I awoke on Thursday, September 1, 2005, and took my daughter to school. On the way back, my wife asked me to stop by the neighborhood market to pick up a few things. They’re used to seeing me in the morning after I drop off my daughter, picking up a few things like eggs, milk, bread, etc. This morning, while shopping, I called a good friend of mine, Mark, who is a member of First Baptist Church in town and is also the chairman of the board for the largest Christian radio station in Central Alabama, Faith Radio. He answered and I asked him if FBC was doing anything to help out the hurricane victims. At the time, he didn’t know of anything, but he asked what the radio station could do. We thought through that for a minute and decided that they could broadcast all day about our trip telling people to bring supplies to our church before this evening. Now, the whole area would know that we were going and how they could help. Praise God!
The whole day was full of experiences like this. People just kept bringing supplies by. People went shopping and filled up their cart with bottled water, canned goods, diapers, etc., just to help people out that they had never met. It was incredible to see God at work. Someone sent me several hundred dollars and I used it to buy supplies to bring to my family. I ran into a guy I knew in a restaurant and told him what we were doing. He went back to his workplace, took up a collection, and brought it by. People asked if they could give money and we promised that every penny they gave would go directly to help hurricane victims. From Tuesday to Thursday, several thousand dollars were given, some of it by people outside our church. We made a commitment to spend every bit of it that day.
All day long, our little church became something akin to a headquarters or staging area. People kept dropping supplies off. As evening approached, people who could not go on the trip came by to help us sort supplies and load them. The large delivery truck showed up along with a large trailer. People started to arrive for our organizational meeting and training from the Red Cross. We had people sign in and fill out registration paper work required by the Red Cross. It was a madhouse, but it was organized chaos. Everyone had a job.
The Red Cross sent their trainers and led our team through the basics. They did not know what we were going to face, as all communication had been cut off. There were rumors of Red Cross vehicles being attacked to get supplies and of all types of violence on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. We were supposedly going to Pascagoula, and no one knew how bad it was yet. The training was pretty good, but I was in and out the whole time, helping load stuff, working with registration, and pretty much getting in the way.
After the Red Cross folks left, I spoke a bit about what we were going to face. I told them it could be dangerous, but we had to be ready to serve the Lord. Drew stepped up after me and told people that if they were worried about getting hurt or going without, to stay home. This was not a beach retreat or a mission trip like anyone had ever taken. This was a disaster zone. No complaining. No griping. People were dying and we had to go help. After explaining the dangers, he went around the room and asked everyone individually if they understood and if they were ready to die to serve the Lord, if need be. Each person said yes. It was a holy moment. I might be sounding dramatic as I say this, but in that moment, we really came together as a team as we all affirmed that it was not about us. It was about being the hands and feet of Jesus. I’ve never been more proud to be called a Christian than when I stood side by side with those 30 folks and we affirmed that whatever we would face, we were ready to sacrifice for Jesus and our neighbor. Powerful.
We loaded the truck and trailer and found that we still had room. We were only about 2/3 full. We couldn’t go down to the Coast with a partially empty truck! So a group went out to all the stores they could find open and bought pallats of water and supplies. They put stuff on credit cards. They bought whatever they could find. A local discount store found out what we were doing and gave us a good deal on bottled water. Within an hour, we had spent a couple of thousand dollars and we finally had that truck filled. We were ready to go! I was going down with the big truck on an advance team of about 8 at 6am. The rest were coming that evening. At about 10pm, everyone started heading to their homes to prepare for the trial ahead.
All week long, I had tried to call home approximately every 4 minutes, or so it seemed. The news from New Orleans and Gulf Coast was growing worse and worse. The bridge over Lake Ponchatrain was out. The fiasco at the Superdome and Convention Center was approaching epic proportions. Reporters were asking, "Where is FEMA?" as was everyone else. It was a nightmare. Sometime after 10pm, I tried to call my Mom again, and instead of the normal busy signal, I heard a dial tone! My heart leapt within me! She answered and was so glad to hear from me. They had been trying to call out, but with no luck. Communication had finally been restored!
We talked for a long time. They were fine. She told me everything that had happened during the storm. Trees were down everywhere. They had no idea what was happening in the outside world. I told them about the levee breaches and the flooding of New Orleans. I told her about the I-10 bridge being out. I told her that the Gulf Coast had been flattened. I told her everything that she had no way of knowing. She was shocked. I also told her I was coming tomorrow and would see her soon.
I then called my Dad and got through to him too. He was making it, but the house was a mess. There was a hole in the roof you could see sky through. He was in a great deal of pain, but he had survived. I told him I’d be there for him as soon as I could. I asked both he and Mom if they had heard anything about Mamaw, and they both said they hadn’t. They assumed that she had been evacuated. That’s what we all thought.
I finally made it home around midnight and I tried to sleep for a few hours. Sleep came fitfully as I couldn’t settle down. We were finally going. What would we face? What would we do? How bad were things really? At 4:30am, September 2, 2005, my alarm went off to tell me that if I’d get up and get moving, I’d have the answers to my questions.
Tomorrow: Katrina Remembrances Pt. 5: Witness to an Atomic Bomb: The Mississippi Gulf Coast.