Remembering Katrina, 2005 – Survivor Stories that Still Inspire Me Today…

I was just thinking back to Hurricane Katrina. I remember the amazing people I met. Their stories still inspiring me today. I wanted to just post something to honor their stories as they endured the destruction wrought by this terrible storm that took place in late August, 2005. Below are posts I made to my Journal at the time during a relief effort I participated in with Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, IL and Hartland Church in Rockford, IL… It is not that I wish for people to relive this horror. I just don’t want to forget the people…I don’t remember them as victims…but as people determined to thrive again…

Before we get to the blog entries…Here’s a video summary of what happened as the storm hit the gulf coast.

These pictures where taken during our relief effort in Waveland, Mississippi

On our Way

9/24/2005 8:00 PM

He we are, a group of about 50 people from 2 different churches about ride 2 different buses for many hours. We are on our way to Waveland, Mississippi to help a community of people, devastated by Hurricane Katrina. We’re not the first group to go down. Many others from many other churches have gone before us.
As for me…I just feel very blessed to have an opportunity to help. Like millions of others in our world, I watched the extreme dispair on the faces people whose whole lives were riped apart by this storm. I watched helplessly the faces of people who were helpless to care for each other. I couldn’t  even imagine the horror that a mom must have felt as she helplessly watched her baby suffer from exposure, heat and dihydration. ..not knowing if her baby would wake up again from his next nap.

I watched thousands of people who couldn’t afford a tank of gas become  helplessly trapped in their communities.

I watch images of people who were helplessly left for dead, only notes were left behind as a testimony to their helplessness.
Now here we are..on our way to offer help. My God, how I pray that we will be helpful, I pray that we might being some hope. I can’t help but notice that with so much helplessness all around us. It is an overwelming privledge to even have an opportunity to help.
Circled up at Hartland Church in Rockford…praying for the journey…
The bus ride to Waveland

9/25/2005 1:00 AM

I forgot to mention that the bus ride down to Waveland is around 15 hours.  Such a long bus ride gives a person a long time to think.
It is amazing for me to listen and talk to my friends around me.  Even as I write this I am blessed as I overhear people talking. So much life, so many rich and amazing stories.
Now my thoughts are drawn to the people of Waveland. One of leaders just told me that rescuers discovered 30 bodies on the roof of a Block Buster Movie store right across the street from the Kmart parking lot  where we will be sleeping.
30 people. Just a few more than the 25 people I am traveling with on this bus. I wonder about their stories. Somebody’s  mom, somebody’s dad, somebody’s son, somebody’s daughter died on that rooftop.
I wonder what I would overhear if I could hear their stories now.
On the bus to Waveland Miss…2 Drivers switched off to keep the bus rolling all night.
Stormy Weather on the Way

9/25/2005 9:00 AM

One of our leaders has just informed me that our drivers are very concerned about driving this morning. The weather is very rainy and windy and the wind shield wipers on one of our buses has failed. Apparently, we are caught in some sort of Tropical Depression, (A tropical storm that keeps cycling back on itself), and the drivers do not feel safe driving. At this point we have stopped at restaurant and are all having breakfast in hopes that the storm will let up a little. Even as I write this entry, the storm is showing signs of letting up.
I do hope we continue on. I crossed paths with a man who has been down there recently. He said that just talking to the people and listening to their stories will be a huge blessing to these people. At the rest of being too dramatic here, I feel I have to describe the sense of passion I heard in this man’s voice. As he summarized his serving experience in Waveland. I also want to make sure I don’t miss that challenge he gave to me to really listen and talk to these people as I serve them.
For some reason his challenge to me made me mindful of me of 2 Corinthians 5 16-21 were it says.
So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21God made him who had no sin to be sin[a] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
When I look into the eyes of these dear people. I will not be able to look at them without seeing how much they matter to our God.
The rain has let up and we are about to board the buses again.
Hit bad weather in the way…Almost turned back…
We Arrived in Waveland

9/25/2005 11:50 PM

As I sit here on my first evening in Waveland many thoughts race through my mind. There is so much to take in. So much to process, so much loss, so much destruction. I could go on and on about it but it just seems pointless. The fact is, like many people who have come before me, there are no words to describe such events.
Actually, there was one phrase that did came to mind today. This one phrase came to mind several times. It was the phrase,” Fragile, Handle with Care.”. As we drove around the areas that were most destroyed by the Hurricane and as I watched the people struggling to overcome in their shattered community, I thought, “Fragile, Handle with Care.”.
As I heard stories about the many people who lost their lives struggling helplessly against the 30 foot deep swell of Ocean that washed over their town, I thought about how fragile life is. It deserves to be handled with care.
As I served today and met so many people who came from all over the U.S. to lend a hand, and as I processed all the effort that it has taken from the churches involved and compared it with how easy it would be for wind and water to wash all of it away again. I thought to myself. Fragile, Handle with Care.
I am convinced that human kind is all too easilily self deceived into believing that we are invincilble. We all claim to understand our own mortality. Yet, when it comes right down to it we look at life as a grand “Golden Gate Bridge” that spans any distance and flexes to resist any force that we see fit. The truth is that life is not this strong, indestructible structure. It is really so much more delicate than that. It is more like a simple rope bridge, suspended between a distance set by God not us. Every step that we take on this bridge is a gift.
Even as I write these words, I am mindful of the fact that I too really can’t comprend them. But I have started to look into the faces of a whole community of people who can. I think that when it comes to understanding how delicate life really is. The phrase Fragile, Handle with Care takes on a whole new meaning for them.
Tracks washed out be a 30 foot storm surge in Waveland…
First Day on the Job

9/26/2005 11:55 PM

This is probably not going to come as a surprise, but, I am extremely tired. So am afraid that I won’t be writing much this evening. We worked very hard today running overhead wire to an office trailer. This trailer will be used to coordinate much of the efforts down here. It was especially great getting to know and work with some new friends.
I also heard many stories today. People who live here have gone through so much. Even before Katrina some of the people who call Waveland home have struggled greatly to get by. I met a women who, to protect her dignity, shall remain anonymous. She makes around $12,000.00 per/year and lives in a tent with her husband, father, sister, and brother-in-law. She lost everything to Hurricane Katrina. Even her job was washed away by the storm.
Todd Proux and I work on and electrical circuit from the generator to a trailer/office. For the record Todd is the Master. My electrical skills are very rusty… I am just trying not to break anything.
Our Work Continues…

9/27/2005 11:55 PM

Our work continues today and I am very humbled and inspired by the way so many people from so many different churches are working so hard together to love so many people affected by this tragedy. There is a group of people from New York. Many of them are faithfully cleaning the out houses many times a day. When we first arrived, there was a group of people from a church in Wyoming. They were also unbelievable. Appearently, someone from their church was having a home built and he asked the team building his home to come down and help build thing down at the site. We all were amazed as they, with lightning speed, laid down a floor in the sleeping tent. Before the floor was laid, water would wash through the parking lot where the tent was mounted and soak everything in its path.  I also just found out today that the church who started this mission gave up their entire building fund and even went into some debt to get things started.
I also had the privilege of working with a group of guys that call themselves radio response. They came from all over the country and have been setting up internet connections everywhere down here, from the field hospital, to FEMA , to our camp.
Everywhere I turn there is a story. There is a testimony. Almost everyone I talk to is still numb from the trauma caused by Katrina. In the lunch line, walking from point A to point B, at the gate to the compound, and especially in the place where we all eat together, I am constantly listening to people telling their stories. For most of them it was the first time they had the opportunity to sit down and process everything that has happened to them.
Last night I started writing about a woman who, with her husband, lost everything in the storm. When we met she had already been working very hard for weeks to get things in order as best she could. She had to call unemployment, register with FEMA, aquire a tent, etc, etc. She said to me, “I will just keep working everyday from 9-5 like I did before.”  I must say, she is a hard working, smart, articulate person. Before the hurricane, she worked at the local casino as a housekeeper. She made somewhere around $12,000 a year.She is 40 years old and the man in her life is 75. She has been with him for 20 years. As she told these things she took a deep breath. I could she that she was working hard to keep things going down here. She had all her papers in order, along with lists upon lists of phone numbers. I looked like she wrote all of this as fast as she could. It was about this time when she said to me, “Wow, I don’t think I have even sat down to think about everything that has happened. Then I listed as she recounted everything that happened.
In her words…
“At around 8 o’clock in the morning the power went out and the water started to rise. I cleared off our kitchen table and put our dog on the table. The water quickly rose above the table so my husband and I grabbed on to the kitchen cabinets above our sink. You know how cabinets have a little lip on the top. We hung onto that, my husband on one side and I on the other. The water was quick rising and we saw that the attic hatch was right there, It somehow get popped up and we swam for it. I said to my husband, Are you there baby? He said I’m right behind you. He was getting all scratched up from trying to get the dog. Unfortunately, our dog got away. Right after we got into the attic that back of our house collapsed. Oh how the wind whipped around, Once that water went away, we couldn’t even tell that we were on the ground except that I noticed that we were on the concrete. After this, all was calm.”
Needless, to say I was overwhelmed by her story. I was so inspired by her attitude through all of this. My new friend may have been a victim of this horrible hurricane. But she is not a charity case. In her words, “Mike, I’m gonna get up every day and work through all of this from 9 to 5; just like I did when my job was there.”
A new friend…
…So Many Stories

9/28/2005 5:35 PM

As I sit here on the bus thinking about our time here I am overwhelmed by stories. Everywhere I worked or walked or stood. Whether I was drilling something, carrying something or hanging something, I heard and overheard stories.
A woman came into the store today, frantic about her glasses. They were a special prescription, and losing something like these glasses would be very tragic in a place like this. She might not get to replace them for weeks. A bunch of us starting looking and thankfully, one of my faithful teammates found the glasses. As I walk her out of the store, She shared with me how stressful this been for her 7 year old son. “We just brought him back to be with us and he has been acting out terribly ever since he has seen what was left of our home.”
I wanted to do something for her son. I was sure that he lost all his toys. The store didn’t have any thing for a small child to play with at the time. All I had to give her was a couple emergency glow stick lights that I had. They were kind of like those “glow in the dark” necklaces that you can sometimes get at a carnival. I wanted to give her something that she could give her son that would be more that just the basic necessities and I wasn’t so naïve as to think that this was much of anything. However, she sure was grateful to have something to bring back to him.
I can’t even imagine what it would be like for a seven year old boy to see is home in ruins. The place where he feels warm and secure. I little child’s whole world doesn’t get much bigger than his home. His whole world was destroyed.
There were so many more stories that I heard and overheard…I just have to right them down…
Bob…We met Bob at Home Depot and he lost the home he built many years ago. He was offered $200,000 for his home on the Gulf, (A lot of money for a home down there), just before the hurricane hit. His wife rejected the offer. Now he will be lucky to get $131,000 from insurance for the home. He won’t be rebuilding on that site.
Steve…Steve and his wife had just sold their home in Madison, Wisconsin to retire down in Mississippi. Now their home in Mississippi is unlivable and they are homeless. I can’t describe the look of despair in his eyes as we ate breakfast together and he shared with us how hard it will be to get his wife through this tragedy. “I just couldn’t bring her down here now,” he said.
Mr. Blackwell…Mr. Blackwell was spared when 2 tornado’s passed right by his house; one on front and one behind. His former wife and son were not so fortunate. They lost their home and transportation on Waveland.
Clinging to a tree… …There was the couple who ran upstairs in their house when the water started rising  only to be driven to the attic and then to the roof of their home. When the water went above their roof line they swam to and clung to an oak tree. The wind and water rushed so violently that it tore off his shoes, his socks and his pants. He and his wife clung to that tree for 2 hours. They are both in their 70’s.
The miracle boat…There was a family who found themselves swimming in the surge of water and wind. By some miracle, a boat, being carried by the intense wind, crashed down in front of them. They climbed aboard the boat and survived the storm.
Going Back to where he once worked…While hanging signs at the back gate a young man came up and asked if he could get in and retrieve something from the furniture he once worked at. Pastor Don, let him in and I walked with him to the shell of a building that once housed this store. Apparently, he had rented a pump and the rental company was still charging him for the pump. If he could return even a broken pump, the rental company would write if off. Now he found himself, fishing through bacteria infested water for this pump in a building that itself was extremely dangerous to enter. The good news is that he did find the pump in good order.
A man and his son come to help…I stood in the lunch line with the man who came with his son from Alabama to help clean up. Looking in to his eyes and seeing the expression on his face, I could tell that he had seen and experienced a lot down there. He was quiet and couldn’t talk too much about the specific things that he experienced. All he could say was that he and his son had been there for 3 weeks.
They had only been home once.
This was only a part of the stories that I heard and a few of the people I have met. What they have been through is so emotionally and physically extreme. Things that we call mystical, even a simple anwsered prayer for a good night sleep, are practical for them.
A woman named Gwen was telling me about how hard it was to get rest in her tent with the heat and the stress.  Later, after we had finished talking I asked her if I could pray for her. We prayed together that she would be able to get some rest in the midst of all these extreme circumstances. The next day she came back to me and told me that God really answered our prayer. She really did get a good night sleep. It is amazing how the focus of our prayers changes in these times of great need.
Still Processing…

10/1/2005 11:45 AM

I am home now…
Sitting in my family room with my family. As I look at them I am struck with how blessed I am. I have 2 beautiful and  amazing daughters and a beautiful, supportive wife, who I must say is much smarter than me. I have so much and I am so thankful. Even though I can’t fathom the loss that entire communities are facing, I was still gripped by the reality of just how fragile our lives are. How utterly dependant we are on God.
Looking out the window I see the beautiful sunshine outside and I have hope. However, I am still mindful that this same sun is shining down on the hurting people in Waveland and although my love for own family and for my God runs deeper than ever, I am sure that a part of my soul is still down there with the good people of Waveland.
Housing community destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

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