Wednesday, March 17, 2010
DALLAS -- It will be five years in August since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast of the United States.
Nearly five years later and people still are living in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailers.
Memories of the destruction and horrific aftermath of Katrina may have faded in the wake of other more recent natural disasters, but the impact of Katrina still is being felt.
A group of volunteers with TLC Lutheran Disaster Response, affiliated with Trinity Lutheran Church in Dallas, spent a week helping build houses in Mississippi in late February. They've come back with the message that many remaining residents still are devastated.
"There's nobody who has what they had before Katrina," said Sally Davies, a Dallas resident who was part of the volunteer trip.
Most of the debris has been cleaned up. However, ghostly reminders of the storm's destruction litter the landscape with bare foundations, staircases that lead to nowhere and pillars standing with nothing to support. Once coveted and now abandoned oceanfront properties are for sale.
Davies said from the stories she has heard, those who survived Katrina are forever changed -- if in different ways. But they all say the same thing: "Please, just don't forget about us."
The 10 people who volunteered aren't likely to do so.
"It just totally changed me," David Dippel said of his first trip to the region last year. "It was 2009 and there was still so much destruction."
Dippel is a member of Trinity Lutheran Church and director of TLC Lutheran Disaster Response. The group organized February's trip and plans to go back each year. Dippel hopes to expand the number of volunteers on future trips, regardless of whether they belong to Trinity Lutheran. In the long term, TLC would also like to become a group that can quickly respond to disasters anywhere.
On last month's trip, the group helped with the finishing work on two houses near Oceanspring, Miss.
First, they worked on the house of a woman who lived out of the bed of her pickup truck for three weeks after Katrina before moving into a FEMA trailer. Her house was destroyed, but still sheltered the belongings she couldn't fit in her truck.
But even what remained was threatened after the storm swept through.
"She wrote `Danger -- snakes inside' to keep people out of her house to loot what Katrina didn't take," Davies said.
With her new house still unfinished, the woman received notice that FEMA was going to pick up her trailer -- whether her new house was finished or not.
The second house they volunteered at belonged to an 88-year-old World War II veteran. Katrina tore the roof off his house and he had to live in a garden shed before moving into FEMA housing.
Dippel and Davies said the hardest part of working in these recovering communities is not the long work hours, but witnessing the lingering anguish and anger of the people who still need help.
Even with the emotional strain, Dippel said you come back home eager to return to the Gulf Coast and work until the job is done.
"It's a very rewarding thing to do," Dippel said.
For more information or to volunteer: tlc.ldr.@hotmail.com.