Monday, December 24, 2007
DALLAS - Denvy and Gail Saxowsky made their fifth trip to the Gulf Coast this month to rebuild homes and help survivors of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
They took 16 people from Dallas, Monmouth and Corvallis, many of them Western Oregon University students, with them on the Dec. 7-17 trip.
This trip was to Pearlington, Miss. It was sponsored by Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA), an emergency and refugee program of the Presbyterian Church of the United States.
PDA focuses on the long-term recovery of disaster-impacted communities around the world.
Paul Mannen and John Buckingham, both of Dallas, were among the 16 local volunteers. This was Mannen's third trip to the region and Buckingham's second.
"The place we slept in the last time I was down there had over 20 feet of water in it when Katrina hit," Buckingham, said.
"After that trip I came back with dozens and dozens of disaster photos, but this time I hardly have any. Things are improving."
Mannen agreed that he saw improvement.
"I think at some point people started thinking `Hey, I can actually start getting this looking good again,'" Mannen said.
"There was a time when that wasn't the case, when people looked at the devastation and thought they'd never be able to rebuild."
While there is hope, people still have a long way to go.
Buckingham said it was disheartening to see houses he had worked on a year ago in the same stage of reconstruction.
"A lot of people who lost their houses just don't have the money to rebuild, so reconstruction is slow. I really think the insurance companies got away with something down there," Mannen said.
He explained that often houses right next to each other have two different damage claims. One might have flood insurance and it isn't being fixed because the insurance company is claiming the house was blown over, while the other was covered for wind damage but the insurance company claims it was damaged by flood water.
"How is it possible that houses right next to each other had different damage causes? It's sad," Mannen said.
Buckingham said he hopes to return to the Gulf region next year. He said the area is so large and that "there is still so much to do." He said he wants to see some of the people he has previously helped and see how far things have progressed.
"When I went down there the first time I was amazed at just how big the affected area was," Buckingham said. "So much attention was focused on New Orleans and the dikes collapsing.
"Before going down there, there was a part of me that thought when you build below sea level you kind of reap what you sow. But what I realized when I got down there was the vast majority of the affected areas weren't below sea level.
"You know, Rita had much stronger winds, but it's eye was smaller. Katrina's eye was nearly 250 miles wide and it devastated people's lives. Things may never be the same down there."