|THE KEENE STATE COLLEGE MAGAZINE FOR ALUMNI AND FRIENDS||VOLUME XXI NUMBER 2 Winter 2006|
After Katrina: Mission to Mississippi
Christine White '05
"The Red Cross was desperate for help after Katrina. They called me, I left my waitressing job, and I flew to Montgomery, Alabama, the staging area, on September 4," she said. "I went to a central shelter in Hurley, Mississippi, near Biloxi. Communications were so bad that no one knew about the 1,000 people who were there in a large gym with no food, nothing. We did what the Red Cross calls mass care – simply helping with the basics of food, childcare, security. It was so hard to wait for help, so demoralizing for the people. At one point FEMA gave out an 800 number that turned out to be a dating hotline.
"After two weeks it started to get more organized, and people began leaving the shelter. I think the biggest way I helped was by being positive, smiling, listening to people's stories, remembering people's names. The local churches and other organizations – the ones who weren't tied up in bureaucracy – did the best job of helping. They simply trusted people."
Christine flew back to New Hampshire and got into Keene at 2 a.m. on September 19. At 7 a.m., she was at Keene High to start a new job as a special education teacher for the semester. She would like to go back to the Gulf and help more.
William Doolan '64
The Doolans also traveled 150 miles to Biloxi and Gulfport, coastal communities devastated by the storm. "We brought a lot of cold water, fruit, and snacks to pass out to the rescue workers," Bill reported. "The damage we saw there was more significant than what we saw in New Orleans. The day we were there, people who were clearing the storm drains told us that they found five live alligators. Animal control experts safely removed them.
"It was a tiring and stressful experience and we were glad to get back home, but we are happy that we went down to help," he concluded.
Kristen Cote '05
"The work was intense," said Kristen, who regularly put in 12-hour days on the demolition crew, "but we wanted to do more. I also spent a lot of time talking to victims, listening over and over to their stories – crazy, scary stories. I had volunteered at places like the Community Kitchen and the Walk for Hunger, but I've never seen anything like this."
When her AmeriCorps year is over, Kristen plans to come back to New Hampshire – "where my heart is" – and find a teaching job in her field. "Keene State helped me to be a stronger human being, able to accomplish things on my own," she said. "Now I want to help communities – I want to make a difference, to be a positive role model for kids."
Mark Luithle '84
Mark, who owns a floor-covering business in Basking Ridge, N.J., invented his own rescue mission. He and another man decided to set up a tent village for volunteers somewhere around Biloxi, an epicenter of severe damage. The Rotary Club in Morris Plains, N.J., offered to help with expenses. Mark called Cabela Outfitters in Pennsylvania and the company promised him heavy military-style tents; people in Mark's community came forward with basics like water, diapers, batteries, and gallons of cleaning supplies. Cheered on by his family, Mark closed up his business, rented a 24' Ryder truck, stopped at Cabela's long enough to load up, and was on the ground in Mississippi within 12 days of the storm. On the way, he got in touch with Volunteer Mobile, a relief organization, to let them know he was coming.
"We drove into Biloxi looking for a secure place to set up our tents, and saw a group of ball fields near Mercy Cross High School, owned by the Catholic Diocese of Biloxi. The school was destroyed, but we got permission to use the ball fields and set up 13 tents and all our gear. We housed a 60-person group from Staten Island who were running a kitchen that fed 4,500 people a day. We took care of the tent village and security for the site, and also helped in any other way we could.
"The scope of the disaster is so overwhelming. In Biloxi we were looking at an area 50 times the size of the city of Keene, totally flattened, nothing left. I asked a Mississippi Power Co. worker, ‘How do you figure out where to start?' He looked at me and said, ‘With you. Each person who comes here is a start.'
"When I left to go home and reopen my business, I broke down – it was so hard to leave. I met some great people, and I'll never forget their stories. The experience changed my life."
Tim Sinclair '06
Tim was assigned a desk job doing damage assessment, but he respectfully asked for another task. "I thought I'd do better getting my hands dirty, and I wanted to use some of my safety and management skills."
The Red Cross immediately appointed him second in command of a shelter for disaster workers in an old Fruit of the Loom factory in Woodville, Miss., about 100 miles north of New Orleans. He and his partner had to figure out how to provide security, water, food, sanitation, and beds for 100 Red Cross workers who were there to help as many as 14,000 hurricane victims. Averaging about three hours' sleep a night, they kept the shelter humming, dealing with sanitation and health, local politics, lost puppies, and frustrated residents. Tim worked beside 12 convicts who had been released on good behavior. "They went over the top to help," he reported. "People really do rise to the occasion."
Tim stayed for 17 days, returning to his classes to report on how he had put his education to good use. "I learned a lot about myself," Tim said. "I didn't know I was good under pressure, that I could think on my feet and make good decisions. I learned the power of a handshake and a smile."
Tim is considering job offers after graduation, but may first return to the Gulf in January to help with the reconstruction.
Susan Peery is associate editor of Keene State Today.