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 firstname.lastname@example.org.