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LEWISBURG, Pa. - Twenty-five Bucknell students and staff are in Mississippi for winter break as part of a service-learning trip to help with relief efforts in the hurricane-devastated Gulf Coast area.
The Bucknell Katrina Relief team arrived at their tent-city in Waveland, Miss., Sunday, Jan. 8, and are scheduled to be back on campus Jan. 15.
Janice Butler, director of service learning at Bucknell, is filing email updates about the group's experiences and work.
Monday, Jan. 9:
Our delegation is in a camping area. Three of us share an Army-issue tent equipped with a floor, three cots, lantern, and space heater. Showers and toilets are near the main building and port-o-johns are near the tents. Last night seemed pretty cold and bleak.
After lunch, a group helped a local woman "muck out" her small business. The water had been four or more feet high after the sea surge came in and turned everything upside down. We took out loads of mildewed fabric, waterlogged pieces of roof, sewing machines, storage cabinets, and all kinds of items. It was a hard and unpleasant job. Helping someone who didn't have other help made the afternoon satisfying.
Tuesday, Jan. 10:
Five of us cleared debris from the marsh next to the state park. We found remnants of what seemed to be a girl's bedroom - mattress, stuffed teddy bear, Mardi Gras beads, party dress - along with lots of wiring, wall studs, blinds, etc. Some of this was stuck in trees 40 feet high. It was amazing to see how high the water must have been during the storm surge.
Another group worked at an emergency distribution center stocking and taking
inventory of clothing, food, and hygiene supplies. Local residents come in to get items on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and this operation really needs extra volunteers. Our group was a big help.
The biggest group worked a clean-up job. However, when they arrived and found three feet of mud in the house and learned that the property had been condemned, they wisely decided not to take on that task. They left it to professionals to deal with potentially hazardous materials. Instead, they cleaned up debris outside the house and worked with a neighbor to clean up her property.
Wednesday, Jan. 11
Wednesday, Jan. 11
Tuesday was an eventful day. One group stayed on site to help Conrad, the carpenter, to construct a 10-by-20 foot shelter that will serve as a food pantry and bunkhouse for volunteers operating a distribution center in St. Bernard's Parish. We put together the floor joists and walls and, hopefully, will complete construction Wednesday so the building can be hauled to Louisiana.
Another group worked on the property of Emmie Smith in rural Hancock County. The group tore down sheet rock and pulled insulation from the home that had been damaged by rising water. An elderly couple with limited income, the Smiths depend on volunteer assistance. Another crew will return to their house Wednesday.
Another delegation worked on clean-up at the home of 84-year-old Orlando, who really appreciated the students shoveling dried mud and debris from his uninhabitable home. Orlando is living in a camper until his house can be made livable again.
One student was injured when she stepped on a nail. Fortunately, on site was a trained EMT who cleaned the wound and took her to the local hospital for treatment. The student is on antibiotics and was doing fine Tuesday evening.
After supper, the group got to hear from Tommy Kidd, a life-long Waveland resident who lost his home and restaurant business. Having survived Hurricane Camille in 1969, he said the more recent hurricane was far more devastating.
The Kidds had escaped to higher ground and Tommy and his son helped to ferry others to safety during the storm surge that reached 30 feet along a seven-mile stretch of coastland. Winds peaked at 125 miles an hour here and places that had never seen flooding were inundated. The mayor of Waveland estimated that only 35 homes in this community of 7,000 were livable after the waters receded. In Hancock County, 55 people were killed and about a dozen more are presumed dead.
We also saw a slide show Tuesday evening. The images showed lovely big homes, beautiful churches, and a thriving little community before the devastation. The after images showed the disappearance of 200-year-old houses, the collapse of sturdy bridges, damage to landmarks, and the destruction of countless homes, churches, and businesses. But the slides also conveyed a message of hope as they depicted volunteers coming to the aid of those in need.
Thursday, Jan. 12:
A small group worked at the distribution center operated by a faith-based group where local residents get food, clothing, paper products, and supplies. It's surprising to see how many families and elderly people comb the shelves for items.
Another group continued to work with Conrad, the carpenter, on the food pantry headed for Louisiana. The roof is on, wiring is in, and shelves are going up. The construction should be done Thursday and we should be able to paint it and send it on its way.
One set of volunteers also worked at the home of Mr. Grayson, an elderly bachelor who had put his property into a conservation trust. Bucknellians sorted through the rubble and found some items worth saving before the bull-dozer comes. Students washed and packed dishes and other mementos of life before Katrina.
Friday, Jan. 13
One crew worked at a property hanging sheet rock for a man who had purchased the house as a second home. It had not been finished before the hurricane and the owner was not sure if he'd keep it. Slightly put off by the man's attitude, some wondered if their time was being well spent assisting someone who could do the work himself or hire others to do it.
It's a complex situation. While we would like to help the neediest, we recognize that our assistance even to those with more resources might ultimately help someone down the line. In this instance, getting the property ready for occupancy or sale could help a family move out of a FEMA trailer sooner than they might have otherwise.
Another crew worked at the school site sorting through donations and organizing school supplies. While this was a necessary task, our volunteers felt frustrated that what was sent was significantly more than the district needed in terms of notebooks, backpacks, crayons, etc. What the district needs is money to replace books, rebuild their computer labs, and help with construction of new facilities.
A third group worked at a property that had been owned by the same family for generations. The 70-year-old owner's barn was significantly damaged by the storm surge, knocking out part of a wall and displacing support beams. Damaged horse stalls were removed and debris was cleared from the pasture where a small boat was lodged upside down amid downed trees.
Carl, the handyman there, is living in a camper on the property since Katrina demolished his apartment. When the storm surge struck, the apartment building was quickly inundated with water. He had to kick down a door to get to other residents who were huddled atop kitchen counters to avoid the rising water. At one point, he moved through neck-deep water to get to his 71-year-old landlady. They escaped the building but were swept up in the waves. With no other buildings or houses in sight, they had to cling to a tree to ride out the storm. No boats came to get them and Carl swam out and retrieved a floating propane tank. With the elderly woman in tow, he floated to Route 90 some distance away. Carl lost a sister-in-law and a brother-in-law to Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana. He was grateful to be alive and appreciative of the help we provided.
A good portion of the delegation got a glimpse of President Bush as he rode past in his motorcade after giving a speech about the government's commitment to the Gulf Coast several miles down Beach Boulevard from where we are staying in Waveland. Lots of media and lots of security were around the venue. We couldn't get very close. Still, it was an event our students will remember, especially Hannah, who was apparently seen on Fox News.