Katrina: Two Years Later

This Post is a Re-blog from August 29, 2007. JD

These images are still heartbreaking. The song is perfect.

“Don’t Come Back. Do not return to your homes. Everything South of Highway 90 is gone.” Those are the messages we were getting two years ago as Katrina ravaged the Mississippi and Louisiana Gulf Coast. From North Mississippi we didn’t have any idea what was happening on the Coast. Having evacuated 30 hours before, we were anxiously awaiting word. Communications were down. No one cared about Pascagoula … the media was focused on Biloxi casinos. The levee had given way in New Orleans and a nightmare was broadcast on every cable news channel in the world. The storm was powerful enough that we spent a few days without power in North Mississippi. Wondering. Uncertain. Not even knowing if our home still existed. I can tell you that this is reviving some now forgotten memories and feelings as I write this. Flashes of memory … my family spending the night in various homes because ours was uninhabitable … tossing all of our furnishings to the curb … masses of people showing up to help … many tears … many struggles. It seems like a long time ago.

I’m in a bit of a pickle with this post. Do we continue to talk about Katrina on a daily basis and mark the anniversary of the most destructive natural disaster to ever happen in the United States … or do we look to the future and keep our focus on the task at hand? On this infamous anniversary, I expect that people will do both.

It’s hard not to rehearse the ‘where were you when it happened’ fascination. But even though we have all talked through our struggles and shared our stories about where we were and what we were doing, that question remains as a staple of conversation. The storm has marked time, as reference is made in daily chatter to “before the storm” and “after the storm”. I look around my house at small non-critical repairs yet to be made … and then I look down my street at people who still inhabit campers … there is no escape from the reminders of what happened to us two years ago.

And yet here on the Eastern edge of the destruction, things are looking up. We have had thousands of volunteers and millions of dollars worth of materials and donations come into our county. Every denomination and even non-Christians have been here to raise our spirits and our homes. Hard work, organization, trial and error …. all a part of the recovery. We have mourned the loss of several people we had hoped to get back into their homes, but their frail bodies could not last through the immense stress of this event.

Yesterday Jim Ingram and I spent some time at the home of one of our elderly sisters from church, Jean. Her husband Al was one of our elders for thirty-something years. Al was a stroke victim even when I met him some 15 years ago. Watching his city in ruins and his home being gutted out was too much for him. He had a massive stroke and perished only a few weeks after the storm.  Before Jim, he was my visiting partner. We had some fun times together … especially one memorable trip when we were going to the Harding Lectures together. We stopped in Jackson at Skyway Hills church of Christ to worship. I received a phone call there that let me know that the Harding Lectures were the next week. So we came home. The phone call also contained some disconcerting news … and Al was a comfort to me all the way home. His pictures still adorn Jean’s walls and it is obvious that she still mourns his loss even today. I miss him too.

While I do not believe that God sent Katrina as an act of judgment, I do believe that God used Katrina to teach us so many valuable lessons. There have been some blessings in all of this. I have made friends all over the United States. I have witnessed acts of extreme service … and grown in my appreciation for the plight of the homeless and poor. I understand the humility of accepting the help of others, rather than being the one offering help. I have shed tears with strangers and hugs with the hurting. I’ve met and become friends with drug addicts, alcoholics, and other sinners. I’ve come to face some of my own sins and gained insights from others as I struggle with them. If we didn’t gain something from Katrina, it would be a useless experience.

Today we have an empty bunk house, our dining hall looks abandoned, and there are no volunteers scattered around our building. It is taking some getting used to. The work is still available if there are any who can come … and we have assurances of others who are coming in months ahead. For many the crisis is over. For others, the two year nightmare continues. And we’re not through with hurricane season 2008 yet.

I have, many times over, said ‘Thank You’ to the volunteers who came to help us. Every one offered something unique, but all were the same in that they wanted to lift the hurting and broken back to their feet. God bless every one richly. Without you, we would be nowhere. Our church building is mostly restored. Our members homes are repaired to a livable state. Hundreds in our community benefitted from your service.  I personally benefitted from people serving in working in my home. One blog reader sent a financial gift every month for several months …. and I don’t know how we would have survived without it. Others sent one time gifts … and these all allowed us to share with the needy all around us. God used you all in a mighty way … an unlikely army of both skilled and unskilled workers … joining together to dig us out of the mud. How could you ever be thanked sufficiently? You could not.

Ecclesiastes 3 says, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven …a time to tear down and a time to build…a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance  …

Is this a time to mourn or a time to dance? Yes.

LINKS

Al Sturgeon’s remarks on Katrina Fatigue.

Larry James remarks on the non-recovery of New Orleans.

NPR Stories on the anniversary of Katrina … mostly focused on New Orleans.

Thanks for reading.

John