They call it “the storm.” I think words like ‘hurricane” and “Katrina” have too many syllables and take too long to say. So, in the shorthand that develops from these events, the residents of Pearlington, Mississippi simply call it “the storm.”
The storm hit Pearlington directly. The damage in New Orleans was caused by the flooding after the levees broke. Some other parts of Louisiana had homes that were flooded by overflowing bayous. But the town of Pearlington has a clear claim to the wrath a category-five hurricane can bring.
Homes were literally washed away. Shirley Thompson’s house was washed a block away. Her husband, Hezekiah, lost all his mechanics tools including his air compressors. The store where Shirley worked was washed away. The storm took not only their house but their jobs. Jean "Dallas" Trammel found herself hanging to a tree for eight and a half hours surrounded by 20 feet of water until the water receded. “We just came down the tree as the water went down.”
Michael Hanley showed us his pond behind his house where he and his son used to fish for catfish. The storm drove up the Pearl River seven miles from the coast line and brought the ocean to his pond. Thirteen feet of water surrounded and entered his two-story house. The saltwater killed his catfish but “for three months we were catching crabs in that pond.” The ocean had traded him crabs for catfish.
We had heard on our last trip with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance that the medical community was seeing heart attacks in people with no known history of heart problems. This is a mystery assumed to be caused by the stress brought by the storm. While we were in Pearlington we got word that a 24-year-old man in the town had dropped dead of a heart attack. There was no money for a funeral. When we ate lunch the next day at the Baptist church the pastor told the community they would take up a collection “so we can get this boy buried.”
It’s hard to know where to start in describing the week. The work is not as organized as most volunteers would like but we saw first hand that this was about the only way it could be done. There are so many faith-based and non-profit agencies helping because all the other avenues of funding are overwhelmed. The best and fastest way to get your house rebuilt is by a patchwork collection of volunteer help and assorted grants and donations.
The homeowner we grew to know best is Shirley Thompson. Her 87-year old mother lives down the street. Both of their homes were washed off the foundations and carried away. Shirley had insurance but it paid only a fraction of what it will cost to rebuild her house. The money was enough to build only a shell of a house on her land. She had walls and a roof with shingles and had come to the end of the money. She was walking on nothing more than faith with the rest. While we were helping carry in sheetrock for her walls, the word came that somebody had found grant money that would pay for her plumbing. She takes each day on faith that God will provide the siding and electrical wiring and volunteers to install it.
There’s so much to tell. I will post this and continue writing. See you next Wednesday.