Katrina - After Destruction Passes By

Katrina: After Destruction Passes By

By Amy

“Can I help you, Sir?”

I’m standing on a flatbed trailer, surrounded by canned food, baby diapers, formula, bottled water, and toilet paper. There isn’t much room to maneuver between the boxes.

The gentleman before me has a blank, confused look on his face.

“Do you need food?”

“Yes.” Like many we have seen today, this guy is in shock. His whole world has been turned upside down, and he doesn’t really know what he needs. Where do you start when you have lost everything?

“How many are there in your family?”

I see him processing. Do I mean the five in his nuclear family, or the twelve now living together in his brother’s house?

“How many are you feeding?”

“Uh, twelve.”

Okay, I can take it from there. Somebody helps me find an empty box (in ever great demand) and I start to fill it with pork & beans, ramen noodles, and the rest. “Do you have a way to heat food up, Sir?”

“Yeah, we got power back today.”

“Wonderful!” I add a jar of peanut butter and another of jelly. “Do you have a baby?”

“No, but my neighbor does.”

“Does your neighbor need diapers?”

“Yeah, she needs size three.”

I wonder if he really knows what size diapers his neighbor’s baby wears, or if he just pulled that number out of nowhere. No matter. If they don’t fit the neighbor’s baby, she surely knows another mother who can use them.

“Do you need paper products? Toilet paper, paper towels?”

“Yes!”

I call for paper towels, and one of the other ladies hands me a roll from her side of the flat bed.

“What about personal care products? Toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, that sort of thing?”

“Oh, we need all that!”

I add to the ever growing load. These supplies have come to Mississippi from all over the country — Illinois, Florida, Kentucky, Alabama. We have workers in our group from as many and more states. We have supplies as standard as bottled water, bleach, and clothing, to things as random as Nutella (a chocolate hazelnut spread) and rusk (a cross between toast and crackers.) The people we are serving are just as varied. “Red and yellow, black and white” as the children’s song has it. All ages, all social positions. In the midst of disaster, some folks who never had to rely on others find they can’t get the basics of life on their own. You can pick them out of the crowd. Others are used to hand outs. They obviously know what to do, and feel entitled to the gifts we are offering. Many, like the man whose box I am filling, are just stunned. They don’t know who they are anymore.

I finish the box off with a handful of Smarties. These are not a necessity, but the one who sent the huge jar of these was thinking. Some little kids are going to smile when they see those.

“Thank you.” The man takes the box, juggling the paper towels that want to jump out.

“You are welcome. God bless you!”

He heads toward his car, and I turn to hand size five diapers to Emily, on the other side of the flatbed. At the back of the trailer I can hear a woman talking to one of our team members.

“I don’t want to discourage you, but we don’t even have houses to put food in!” She is upset. Hurt. To her, our food is like a band aid on a gaping wound. It doesn’t begin to touch the magnitude of the problem. I wonder, does she realize that her real need isn’t a house or running water, or even our despised cans of beef stew and chili, but a Savior from the real disaster — a soul lost to sin?

***

Our campsite is the yard of a house, still standing, but with several tarps on the roof. Three pines landed there, leaving gaping holes and dropping pink fiberglass insulation down into the home of the elderly couple below. The men of our team removed the trees the day we arrived, and put the tarps on. We ladies helped with some of the inside clean up. This evening the garage door serves as a projector screen from which we see pictures of the guys’ work on “the other side of the tracks.” The flood waters came just to the railroad tracks, so they are the line of demarcation. Everything beyond them is a mess.

“I wish I could take a picture of the smell of this house.” One of the men grins.

The house shown is a mess. Every room is full of stuff, mostly unrecognizable, thrown around and piled up. Everything is wet. Everything is filthy. And, though we can’t smell it in the pictures, everything reeks. Later in the week we will all be there to work. While a few days help the place to air out, there are still some pretty vile smells hidden in boxes of wet papers, the Tupperware under the kitchen counter, (still full of black water) and the wet muck covering the floors.

Down on Second Street (second from the beach front) houses are barely visible. All the houses on the beach side have been broken into bits, and thrown in the yards of the houses behind. Mounds of rubbish block all but the roof tops, painted with the house numbers, so that folks can find where their homes are.

Inside these houses it isn’t much better than outside. The contents have been picked up, shuffled roughly around, and set back down by filthy water. Nearly everything there is ruined. Some items may be salvageable, but the task is so overwhelming, many folks don’t try.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where [hurricanes] and [mold] destroy, and where [looters] break in and steal;”

The words from Matthew six run round and round in my head. It is all just stuff, but for some people it is all they have. Others, like one lady on Second Street, understand what Jesus meant. “It’s actually very freeing.” She told us.

“Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither [hurricanes] nor [mold] destroys and where [looters] do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Hurricane Katrina is a warning to me. Where is my treasure? But it also raises a prayer in my heart. May those who have lost all their earthly treasures in this disaster be freed to find true treasure, heavenly treasure. May the little we can do to give physical aid point those we serve to Christ Himself;

“Our God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come;
Our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home.”

Christ is the true hope, the true relief for the ones suffering in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He is the Solid Rock which no hurricane can touch. “All other ground is sinking sand.”

Note: The man in the above story is not a real person in the sense that he is not a particular person. Many, many like him were served. Also, the lady who resented the food distribution was met with at the end of the week of ministry, not in the middle.