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Rotary launches drive to help Katrina victims

October 16, 2005|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

GREENCASTLE, PA. - J.E. "Jay" LaFont, a town councilman in Grand Isle, La., had a simple answer when people in Greencastle asked him what his hurricane-ravaged community needed.

"Everything," LaFont said.

Grand Isle, a barrier island community south of New Orleans that juts into the Gulf of Mexico, took the full brunt of Hurricane Katrina in late August. Katrina soon was followed by her more docile sister, Hurricane Rita.

Paul T. Schemel, a local attorney, is president of the Greencastle Rotary Club, the local organization leading a communitywide relief effort for Grand Isle. The goal is to fill a tractor-trailer with general building materials and drive it to the community.

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Schemel said the tractor-trailer was donated. It will be driven to Grand Isle by B.J. Roberts, an Antrim Township supervisor who is volunteering his services.

The Rotary is seeking donations of cash and building materials. The former Foremost Industries factory building in Greencastle is the collection point.

The campaign runs for a month, beginning Tuesday and ending Nov. 18, Schemel said.

The Greencastle Borough Council and Antrim Township Supervisors adopted resolutions in support of the effort, he said.

The club wanted to do something to help the Gulf Coast victims, Schemel said.

"We wanted to do something more personal and we didn't want to send them something they didn't need," he said

Schemel called an old college friend in Napoleanville, La., who put Schemel in touch with someone in Donaldsville, La., which also was heavily damaged.

The person in Donaldsville told Schemel that damage was prevalent in his and neighboring towns.

"We're all in the same boat, but we're getting help," the person in Donaldsville told Schemel. "If you really want to help, call the folks in Grand Isle."

Schemel reached LaFont and asked him what Grand Isle needed.

LaFont, 62, is a lifelong Grand Isle resident. He said in a telephone interview Friday that about 70 percent of his community was damaged or destroyed.

"There's a bunch of religious people from Wisconsin helping some of our elderly and disabled people," LaFont said. "There are a lot of carpenters with them. If we had those building materials now, we sure could use them. We want to thank those people in Greencastle for helping us."

LaFont said people from several states have come to help.

No one died in Grand Isle in the hurricanes, LaFont said.

"Everybody left except for seven young people who stayed," LaFont said. They rode out the storms in Grand Isle's Town Hall, he said.

"It's an old Coast Guard station," LaFont said. "It was built in the 1950s and it's a strong building."

LaFont said as bad as Katrina was, Hurricane Bessie in 1965 was worse. In those days, the houses were built 3 to 4 feet above ground and the water just swept them away, he said.

"Today, we build them on piers 9 or 10 feet above the ground with breakaway walls on the first floor," LaFont said. "It gives the water a way to get out."

Tim Kirby owns a 12-room hotel in Grand Isle. He said by phone Friday that there is no hot water in the building. Electricity is being turned on house by house, but there won't be any natural gas for at least a month, he said.

Kirby said the community, at the southern tip of Louisiana Highway One, stretches along a narrow natural sandbar for about seven miles into the Gulf of Mexico. Its highest point is 5 feet, he said.

"We are part of the protection system for New Orleans," Kirby said.

Kirby and LaFont described Grand Isle as a popular tourist Mecca, especially in the summer.

According to the community's official Web site, Grand Isle has a year-round population that hovers around 1,500. In the summer, it swells to about 12,000 as vacationers and fishermen are drawn by the popular sporting waters, the Grand Isle International Tarpon Rodeo and the town's Fourth of July celebration.

Schemel said anyone interested in donating may call the Greencastle-Antrim Chamber of Commerce office at 717-597-4610.

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