Wednesday, February 08, 2006

hurricanes & the gulf coast

i started this blog a few days after returning from a trip to the mississippi gulf coast to do some hurricane relief work, but i think i needed the time to process what i'd experienced before i could write about it. (sometimes writing is the processing...sometimes something internal needs to happen before it can come out in text.)

anyway, i went with a group from my school and we stayed in gulf port, mississippi, just outside of biloxi. it's an area which hasn't gotten much media coverage but was hit incredibly hard by the late-summer hurricanes nonetheless. biloxi is actually on a kind of peninsula, so it was hit from three sides by 20-foot walls of water, causing flooding and an incredible amount of damage. biloxi is also the second biggest center for casino town in the usa, only after last vegas. so there were these huge casino barges just off shore, and with the wave created by the hurricane they were swept inland and took out whatever was in front of them. their steel hulls still sit on piles of wreckage, which is what the picture at the front of this post depicts. ocean water came into the center of the city at a level of about 12 feet.

i think what struck me most about going to biloxi was that we were there five months after katrina hit, and still there was trash and people's belongings strewn through the trees. there were still houses which have not been cleaned out yet. in biloxi we saw no homes which did not look as if they had been affected by the hurricanes, although about 5 had been rebuilt. (casinos had also been rebuilt.)

another thing which we learned was that insurance companies are refusing to pay up for the loss of people's houses. most homeowners in biloxi had hurricane insurance, but did not have flood insurance (because the area had not flooded for about 100 years, and then not badly). but the insurnace companies are considering most of the damage to have been caused by the "flood." this makes me so angry!!! how can anyone with a conscience do this to people? yes, perhaps much of the damage was caused by a flood, but the flood would never have happened if not in concurrence with the hurricane!

well, we seminarians don't have a lot of actual skills where labor comes in, but we could pick up trash, pull up floors, clear debris and cut up fallen trees, and this we did. but there's still so much to do.

we worked with presbyterian disaster assistance, and they seem to be a fairly organized group. i would suggest contacting them if you feel any sort of desire to go help out in the gulf area. they have camps with "pods," which are plastic tent-type things with cots in them. they are mainly on the sites of presbyterian churches, i believe. they organize work projects for each group and organize food preparation and such for volunteers. here is their website (and a picture of the pods is on the webpage):

presbyterian disaster assistance has committed to being there on the gulf for at least the next 5 years to assist with rebuilding, but of course to do this they need volunteers. the people we met in mississippi were really grateful that we were there, and i think it's a great way to show our solidarity with others who are in desperate need. of course we shouldn't just go somewhere else to help people, but it's good if we start in our own communities--but i think it's hopeful for people in mississippi to know that people all over the country still care and remember their plight. so if this starts you thinking about doing something yourself, i say go for it!

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