My church, the Rock of Gainesville, sent a team of men north yesterday to help with the relief efforts in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath. Today they drove to where Gulfport and Biloxi used to be.
Our team ranges in age from one preteen (with his dad) to a couple of men in their sixties. The twenty-two volunteers, which include five of our pastors, would have been twenty-three had I not injured my back a week ago. As is, I have been able to help coordinate much of their efforts from home, including finding them a church building for sleeping and washing up.
Pastor George and the team left Gainesville in one SUV, with two large vans pulling two supply-laden trailers. The local food bank, which we support monthly, donated some two hundred boxes of meals, and CCDA (makers of Dannon Spring Water) donated seventy-two cases of 24-packs of bottled water. They also took two gasoline generators.
Communication has been difficult. All land lines are destroyed, and mobile phone contact is sporadic at best (in Louisiana there's no phone service at all).
At 3:30 this afternoon I managed to get through to our children's pastor, Ed Saxon, who told me..."We went through Biloxi. It is absolutely flattened; there's just nothing there. And then when we got to Gulfport, it was gone too. It's overwhelming." Ed said that one of the team gave a bottle of water away while they were briefly stopped at an underpass, and that thirsty survivors mobbed them so fast it caused a traffic jam. A local deputy sheriff helped disperse the crowd, and get cars moving again. "People everywhere were begging for water," he said.
The team took refuge behind a K-Mart long enough to break up the bundles of water bottles, but another crowd found them there. Finally another deputy sheriff sent them to the area's official distribution center, where they discovered the police, themselves, in dire need of food and water.
Pastor George called while I was writing this. "We gave all our food and water to the Gulfport police for their seven hundred officers and their families," he relates. "We were surprised when they told us we were the first outside volunteers to reach them. Some of the women officers were in tears." In addition to the food and water, the team also gave the Gulfport police department several boxes of tarps and both of the church's gasoline generators.
"Some people who still have supplies are understandably frustrated and frightened," said Pastor Ed, "but those who have nothing are just thankful to receive anything."
Pastor George is considering sending another team back to the area on Monday, but we want to make sure the effort is coordinated through one of the large agencies. I'll write about it when a decision has been made.
5:55 pm: FoxNews Channel is showing an Atlanta gas station charging $5.50 per gallon for premium gas.