Recollections on work done post-KatrinaPublished 11:38am Wednesday, August 6, 2014
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Katrina can find Edward Murphy most anywhere, even when he’s miles away from the memories, enjoying the comforts of one of Porches Restaurant’s wicker gliders and an unusually cool summer afternoon. In fact, the Bay St. Louis resident has come to Wesson not because of its famous bread pudding, but because of friends made in aftermath of that storm. Today they are sharing stories, and with the country preparing to mark the ninth anniversary of its costliest natural disaster, the words are weighty.
Edward’s stories are particularly compelling, pulled from a private collection amassed during his stint as an after-Katrina volunteer coordinator. Returning to Bay St. Louis on Sept. 5, 2005 to find his community devastated and his congregation scattered, the long-time pastor switched ministerial hats, setting up a base camp at Shoreline Baptist Church (what was left of it) to house volunteers.
Edward explains, “We had a 40-by-80-foot tent for eating and worship, an office building, three bunk houses, a kitchen built out of a metal garage structure and two shower trailers. We could sleep and feed about 200 at any one time.”
For nearly six years, volunteer groups from all over the United States stayed at Shoreline’s camp, and hard numbers underscore the results of their efforts: some 3,800 workers built 1,050 sheds, remodeled 200 houses, constructed 28 brand-new ones, and completed 2,000 gloves-and-bleach “mud-outs” of flooded dwellings.
Estimates suggest nearly a million dollars eventually funneled through the ministry, and Shoreline’s stewardship evidently stood out. Even Franklin Graham’s organization entrusted them with a check for $50,000.
A few volunteers came to the camp for a week and decided to stick around, like Jo Stanley of Atmore, Alabama. “For three years she was the head cook in our improvised kitchen,” Edward shares. “We continue to get accolades for the fine food volunteers had while they were here.” Virginia’s Jim Bob Holbrook, the camp “piddler” who filled in where ever he was needed, was also there for the long haul.
Surprisingly, the Murphy home was left nearly untouched when Katrina buffeted Bay St. Louis. Though dependent on generators for power, the couple managed to welcome 16 long-term houseguests. “The washing machine was in constant use for nearly three months,” Karen recalls.
She points out the difficulty of understanding what the aftermath was really like without seeing the faces of those who endured it. “When we first came back we saw despondency – wrinkled brows with forlorn looks. As we finally began our work, it seemed hope started to show in their eyes.”
Edward tells of one particular instance in which a mud-out at a wrong address saved two lives. “The owners were surprised to find a group working at their home. They told us they had decided to come back for one last look before they killed themselves. They broke down. It gave them hope.”
A car headed south on Highway 51 mars the silence with its horn, bringing us back to Porches and present realities. Our group gets up. It’s a long way back home for some.
Turning to me, Edward admits “there are things we’d do differently.” He describes his sadness at watching need turn into greed among some of those they served and adds that he doesn’t miss the 16-hour days. “But I do miss the constant influx of wonderful people from around the world. They came to our rescue and became dear friends for life.”
Wesson resident Kim Henderson is a freelance writer who writes for The Daily Leader. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.