No water & ice yet; relief volunteers ask Katrina's victims for patience

PASCAGOULA, Miss. (BP)--It’s been a rocky start for disaster relief volunteers setting up in Pascagoula, Miss. On Tuesday, four Georgia disaster relief teams heading for the hard-hit coastal town dealt with two flat tires, a breakdown of one of their trucks, hours of waiting at a rest stop with no working facilities, no dinner, no electricity and no water.

Arriving late to the staging area at First Baptist Church in Pascagoula, volunteers found residents who were even more tired, more thirsty and more frustrated. By Wednesday morning, church members hosting the volunteers requested security from the National Guard.

“People are walking into the church wanting water and ice and food. We don’t have any of it yet,” Dennis Ray Smith, First Baptist’s associate pastor, said. “We’ve asked them to be patient, but we’ve had to lock the doors because we found people going through the volunteers’ belongings, and they’re just storming the church.”

Smith stayed at the church during the storm; his home, just a few blocks from the beach, took in about 8 feet of water.

“I understand how they feel. It makes me sick to my stomach to look in my house,” Smith said. “We’ve been through this before and in the past [during other disasters] we always had ice and water and food quickly. So people are frustrated when they come here and we can’t help them yet. If they could just get a jug of water and a bag of ice and a meal, they’d have hope.”

But hope is hard to come by for many residents. One man drove to the church in a borrowed pickup truck looking for water and ice for his family. When a volunteer told him it could be hours or even another day before any water and ice would be available, he began to cry. She told him volunteers could help clean up his house.

“I don’t have a house left,” he said, wiping tears from his face. “The water went to the attic. I lost everything I’ve ever had.”

Hurricane Katrina’s vast devastation is slowing down response from trained volunteers.

A large part of the state has no electricity and no water, said Kay Cassibry, disaster relief coordinator for the Mississippi Baptist Convention. Teams from Missouri, Florida, Kentucky and Georgia have set up feeding units and cleanup and recovery units at seven sites along the state’s coasts.

Plans to send crews into the Gulfshore Baptist Assembly in Pass Christian, Miss., were halted when an assessment crew found the roads impassable.

“There are bridges out and entire roads washed away,” Cassibry said. “Where there are roads, there is so much debris they aren’t passable. At one spot, someone saw a house that was sitting on the road. We don’t know yet what condition the assembly is in but we’re assuming it’s been destroyed.”

Despite the hardships, volunteers refused to be defeated.

“My children thought this one might be too dangerous, but I didn’t hesitate,” said Adrian Cown, a volunteer from Mars Hill Baptist Church in Watkinsville, Ga. Cown ate Rye Krisp crackers, Honey Wheat pretzels and a Moon Pie for dinner when she arrived at the Pascagoula site.

“I wouldn’t think about not being here. Once you’ve ever done this, you know the feeling you get, being just a little help for these people.”

Tom Daugherty of First Baptist Church in Atlanta has responded to more than a dozen disasters. This is the worst he’s ever seen.

“It’s pretty hard to cook without water. And it sure would have been nice to have dinner last night. But I’m not complaining. People here haven’t eaten for days and some of them don’t even have a floor to sleep on,” he said.

“We’re here to do whatever we can.”


Download Story