Journal from Hurricane Katrina clean up trip to  Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Day 1 - Travel from Seattle to Gulfport through Dallas. Had fun riding the train at the Dallas Airport.  Things went without a hitch.  We got lost in Gulfport trying to find the church.  Saw hints of destruction in the dark.  Didn't sleep too well.

Day 2 - Started doing Drywall installation at John and Betty's.  Learned a lot.  Got a chance to see the Anderson home at the end of the day.  The destruction is immense but not unbelievable, given the 33 foot storm surge of water.  I'm detached and seeing all the destruction as a huge physics experiment.  The RotoZip tool was fun to use.  Slept much better after a hard days work.

Day 3 - Grudgingly put in charge of the drywall crew.  Got lots of pointers from Scott on how to do drywall.  Made much progress today. Other than driving to Lowe's to get lumber, we didn't really leave the church area today.  The drywall powder is getting into my lungs but yet I still am too stubborn to wear a face mask.  Of all the things that might bother me, (like the crammed communal conditions and the destruction), the thing giving me the most anxiety is getting notes to my prayer partner.  I dread sneaking around to try and leave a note so that they don't know who is giving it.  I should have delivered one note to my prayer partner already.  The caffeine I drank for dinner (the sweet tea was so good!) is taking its toll on my sleep.  I'm sleeping outside tonight to get out of the stuffy indoor air.  The weather forecast is for heavy rain tomorrow.  I hope I don't get too soaked outside before I come indoors.

Day 4 - Didn't sleep well last night.  I finally got a note to my prayer partner, what a relief.  The food is excellent.  We just got back from starting to clean up a devastated house.  The whole place is blown out and we're cleaning out all the debris.  I'm in mindless cleanup mode and things are moving smoothly.  There's a group here from a Presbyterian church in Portland!  I'll have to find out their contact info and see if I can come back sometime.

Day 5 - Got up way early this morning at 5am to make lunch sandwiches and help with breakfast.  Sandwiches were easy, but I ended up staying and cooking French Toast and pancakes for breakfast.  We ran out of French Toast and I cooked in panic mode beside Bill, our super cook, for the whole meal.  We ran out of eggs for the french toast and had to resort to pancakes. Bill shared his experiences with all the foster children he took care of and the restaurant he ran for 30+ years.  Bill is an amazing person and I'm privileged to work with him.  After he leaves, the kitchen will be chaos.  The rest of the day I worked in the distribution center.  While I didn't get to talk with the people coming in to request food, I did work with the people in the back room to organize all the supplies and put together supply boxes for the customers.  I also helped set up an office for a social worker so she could help people get local services. I carried the back of an office chair ten blocks to an auto parts store to get a bolt to hold the chair back to the chair.  Apparently the screw-knob was lost when it was donated.  We were surprised when several Air Force soldiers showed up and we didn't have enough work for them to do.  I snuck out after lunch and went to visit tent city and buy chocolate for my prayer partner.  Some volunteers there have come three different times of the year and stayed for over two months to help out.  I'm still overwhelmed by the size of this whole operation.  People are moved to do some very creative and extreme things here to make things work.  I can't imagine how they do it all. Looking forward to tomorrow.  Still afraid to connect with the local people.

Day 6 - I got up again at 5am this morning after delightfully sleeping outside to help make lunches for 200 people.  This early rising is starting to take its toll on me.  After breakfast we haded out to the Ferguson site (more well known as the "Tornado" site) and finished cleaning up by noon.  We met the owner (Cheerie Ferguson) and helped her load her last things from the attic.  Overall, I'm pretty pleased with our work.  She pointed out several houses with severe damage and we drove around to see them.  Many were 3-5 million dollar homes that had nothing left but the stone foundation and fancy stone stairwell heading up into nothing. After a quick trip back to the church for lunch, we drove out to another small house and tore out moldy sheet rock until 4:30pm.  This place didn't have as much rubble but pulling the wet sheet rock definitely required face masks.  The owner (Steve) worked with us and we had fun breaking out walls with hammers, and various pseudo-karate moves.  We're all moving more slowly today and feeling much more tired and sore.  I'm looking forward to a hot shower and much needed sleep!

Day 7 - Slept in this morning until 6:30 (whew!) We went out to a house (Steve Mobley) and finished tearing out all his drywall.  I had the privilege of donning a tyvek suit with respirator, goggles, hazmat gloves, etc... and spraying the place with bleach.  I hope the pictures come out. The sprayer had some issues, but eventually I got the whole place sprayed.  We quickly got back for lunch and left at 1:00pm to go see Biloxi and Waveland.  The mess in Biloxi was massive.  Several buildings, especially casinos, on barges had floated ashore during the storm and crashed into buildings on the shore.  One particularly HUGE baptist church had most of its front wall completely blown away so you could see the inside.  It was like a cut-away view.  Waveland was a complete wasteland near the cost.  All houses were completely razed to their flat foundations.  I can't even describe it.  Yesterday, Pam described one of her social worker clients who took refuge in a Biloxi church during the storm and ended up under 13 feet of water with one other person holding up a guy in a wheelchair with two feet between the waterline and the ceiling.  They stayed there for 4 hours before the water receded.  I'm rather numb from this whole experience.  The group is great and everyone here is so gracious for the work we're doing.  The church operation is still beyond belief with over 200 people coming through every day.    For dinner, most folks drove to New Orleans but some of us came back to the church to sleep early and have dinner at "The Waffle House" (pretty much the local fast food chain).  If you order waffles only, you can get dinner for two for less than six bucks.  Tomorrow the group will probably go to the distribution center.  I might stay behind to help with other projects.

Day 8 - Last day of work.  I hit the wall today and feel rather icky.  I may have picked up some sickness from the community here.  We worked in the distribution center all day today.  It was raining outside and few people showed up so we had too many volunteers.  On the flip side, we organized the warehouse today.  I was happy to bag toilet paper packs since I felt exhausted. We're going out to "The Shed" for dinner tonight. I'm hoping I can get a shower and somewhat rested before then.  Off to load up on ibuprofen...

Day 9 - Travelling home.  We had an amazing time at "The Shed" last night.  This morning, we were all ready to go early (wow!).  At the airport, some of our group waited outside the security checkpoint (where the coffee was) and barely got on the plane in time when they announced that the flight was boarding.  The plane was late so we had to race to meet our connection in Dallas.  I don't know if our luggage made it. (It didn't.)  I chatted with the person next to me on the plane.  He's from Mexico and just graduated.  He'll be interviewing at Amazon tomorrow in Seattle.  After an Odwalla bar, Reses peanut butter cups and 3+ hours on the plane, I'm feeling really crabby.  I think I'm finally collapsing.  I hope the drive home to Portland isn't too bad. I'm sinking back into reality and don't feel good.  We did good work and learned a lot on the trip.  It's over.