Following Hurricane Isaac's landfall along the U.S. Gulf Coast last week, World Vision's Laura Reinhardt headed to the region to report on our emergency relief efforts in the aftermath. Here's a snapshot of what she's seen and who she's met.
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"We didn’t see this coming."
I heard that -- or words to that effect -- over and over yesterday and today as I traveled from city to city along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast with World Vision’s disaster response assessment team.
Of course, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 is still the disaster that people in this region use to measure all other hurricanes. Residents told me that Katrina may have caused more wind damage -- but Hurricane Isaac’s slow movement meant that the rain fell for days over this area.
Along Mississippi’s coast, that meant more flooding than was seen during Katrina.
Yesterday, I met a couple in passing -- Reggie and Carol from Slidell, Louisiana. They had a small rowboat filled with cans of gas, a gift from another couple. "You saved us," Carol told them. She and Reggie had been nearly out of gas to run their generator.
The brick gates to their residential area now stood guarding a lake instead of the street in and out of their neighborhood. As they stood there talking, a Jeep and a truck managed to make it through, but most people walked through the knee-high water.
“We underestimated this storm,” Carol said as she and Reggie began pulling their boat back toward their home.
“Like a bad dream”
Today in Gulfport, Mississippi, I met Montica. A used-bookstore smell greeted me as I came through her front door -- the mustiness of water damage. A fan pumped air through every room in an attempt to dry everything out and maybe prevent mold from growing.
“Seven years later, again. It’s like a bad dream,” she said, referring to Hurricane Isaac's landfall on the seventh anniversary of Katrina.
Montica doesn’t have flood insurance. She’s never seen the need for it, because in the past, floodwaters never reached her home -- not even during Hurricane Katrina.
“I sat on the couch crying for an hour," she said of her reaction upon coming back to the house and seeing the water. "I didn’t know what to do.”
But then a friend came and helped her rip out all the carpeting. It sits out front of her house in a big pile, along with other non-salvageable items. Inside, she’s still trying to mop up all the excess water.
All the doors inside the house are so swollen that she can’t shut them.
Montica just bought a new mop and cleaning supplies to continue the process. “I’m spending money I really don’t have,” she said.
Her job at a local casino -- one of the biggest employers in the region -- doesn’t leave her with a lot of extra cash to handle emergencies.
Worse than Katrina for Picayune, Mississippi
Our next stop was Picayune, Mississippi, a small town about an hour from New Orleans. Last year, I came to Picayune to interview two members of World Vision’s Youth Empowerment Program and National Youth Advisory Council.
Today’s visit wasn’t nearly as happy a reason to visit, but one of the youth, David, guided our team through his hometown.
“We didn’t see this coming,” he said, echoing what I had been hearing.
People heard the terms "tropical storm" and "category 1 hurricane" and didn’t worry as much, he explained. They just didn’t realize the damage so much rain in such a short time could cause.
One stop on our tour to see the damage to Picayune was at the house where David and his family lived when Katrina hit. During that storm, water levels in his neighborhood reached a height of about three feet.
This week, David drove by his old place to see Hurricane Isaac’s effect, since his college classes were cancelled. This time, the waters rose over a five-foot-high stone wall around the house.
A part of a community of helpers
Despite the damage and hardship, people in this region are keeping their spirits up. David said he felt that his city was getting to shine during the disaster. Residents were all assisting each other -- bringing food, ferrying trapped people, or just generally helping out.
Donors to World Vision’s disaster response are an extended part of this community goodwill. The money will go to help meet immediate needs and rebuilding efforts.
“We’re so grateful and appreciative of whatever you can do to help,” said Montica. “It’s much needed on the coast.”
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Read more about World Vision's response to Hurricane Isaac along the U.S. Gulf Coast.