Katrina Volunteers Lend a Hand in Mississippi

Volunteers Bill Hufnagel, Travis Brown and Bob Reklaitis help roof a home in Bay St. Louis i i

From left, volunteers Bill Hufnagel, Travis Brown and Bob Reklaitis help roof a home in Bay St. Louis, Miss. Noah Adams, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Noah Adams, NPR
Volunteers Bill Hufnagel, Travis Brown and Bob Reklaitis help roof a home in Bay St. Louis

From left, volunteers Bill Hufnagel, Travis Brown and Bob Reklaitis help roof a home in Bay St. Louis, Miss.

Noah Adams, NPR

Volunteers from all over the country — everyone from Boy Scouts to Burning Man merrymakers — have been stepping up to help the Gulf Coast towns ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. Noah Adams reports from Mississippi on who's helping to rebuild the devastated communities of Hancock County, one of the hardest-hit areas six months ago.

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NOAH ADAMS, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Noah Adams. In a few minutes, a jazz guitarist suffers amnesia and recovers his memory by relearning to play the guitar. But first, as March gets rolling, many college students are getting set to head south for spring break, volunteering to clean up after Katrina. The Gulf Coast of Mississippi needs them.

A storm surge close to 30 feet high was pushed ashore by the high winds, destroying thousands of homes. I spent some time in late February, talking with people who had come to help out in Hancock County, Mississippi. Let's meet some of the volunteers. To begin with, here is Rory McDowell. The week before Katrina, he left the corporate world on a sabbatical, rode his motorcycle down the Blue Ridge Parkway, stopped in Memphis when the weather turned bad. On the television in his motel room, lots of reports from New Orleans and Biloxi, but...

Mr. RORY MCDOWELL: Nothing out of Hancock County, nothing out of Bay St. Louis or Waveland--the two cities where I grew up in mostly--until Tuesday, and it was about a little after noon on Tuesday when the CNN reporter came and said, we finally have some pictures of Bay St. Louis, but we can't show them to you, because there's too many bodies.

ADAMS: He rented a van, bought tools, gas, food, water, and cried when he got to Waveland. Now he runs a group called Hancock County Citizens in Action, watching, helping FEMA and the Corps of Engineers, and the local officials.

(Soundbite of congregation singing)

CONGREGATION: Oh...

ADAMS: Sunday morning at St. Rose de Lima.

(Soundbite of congregation singing)

CONGREGATION: Have mercy...

ADAMS: A Catholic church in Bay, St. Louis. If you're a member of this parish, you'll get some help.

Unidentified Man: We're about 40 inches to the peak there.

ADAMS: Volunteers from a church in Washington, D.C. have arrived to replace blue plastic roofs with shingles on 18 houses. Here is Bob Reklaitis.

Mr. BOB REKLAITIS: We've had as many as 17 people on this roof, including six high school children. They had a half a day of school that they took off Friday, and they don't have school on Monday. It was a little tough at the airport when we saw everybody is going skiing, but I think they'll find this is a more memorable experience.

ADAMS: At the Morell Foundation Camp on Waveland Beach, a Boy Scout trailer pulls in--Massachusetts plates. I meet a very tired 14-year-old, Derek Terriell(ph).

Mr. DEREK TERRIELL (Boy Scout, Volunteer Worker): I've seen all the things on the news, and I really wanted to experience it firsthand, and try to help as many people as I could.

ADAMS: Derek trudges off to find an empty bunk bed. Dustin Benoit, the scout leader, shows me what they brought.

Mr. DUSTIN BENOIT (Scout Troop Leader, Volunteer Worker): We filled up about two trailers full of supplies, everything from cleaning supplies to food, linens, just about everything you need for a home. We drove here from Massachusetts. We left about 36 hours ago, and we drove straight in.

Mr. TONY GARCIA: My name is Tony Garcia.

Unidentidied Man: Where are you from?

Mr. GARCIA: Durham, North Carolina.

ADAMS: Tony Garcia lost his software job in January, and came south to join the Burning Man Camp. Burning Man is well known for festivals in the Nevada desert. The burners are now in Pearlington, Mississippi, where they have bonfires on the weekend, and burn pieces of art they've assembled. They spend their long workdays trying to help people recycle what the storm tore apart.

Mr. GARCIA: You see lots of just amazing things out here. A guy said that he was looking in his yard. He's pretty old, and he just wanted to get his garden in. And that was one thing we did was just help him clear a spot to get his garden in, and he's looking at it all, and he's pretty much crying. It seemed like well, you know, I guess I just need to either walk away from it all or shoot myself. I don't know.

(Soundbite of a train)

ADAMS: The train tracks are repaired, and families are moving back into Hancock County with lots of volunteer help. Joanne Jan(ph) is here from Roanoke, Virginia, sent by her church to coordinate the trips of others from Roanoke. Joanne Jan is a pastor herself, and says fixing things for people may be her true calling.

Ms. JOANNE JAN (Pastor, Roanoke, Virginia): I've grown up with a hammer in my hand. Building is what I do. God has given me the opportunity to do just that, and provided me with everything I need to make it happen.

Unidentified Man: Well, how do you cope with it, financially?

Ms. JAN: My church gave me a grant of $6,000 for startup money. The Interfaith Coalition is supplying me with $700 a month to keep me going. A couple in my church gave me a motor home, so I have a place to live. I have more money in the bank now that I don't have a job, than I ever had when I did have a job.

ADAMS: Volunteer coordinator, Joanne Jan. There's plenty of work in Hancock County, Mississippi, and lots of people coming. One group is getting set to house and feed 600 volunteers every day. More coming up on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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