This letter from Steve Carmack is a running diary of his experience in Ocean Springs. Steve works in the events department and went down with the team.
Ocean Springs /Katrina Thursday, September 22, 2005 The night before we left was somewhat restless in anticipation of the long drive down to Ocean Springs, Mississippi where an AiG event had been scheduled just about the same time this nations worst natural disaster in recent memory struck the gulf region. This coastal community was dead center to where the hurricane hit land with winds lashing and ripping buildings apart. At the same time water from the gulf swelled to 30 feet as it swept through the town, flooding hundreds of homes and businesses.
Its 5:00 AM and most of us are there at AiG headquarters in Northern Kentucky are loading up the truck with the last personal affects we might need for the long trek south to this devastated land. Saying goodbye to our wives, who cant quite manage to completely hide a little anxiety as we head south knowing that we might face another category 5 hurricane, is hard. Still, go we must. Weve made a commitment, we have an appointment.
As Hurricaine Rita gains momentum she displays the typical volatility these enormous monstrositys are wont to do. As the day unfolds we monitor the news. Literally thousands are fleeing from Texas and western Louisiana, the next predicted land target. Cars are lined up bumper to bumper on the I-10 as they head east and we go in the opposite direction.
We finally get to a fuel station that sells diesel but its being rationed. Tensions mount as we fill up our extra cans of fuel. As I walk into the truck stop the line is long and almost reaches the door.
The tension is palpable. I see the faces of anxious people in a hurry while theyre being slowed down to a grinding halt. Others are oblivious to their surroundings. Im approached by a man who obviously has lived on the street for a long time. I thought he was going to ask for a handout but as he got closer he scrunched up his face and peevishly asked, Thats not the way Genesis is spelled in the Bible is it? as he points to the side of the AiG trailer. My thought is, 'Wow, thats some ice breaker, surly he didnt come all the way across this big parking just to ask that?' Yes, it is, I tell him. He suddenly becomes downcast and says Ah man, I lost! ...Apparently he was a gambling man and lost his bet.
It felt good to finally drive into Ocean Springs with this huge shipment of supplies. We might be able to do some good. As we pulled up to the church we were warmly greeted by the Pastor and some of his staff.
He remarks on how awesome it is that AiG keeps its word as folks in this town have been promised much and not seen quite as much. He recounted how he told others here in town what we were bringing and he could see the skepticism in their eyes but he would insist That these are men of their word, this outfits different, you wait and see The sights were remarkable as we came into town, it was starting to get dark but we could see the damage to so many buildings downtown.
Tomorrow we take a tour.
Friday September 23, 2005 Ocean Springs/Katrina Early this morning we delivered the huge tractor trailer full of school supplies. Twenty four pallets stacked high with student backpacks, pens, pencils, markers, crayons, paper, notebooks, etc.
As the pastor, Dr. Michael Barnett predicted, the people of Ocean Springs were quite surprised to see so such an outpouring from AiGs generous supporters. The boxes of supplies just kept pouring out of the back of that truck. It is truly more blessed to give than to receive.
The pastor rejoiced and said this was such a victory for Jesus in the public schools. We rejoiced too. The local media showed up; newspapers and television interviews galore. We had an opportunity to share how AiGs supporters really came through. We recounted how we were originally scheduled to have an AiG speaking event at First Baptist of Ocean Springs. We recounted how the pastor finally reached us with the message that we neednt come, and how we asked him if there was anything we could do to help.
That opened the door for the staff and supporters of AiG to respond personally to something so many of us watching the nightly news had yearned to do. As the pastor related to us how school was scheduled to start and how so many kids had practically nothing much less school material, AiG issued an appeal to the public and especially AiG supporters and the response was overwhelming. It was HUGE, it show how Christians can step up to the plate and deliver! Around here, I suppose they heard all about it on the local news tonight.
Later in the afternoon we were given a tour of some of the neighborhoods here in Ocean Springs. What we found was stunning to the point of instilling a silent pall among those of us in the van as we drove around and saw the destruction in one neighborhood after another.
We saw homes that were damaged by flooding, we saw homes contorted beyond recognition, we saw the insides of homes outside in the neighbors yard or scattered for blocks down the street.
On one street the houses werent damaged, they were GONE! They were gone, nothing there but floor slabs and debris. Near the marina we saw a boat sticking out of someones living room. Boats and boat parts were scattered all over the neighborhood as were automobiles, hot tubs, porches, trees, walls, toys, tools, books, televisions, stairs, dolls, doors, pillars, fallen pillars. Simply try to envision everything in your home, then see it scattered and piled up in every mish mash way imaginable for block after block after block along with everybody elses things in the neighborhood.
We were able to give some folks small packets of personal hygiene products and they were appreciative, but the packs seemed like such small tokens as we were standing on their front yard and you could see right through their house to the other side onto what only days ago was their back yard.
Some wept. Some we prayed with. Many had the blank stare of one who has just lost the most important battle in their life, a life they will never ever go back to.
Still theyre going through the motions, sweeping, cleaning, hauling almost everything out of their home if not everything onto huge trash heaps of debris on the curb. So little is salvageable. On some streets there was more debris and rubble than intact structures. This was an eye opener.
Steve's thoughts put much in perspective.