Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Proud to be From Mississippi

Tom Johnston from Warrenville, IL came down to get his son after Hurricane Katrina. His son lived in Ocean Springs and his home was destroyed. Mr. Johnston was impressed by the people of Mississippi and their eagerness to help others before themselves.

His article From the rubble, they rose like ghosts in the dark is a testament to the good people of Mississippi who even through the rubble of once had been their homes, were more concerned about their neighbors down the street.

After finding him, it was night by the time we were ready to leave and head back north but I still had a carload of stuff that I knew would be needed by unfortunate people in devastated areas. My son suggested that we head to Pascagoula and distribute those things.

Having seen and read of looting and violence in some areas of destruction, especially New Orleans, I was a bit apprehensive about going into an area of destruction. I had visions of people fighting over the things that I had to offer, but my son and I went, despite those reservations.

What I found when we arrived in a very badly hit area of Pascagoula was a testament to the goodness of people in general and of the people of Mississippi specifically. Misfortune on such a scale brings out the best and worst in people, but in Mississippi I found nothing but the best.

Pascagoula had been hit very hard. We went into lower middle-class neighborhoods, and the devastation was almost unimaginable - trees down, power lines on the ground everywhere. It was pitch dark. It was difficult to tell where one house ended and another began. The remains of destroyed houses, roofs, downed trees, cars, trucks, etc., were all mixed in heaps. It reminded one of the destruction of war.

There was a new moon and it was totally dark, with the exception of our headlights as we passed through the debris. It was surreal.

As we drove up and down the streets, it appeared that the area was totally abandoned. I saw no sign of people. We would stop and shut off the engine in the rubble here and there and the stillness was almost deafening.

Then we would call out softly, "Is anyone there?"

And slowly, dark forms would emerge from the rubble - little children, old people, white people, black people, all kinds of people. It was like dark ghosts were forming out of the rubble or dead people were rising up out of their graves. It's hard to explain how eerie it was to someone who has not seen it.

The people were obviously hungry and thirsty and their clothes were torn and they smelled.

Then an amazing thing happened. We asked them if they needed anything and, in almost every instance, they would quietly say that they had plenty! They would tell us that we should check down the street and point the way to another rubble heap.

While there was some looting along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, it was few and far between. In fact the majority of us have taken on the attitude that we are all neighbors now. It doesn't matter if you live in Moss Point, Pascagoula, Ocean Springs or Gautier. You are neighbors with those in Biloxi, Gulfport, Long Beach, Pass Christian, Bay St. Louis, Waveland and the many other cities in the six coastal counties of Mississippi. This storm has made us grow closer to one another. Skin color does not even register anymore. We all survived that monster Katrina and have cried together, hugged one another, prayed together, helped one another, and now are in the process of rebuilding together. And I cannot forget the generous help of groups such as the Southern Baptist Convention, Catholic Social Charities, St. Vincent De Paul Society, the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, and the many, many others who have so selflessly volunteered their time and provided medical care, food, and shelter to those who lost everything.

Make no mistake, Mississippi is a strong community of people who are committed to rebuilding our beautiful coast and as I have said before, just watch us!!