On Aug. 13, 2006 six members from St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Park City went to Bay St. Louis, Miss. on a volunteer mission to help with Katrina cleanup. Our group consisted of Fr. Charles, Sandra and Nick Jones, Mary McEntire, Alanna Jones, and Nick Ballases.
We were joined with another youth group from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, Ark. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the reality was worse than I had imagined. I had envisioned that more rebuilding would have been done by now. In this coastal area of Mississippi almost all of the original homes, businesses, restaurants and churches are gone or reduced to rubble. Even the trees are struggling to survive and there is debris everywhere. Most of the remaining are still housed in FEMA trailers waiting for more help. Only a few homes escaped destruction.
The people of Bay St. Louis told me to say that they are not even close to being done with the reconstruction. Most of the country thinks that after one year things should be back to normal. The reality is that it will take many, many more years. These people are coming out of their shock and are now angry and depressed. At first they were promised enough money to rebuild, which they are still waiting for. Their insurance companies used technicalities such as they aren’t "covered for water damage" so that they received very little insurance money. There is so much to rebuild, so many towns. For example, the nearest town that even had a store or a restaurant was 40 miles away. You still need to bring your own water to drink. New Orleans is in the headlines, but many more places are still damaged.
The people there showed great hospitality in the midst of ruin. They would stare at us amazed that we came all the way from Utah. They were glad that anyone remembered them and their need.
People we never met before cooked dinner for us and shared their stories of grief and loss. Stories are the only thing that many people have left as their family, homes, pictures, and treasures were swept away.
One amazing thing was that a stained glass window remained intact and is called the "mission window" from the Christ Episcopal Church in Bay St. Louis. The steeple of a church is another example of something that survived the destruction. Other images are reminders of the floods: rickety homes with the bottom floors gone that still stand on steel girders (supposed to be hurricane proof) twisted around, piles of lumber, trees, mud, and cars that remain tossed in gullies.
It is a custom that volunteers return home with items that are scattered about the land. The locals call them "Katrinkets." People there want these "Katrinkets" to be shared around the country so Katrina victims will be remembered – that a family used to own these items. From our group, the "Katrinkets" that Sandra Jones brought back are a small glass reception cup and shards of stained glass that have been worn smooth from the flood waters.
This area of our country is still in need of help. Going there made such an impression on me that I will be returning next year despite the bugs, black widow spiders, and the oppressive heat and humidity. They can use all our help today and for years to come.
Nick Ballases is a sophomore at Park City High School
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