Pa. residents deliver relief to storm victims

October 10, 2005|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina was so great that residents of Lake Shore, Miss., returned to a town that one local woman said, "was hard for even us to recognize."

For the next year, Michelle Straub says her family of six expects to live in a camper supplied by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "It's something to take on vacation. It's not something to live in," she said.

In the days after the hurricane, however, thousands of residents of coastal Mississippi, their homes carried away or smashed by a tidal surge that reached miles inland, often only had tents and tarps for shelter. Like millions of other people, Clark Crider of Chambersburg saw the destruction and felt a need to do something.


Within a few days of the hurricane, Crider assembled a team of six to travel to the Gulf Coast, taking with them a dump truck, trailer and van loaded with supplies for people in the region, including bulk water.

"These people had bottled water ... but it's difficult to carry enough to cook and shower," said Jamie Moats of Chambersburg. Among the donated supplies loaded into the small caravan were a 1,600-gallon water tank, eight 250-gallon containers to distribute water once in the region and buckets for people to carry it in.

Crider, an excavating contractor, and Moats, a college student and Iraqi war Army veteran, were joined for the weeklong trip by retiree John Perry of Chambersburg, who said he has volunteered for seven disaster relief efforts since 1993. Shirley Kennedy, a Franklin County deputy coroner and her sons, Michael, a nurse, and John, a volunteer firefighter, were also on the team, which left Sunday, Sept. 11.

"Our goal was to make sure the stuff you donated did not end up in some storage building or parking lot," Moats told a few dozen people Sunday at Chambersburg Bible Church. Arriving almost two weeks after the hurricane, however, there was still a "huge need for organization" in the region.

Donated clothing was, in fact, piled in a grocery store parking lot with people left to sort through it looking for appropriate sizes, said Moats.

Instead of "too many chiefs and not enough Indians," Moats said there were plenty of volunteers, but little organization to the relief effort.

Moats and Crider said the team looked to the locals, including Straub and her sister, Amy Grayam, to direct them to where help was most needed. Both women were at Sunday's presentation, getting a respite from the disaster area.

John Kennedy of Greencastle, Pa., found his firefighting skills put to good use in assisting on a house fire. One fire chief had managed to save two engines from the storm surge, but "he lost his firehouse. He lost his home. He lost his personal vehicles" and most of his firefighters had not returned.

Shirley Kennedy recalled being in New York City after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"It was devastating then, but we didn't have time to really get involved with individual people," she said. In Mississippi, "we prayed with them and we cried with them," she said.

The tidal surge from the hurricane was like "a miniature tsunami," Moats said. Crider described seeing seaweed hanging from power lines 12 miles from the gulf and bark scraped from tree trunks by houses and debris pushed inland by the storm.

Crider recounted bureaucratic hurdles in getting to the region, but said, "I was not driving 1,000 miles to be turned away."

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