Sunday, September 18, 2005

It's a job that makes even big boys cry, but we'll get it done

In today's SunHerald there was an e-mail from Mark Flemmons from Cleveland MS and who works for Modern Communications. It is a long e-mail and details the efforts of the people of the small town of Cleveland MS to help those evacuees from New Orleans and those from the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Cleveland MS is a small town of just over 13,000 that is the north west corner of the Mississippi Delta and has a rich heritage of blues music and is the home of Delta State University. This e-mail made me realize that we in Mississippi have always helped one another out and will do so again. It brings out the spirit of the majority of those who live in Mississippi and the can do and take charge attitude we have. Below are some excerpts. If you have the time, read all of it at It's a job that makes even big boys cry, but we'll get it done

Nationally, everybody is so focused on what's going on in New Orleans, the Mississippi story is going un-reported.

It's one of the bright things that is happening now.

We are not leaving our people to wallow and starve in their own filth, and the cadavers of loved ones. We're finding the live ones and getting them north as fast as possible. Most of the hundreds showing up here have at least had a meal and a bath.

Gov. Haley Barbour and his administration will come out as true heroes in this disaster once the total story is told. The differences between the Louisiana and Mississippi responses are truly startling. Haley and MEMA had already had Mississippi declared a disaster area two days before Katrina hit. What does that mean? A lot.

It means we had a two-day head start on recovery. It means we had pre-positioned response teams - fully equipped! It means we had supplies being loaded on trucks to go to the Coast while the hurricane was still going on. It means federal representatives from FEMA were already in state when it hit.

We've been dealing with looters a little differently on the Coast... . Unlike New Orleans, it hasn't been a big problem. In the case of breaking in to get survival supplies - food and water - the police have shot the locks off doors and helped take the stuff to distribution points.

School buses hauling refugees to shelters north - an idea Louisiana just now figured out - have been running since the day after the storm. They are pouring in here by the hundreds. Red Cross has been doing a great job of setting up relief shelters in our area. Local governments have opened all of the convention centers and school auditoriums to them. I know it's hard to believe, but the first week's local Friday night football games were all canceled. Our efforts were needed elsewhere.


Most of us cry at least once a day. You can't deal with the hundreds we have coming in here every day and not be affected.

I've seen big bears break down and just fall apart - mostly blaming themselves for not getting out in time. In many cases that choice cost him a wife, a child or maybe both. They all say the same thing: "I didn't think it would get that bad." All you can do is listen and try to comfort.

Sometimes you see guys just staring into the sunset, not saying anything, but you see those jaw muscles working hard to hold it in. I had one tell me yesterday, "We had to choose - stay in the attic and drown, or climb on the roof into a 150 mile-an-hour wind. She was screaming my name as she flew away."

How do you respond to that? You don't. You just cry with him and listen.

Loose children who don't know where Mama or Daddy are, or even if they're alive. Ten-year-olds trying to be "mama" or "daddy" to a little sister or brother. It will tear your heart out.

Most of these folks know there is nothing to go home to. The house is gone, and, in most cases, the job too. They show up here with the clothes on their backs, and that's it. It's all they have left. It's hard, just too hard for words. You do what you can, but...

Forget about "Mississippi Burning." That was our dark, distant past. Watch us now. This is Mississippi today.

We've opened our homes, hearts and wallets to strangers in need. We don't care if they are white, black, brown or polka-dotted. We're going to be OK. It will take years, but we're dealing with it. We will deal with it the way only a true Southerner can - one day at a time.

Forget about "Mississippi Burning." That was our dark, distant past. Watch us now. This is Mississippi today. This should be Mississippi's new slogan because it has not mattered for a long time what color your skin is in Mississippi or what religion. We are all in this together and we will pull each other up and lean on each other and we will rebuild together. We will rebuild one individual, one house, and one street at a time and just watch us. It will be better than ever and those strong values that we share of respect for your elders, respect for your parents, and respect for family will show us the way.

That is what I forgot when I wrote my post about the Red Cross. We'll deal with it one day at a time. Hurricane Katrina can make the strongest cry and at times, my spirit seems to be broken. But then I get up the next day and do the mundane things such as the laundry, washing dishes, vacuuming and try to remember how grateful I am. All of my family is safe and we all have roofs over our heads. And things will be a little better the next day, the day after that, and continue to get better each day.