurricane Katrina cleanup in Pascagula, Mississippi.

Twenty-eight people from my stake loaded up our tents, sleeping bags, food, tools and clothes in five vans and made the 12-hour drive from Miami to Pascagula, which is in eastern Mississippi right along the Gulf Coast.

The first point is that in most people’s minds Katrina appears to have been a New Orleans event. In reality, the center of the storm passed through Mississippi and affected that state just as badly. The storm surge was almost 30 feet. Imagine if you will a 30-foot wall of water descending on an unprotected beachfront (with very little sand but lots of houses and other buildings) and you get an idea of what happened in Mississippi. Homes three and four blocks from the beach were completely destroyed, with nothing left but their concrete foundations.

But the Gulf water of course continued inland. It met up with a wall of fresh water from flooded rivers and completely inundated most of the coastal towns in the state. Most homes got at least a foot or two of water that sat in their homes for at least 12 hours. Keep in mind that many homes are built without basements and are not raised from the ground.

Most of the work in Mississippi now involves cleaning up these homes so people can move back. Some homes are filled with mud. Others have severe mold and other water damage.

The way it works is that work teams report to the local chapel, which is serving as the command center for each area. They are given work projects from people in the chapel who have telephones and connections in the community. Knowing that the Church is performing relief work, people will literally walk off the street and visit the chapels to ask for help. The work crews — ranging between six and 20 people — will then drive off to nearby homes to help out.

This is hot, sweaty work. It includes tearing off contaminated drywall and wood paneling, cleaning up yard debris, unloading relief supplies and roofing work.

Most of the Church members have already been helped. Now, Church volunteers are spreading throughout the community helping others who need assistance. Our Church has actually done most of the work in cleaning up other local churches, including the Catholics and several Baptist churches that had been flooded. One Baptist minister came by our chapel to praise our church and said, “I will never say a bad word about the Mormons again. You guys really pitched in and helped out.” Missionaries report that where before they would often get doors slammed in their faces now they get nothing but smiles and opened doors.

There is still a tremendous need for volunteers in the Gulf. I have gotten a few e-mails from people wanting to go. If your stake is not organizing a trip, I can put you in touch with the Church command center that will tell you how you can volunteer. Please e-mail me at [email protected]

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B has had three main careers. Some of them have overlapped. After attending Stanford University (class of 1985), he worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. In 1995, he took up his favorite and third career as father. Soon thereafter, Heavenly Father hit him over the head with a two-by-four (wielded by the Holy Ghost) and he woke up from a long sleep. Since then, he's been learning a lot about the Gospel. He still has a lot to learn. Geoff's held several Church callings: young men's president, high priest group leader, member of the bishopric, stake director of public affairs, media specialist for church public affairs, high councilman. He tries his best in his callings but usually falls short. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

6 thoughts on “Hurricane Katrina relief trip

  1. What a marvelous report, Geoff. The efforts of you and other volunteers are doing a lot of good for everyone there, from the victims of the hurricane to those contributing the volunteer labor to the thousands of Mormons in the region who will now get smiles from neighbors and coworkers instead of frowns (or worse) for years to come.

  2. Geoff: Perhaps you can also mention to the “Command Center” how it would be nice fo the Church to put up a link w/info about such “Command Centers” so that folks have a regular way to know how to get involved? Then again…maybe they already do.

  3. Two Stakes (Carrollton, TX and Monroe, LA) headed down to New Orleans this past weekend as well. We were 500 strong and camped out in tents in the grassy areas around the small steak center in Harvey, LA. This Command Center was unbelieveable in terms of coordination, and each day gave us work orders for the surrounding areas.

    The work was hard and long, and after chain sawing all day Saturday and Sunday morning, I don’t think I will ever look at trees the same way again.

    However, the most amazing part of this small “Zion’s Camp” was the 15 minute sacrament meeting we had Sunday morning. At 7 am, 500 priesthood brethren, clad in dirty jeans and MORMON Helping Hands Shirts, all showerless and tired from the work and the tent-sleeping, joined together and sang “Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel” with such power and authority. The sacrament was blessed and passed humbly by men who looked more like mountain men than Elders, and not a sound was heard. And the tired and tattered Branch President of the area tearfully offered his thanks for our work. The Spirit bore witness of the power and joy that comes from the Gospel in action.

    If you have the chance to help out, it will be an experience you will never forget.

  4. This reminded me why service days once a month were some of my favorite days on my mission. Great report Geoff.

  5. I intend soon to post about this experience over at a bird’s eye view, but I had a wonderful experience serving in New Orleans this last weekend with over 7,000 (!) LDS volunteers from stakes ranging across Texas, Alabama, and Mississippi. It gave me a real feeling that (1) the Lord really does love and care for his children and (2) the Lord is at the helm of this church.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences, Geoff.

  6. My ward, along with several others in our stake, went to Waveland, MS this weekend. The eye of the storm passed over Waveland, so the destruction was horrible. About 350 members from GA, KY, TN camped out on the ward building lawn. Our ward work crew of 13 cleaned out a home that had 3-6 inches of mud on the floors. Oh the smells we smelled. This house was on stilts, but the water still went above the roof, so we gutted it to the studs. The owner had never met a Mormon before, so it was a great missionary experience. We also had a chapel full of Mormon helping hands t-shirt clad men for sacrament meeting. First time I have had bottled water for the sacrament. Truly a great experience for all.

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