'Vent Tent' Offered Many Support in a Storm Waveland, Miss., has suffered deeply from the wrath of Hurricane Katrina... but not in silence. At a ruined Catholic church, a sign guided people to the "Vent Tent." There, many who lost much to the storm were able to talk with trained counselors.
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'Vent Tent' Offered Many Support in a Storm

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'Vent Tent' Offered Many Support in a Storm

'Vent Tent' Offered Many Support in a Storm

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

Victims of Hurricane Katrina have had plenty to complain about: disrupted lives, lost lives, lost homes and elusive help. Last week, NPR's Howard Berkes discovered a place devoted to venting about the storm in the devastated town of Waveland, Mississippi.

HOWARD BERKES reporting:

The Vent Tent is shaped like a Quonset hut, and it stands in the red-brick rubble of a Catholic church looking out to the calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It's in its waning days of operation, so people are checking in one last time.

Ms. CATHY ASHER(ph): Do you, at this time, have anything to tell me?

Professor TOM PEAVY(ph): You're where I would hope that you were going to be.

BERKES: Cathy Asher and Tom Peavy sit in folding chairs; an air conditioner humming in the background. Asher is a piano teacher who first came in weeks ago. Her hometown in ruins, her home destroyed and neighbors drowned, she saw a sign above a tent door which says this: `But now faith, hope and love remain.' Listen carefully because hearing loss affect her speech.

Ms. ASHER: And it said on the bottom of the sign that says, `Open. Come in.' So that's why I went in that door.

BERKES: Asher was overwhelmed by the losses and the task of rebuilding. She was going nuts, she told Tom Peavy, a professor of counseling and psychology.

Prof. PEAVY: There are layers of bureaucracy and insurance companies and organizations and local politics and all kinds of situations blend into a salad of activity that is awfully difficult for individuals to tolerate in terms of its taste. And so sometimes they find it convenient just to come by here and tell us what it tastes like.

BERKES: For some, the taste is unimaginably bitter.

Prof. PEAVY: One man had his wife and eight-year-old son swept away in the flood. He was holding on to them and held as long as he could, and he doesn't know where they are.

BERKES: The man arrived even before the tent was erected. Word had spread fast about the place the locals dubbed the Vent Tent. The man told Peavy's predecessor, a fire department chaplain, that what he really needed was a 9mm pistol. His suicidal despair deepened when he was beaten bloody by intruders seeking water, food and money. The chaplain made sure the man had counseling every day. Tom Peavy.

Prof. PEAVY: In some ways, this is like a cemetery. There has been death done here: physical death of body, damage and death to hopes and dreams and futures. However, individuals who have the ability to move forward can have new hope, new future, new direction in life.

BERKES: Cathy Asher says that's what she got at the Vent Tent, as well as help cutting through red tape and getting work done at her home.

Ms. ASHER: I have sent so many people down here because it made me feel so good. And I want to thank them for doing this for me.

BERKES: After more than four weeks and more than 300 people, the Vent Tent in Waveland, Mississippi, closes this weekend. Local counseling programs and churches are ready to step in.

Howard Berkes, NPR News.

ELLIOTT: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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