Student travels to Mississippi, helps Hurricane Katrina victims

David Hutter

I was blessed to help residents of Ocean Springs and D’Iberville, Miss., continue to recover from the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina during my spring break. I helped repair a roof, install insulation and build a piece of a house as a member of a 19-person Christian missionary team from Noroton Presbyterian Church of Darien.
Ocean Springs and D’Iberville were among the many Gulf Coast communities that suffered immense destruction by 25-foot flood waters and 130 mph winds that were caused by Hurricane Katrina.
Initially, I did not realize the magnitude of the destruction caused by the hurricane. After my group’s plane landed at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, I began to think that the hurricane’s damage had not been nearly as widespread as I had previously thought it to be. But this idea quickly vanished as soon as I saw The Big Easy while traveling on Interstate 10 eastbound to Ocean Springs.
In the northern and eastern neighborhoods of New Orleans, I witnessed what seemed like an otherworldly site: the melancholy remnants of office buildings and strip malls and gas stations and motels and restaurants and schools, cars resting in canals, thousand of abandoned houses and almost no pedestrian and vehicle traffic. This section of the city looked like it had been bombed.
Each moment, the unimaginable scope of the damage became clearer to me. My car passengers and I fell silent for awhile, perhaps borne of the notion that the neighborhoods outside our car windows may have been places where some people had spent their last night on earth six months earlier.
I remained in a state of shock for the rest of the drive to Ocean Springs, as we passed landscape dominated by a seemingly never-ending forest of mangled trees. It evoked a constant visual reminder of the hurricane.
My team was hosted by the Ocean Springs Presbyterian Church, where we were welcomed warmly by Holly Graham, a lay leader. She told us stories of loss and despair and thanksgiving and praise. All of the church congregants had survived the hurricane, she said. But many of them had lost their homes and cars.
In one instance, one elderly couple who had lived in a beachfront house had taken refuge in their attic as flood waters filled their house, Graham said. The couple had made peace with God that if it were their time to die, then so be it. As the water rose into the attic, their roof separated from the rest of the house, and the couple climbed into it, and rode it until a nearby tree, and then held onto the tree for hours until being rescued, she said.