Saturday, September 24, 2005

I was told to talk about things and not keep them pent up inside. I always thought that was silly because I'm hard. But I got sick last night and now I feel pretty close to crap. Maybe things are getting to me. Maybe I'm not as hard as I think. Or maybe I haven't been eating enough spam. Ummm...spam.
So maybe I'll talk to the blog compose screen and maybe I won't send this out. God, even to this point I feel like I've written more "I's" than any journalist worth his salt should write in his entire professional career.
For a while I've been going under the power that the disaster part is over and people are on to rebuilding-either in South Mississippi or somewhere else. But today I went out to a little, forgotten town on the border of Louisiana called Pearlington. I went to see how they were holding up against Rita's winds. The article should be in the paper tomorrow. I talked to survivors and disaster relief people. I got some good quotes.
A photog and I rolled up to the Salvation Army distribution center. They are also sheltering about 40 people. Rita's rains made the Katrina-beaten ground soupy and everything was covered in a layer of grime. The Salvation Army people kept calling it a camp, which freaked me out for some reason.
A woman pushing a bike with a cart attached to it navigated the muddy road. The photog wanted a pic of her so I started chatting with her. She was really a lovely woman. The right lens of her glasses was scratched enough to almost obscure her eye. Her name was Carolyn.
It turns out that she, along with almost everyone in the community, had to swim out of her home as it was swallowed by rising water from the Pearl River and the surging sea water of the Gulf. She said there was noise above her for hours that was probably tornadoes spawning off of Katrina. She said they sounded like helicopters right over head.
"The wind was screaming," Carolyn said. "I never heard anything like it."
In those conditions, when land turns to water, everything living is only concerned with surviving. All offense is shut down. Everything just swims and tries to find something to hold onto to keep from being sucked out to sea.
"I had snakes and lizards crawling on me," she said.
When she went into the water and gave up her home, she brought her "10-pound puppy," which clung to her as she found a pine tree and clung to it. She held onto that tree for two or three hours, she wasn't sure which, and her puppy held onto her.
She smiled when she talked about hanging on and saving her dog- a small victory in a forest of so much defeat.
And she didn't stop smiling when she talked about living in a tent mauled by Rita's winds in front of the remnants of her house or about her other losses.
"I lost all 14 of my kitties," she said.

Or there was the dude named Jon-e from Rochester. I didn't ask him why his parents named him that or whether he was joking, because that's what his salvation army badge said. Seemed like a nice guy, too, what with the coming down here to help people piece together their lives.
He was the first person to refer to the place as a camp. I told him that his camp smelled like human waste.
"I've been through this neighborhood since I got down here," he said. "I'm used to the smell of rotten flesh and black mold."
He smiled. I smiled. I thanked him for taking the time to talk. He went back to directing supply trucks into the parking lot of the camp. With photog in tow, I went on my merry way.

Then we went to go see a woman down the street who was making $724 government disability a month. Her name was Dallas. She had four friendly mutts who really liked my crotch.
She was sitting there in a tent in front of her house, one of those brightly colored dome ones. Dallas was real nice, too. She was a construction foreman, -woman, -person before falling 13 feet off a scaffolding.
I lied. The tent wasn't actually in front of her house. Her house was first filled with water, then picked up off its foundation, then turned about 45 degrees counterclockwise, then moved about thirty feet to the front of what used to be her yard. The house, which was overrun with gnats inside, had been redone two weeks prior.
Dallas also lost her two cars, a small boat and its trailer, her shed with a weed whacker and a new chainsaw inside and two travel trailers. That was pretty much everything except her life and her four dogs.
She swam out of her house, too. She made it to an oak tree several yards up the road and climbed out of the water onto a branch fifteen feet off the ground. She was joined by her three neighbors and eight dogs.
"I got eighteen pigs and piglets, too," she said. "They all made it. I don't know how. I guess they climbed on a roof."
She apologized for not cleaning the house before having visitors. I apologized for not knocking off the rancid mud onto her rancid muddy floors. I let her go but told her I expected fresh cornbread the next time I came calling.

People are not on to rebuilding, many are still just trying to survive. When it rains they get wet. Old men sitting on the side of the road scrape cold gruel out of an MRE packet.
Civic leaders are saying that it is time to get used to a "new" normal. As soon as we talk about death and despair without vacant eyes and out of place smiles, then maybe it will be time to get on. Now we have to confront something that seems, feels, a lot like shell shock.

Thanks for listening blog compose screen.

38 Comments:

Blogger thk123 said...

It is so sad. My heart and prayers go out to you all.

2:33 AM  
Blogger Photocat said...

Too sad for words really, but you manage to use the right words.
I am watching it all on tv from UK, and can't imagine what is really going on there.
When is enough enough?
Keep up the writing

3:34 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

aww... you're not just talking to the blog compose screen. The best reporting from this situation comes from journalists living in the midst of the storm-affected areas, caring enough to sit down and visit with people like you have.

Good writing.

I hope that soon the South will be able to recover. The destruction has been aweful, at best. The resiliance of the people is obviously amazing.

6:47 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Thanks for the words. This is such a tragedy.

For the blog observors: find a relief agency and volunteer!
They will be needing help for the next 6 months at least. If you can't go to the areas affected volunteer for office support or logistics work where you are, so others can go.

7:20 AM  
Blogger Cathy said...

what can i say; there are thousands thinking about you and donating money. you are helping more than you know by keeping this alive, a reality...is the aid money getting where it needs to be? i personally live very far away otherwise i would be there volunteering, but have signed up as a red cross volunteer in my home town if god forbid anything should ever happen here.

7:54 AM  
Blogger Namise said...

Hi THere,
Thnk you for writing and letting the world know what it's like rfom the inside.great writing,may God bless you and all the other victims!

8:47 AM  
Blogger kontan said...

thank you for your writing. it brings the reality to life for those of us not in the midst of the despair. i'm in north MS watching the remnants of rita blow by, thankful for what i have. i can't imagine what the coast must be like.

8:51 AM  
Anonymous Web Designer Delhi said...

It ain't just the blog compose screen, buddy. Many of us are praying for people like you and some of our loved ones who are stuck in there.

May God be with you all!

9:02 AM  
Blogger Caralyn said...

I have been following your blog since you started it, i think its great what you are doing, giving people the real-ness of whats going on down there. keep blogging, i will keep reading. we are very proud of your work in this house, i have added you to my blogroll, and even plugged your blog in a few of my entries on my blog. hope you are feeling better soon, i think if you dont get ill down there, what with everything you see , smell, and hear... then there must be something wrong with you. best of luck to all you encounter, let them know they are in our prayers in washington state.

10:00 AM  
Blogger lene said...

hey
thanks that you showed me the otherside of whats going on.
we hear a lot of the hurricans in Germany but it's most times whats bush saying about it and not how hard it is in realitiy for the people living there.

keep on writing i think it'll help you and a lot of people in the world

lene

10:34 AM  
Blogger RNDixie said...

I feel every bit of what your posts say to the core. I just returned from the coast on a medical rescue team and created a blog myself. Thanks for getting the "real" stories out.
Amy, RN

10:53 AM  
Blogger Christine said...

Hi,

Just want to say that this is an amazing blog - very moving.

The world stands with you.

Christine

2:05 PM  
Blogger Colleen Vesperman said...

Hello again,

I'm sorry to hear that it sounds like the horrible conditions that you have had to endure are catching up with you. Hopefully they will pass quicker than Katrina and Rita did!

Anyways, keep up the great REAL coverage on where you live. Here in Western New York our prayers are with everyone that have been affected and I tune in on a daily basis to see the latest events and hopefully the Reconstruction can begin without anymore unwelcomed Hurricanes!

Thank you guys!
www.colleenvesperman.com

3:05 PM  
Anonymous Rhonda said...

I am from Gulfport, living in Charleston,SC most of my adult life. My entire family is on the coast and you have been a shining light for me during this tragedy. I was 11 yrs old when Camille came calling and at 47 I still remember the horror. But I also remember my hometown and the amazing versatility of her people. They do survive, they will persevere!
Thank you for the light that you shine for me and get well soon...we need you!

4:29 PM  
Blogger Ninina Mameyez said...

I wrote about Rita just after we were out of danger in Dade and Broward counties. I was wishing, hoping, praying for the best. Check out my blog: La Loquita del Zig-Zag (http://nininamameyez.blogspot.com).

5:17 PM  
Blogger mama said...

WOW, there are only one set of words that can console or comfort. The words of the Lord. Keep writing and praying. Prayer is powerful and is wanted by God. Do not ever feel that no one is listening, He always listens when He is called on. Stay strong and continue to bring reality to those of us who, well can not get the real truth from T.V.

6:41 PM  
Blogger SingingOwl said...

I just returned from Waveland. Spent a week there distrubuting food and supplies...my heart goes out to you, Chris. My heart broke in Waveland, and I feel like I left a little piece of it with Waveland people, especially the children. I'll be blogging about it as soon as I can figure out how to download the photos. Take care, "cousin."

Pastor Dorcas (Norman) George...aka singingowl

6:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

//God, even to this point I feel like I've written more "I's" than any journalist worth his salt should write in his entire professional career.//

Don't be foolish. You (and Mr. Norman for that matter) are not just some journalist covering this story; you are a part of this story. As a journalist, you have the opportunity thousands of us do not have: the opportunity to share your story -- and ours with it -- to the world.

If it is any comfort to you, think of this: no one remembers the Larry Kings and Anderson Coopers of the 1650s or World War Two Belgium, but it is the personal accounts of individuals (Peppys and Frank) and their own experiences that are remembered. To use "I" is to truly know the situation.

You guys are doing something amazing here. I have spent the past two hours reading everything you wrote, looking at all your pictures. I simply could not walk away. Thank you.

7:21 PM  
Blogger FyrByrd said...

Thank you for continuing to post the stark reality of this situation. Prayers continue to come your way.

8:00 PM  
Blogger Dragonlady said...

Let's just hope that the hurricane season will quiet down now and let these poor people get on with their lives.

10:31 PM  
Blogger Psalmist said...

Thank you for the post. Your writing made me feel like I was right there with you. It's so sad that so many lives were so devastated in such a short time. We have to search for hope wherever we can.

10:38 PM  
Blogger MidlifeMutant said...

Thanks for sharing those feelings. You made me feel human tonight.

12:14 AM  
Blogger Simar Kohli said...

Whatever you have written about does not effect me much (technically) but i am impressed by the way you write..
My eyes are so teary that i scarcely know how to proceed..
Keep writing Man!

6:38 AM  
Blogger t_cole said...

I read this last update yesterday & it has haunted me since.

I played hostess to a gentleman from Waveland days after the storm. He is a disabled US veteran & rode Katrina out for 2 days in his attic. Tried to evacuate - truck wouldn't start. When the water receded, he walked/hitched 50 miles inland to my in-laws. They brought him to Texas w/ them. He laid his loose change on my kitchen counter. It was discolored from the salt water. After studying it for several days, I put it in the plate at church.

My parents have a blue roof. My brother still can't go home to Long Beach - although his home is relatively undamaged.

Please don't stop doing what you are doing. It is urgently VITAL for the world to know that this is so far from over. I know this task is exhausting & is taking it's toll on you. What we need people to understand is that you & your angst are representative of a THOUSANDS of people on the Gulf Coast.
my deepest gratitude...
be well - as well as you can...

9:35 AM  
Blogger Blue Dog Art said...

I can't even begin to understand what you and the people of the Gulf Coast have been through, much less how bad it continues to be. Thank you for this blog. Take care of yourselves and your people as best as you can. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

9:38 AM  
Blogger matty said...

Thank you so much for posting, and not keeping it to yourself. We truly value your words and reporting. I know that may be little comfort but we do appreciate reading and having you open our eyes. Best,
matty

9:43 AM  
Blogger Trisha said...

Monetary aid is on the way. In time, everything will not be back to normal, but hopefully will be back the way it should be.

Probably a little vague - I have a bit more of an explaination in my blog in the "Hurricane Disasters" pre-post...

Best of luck to you. Please, do take the time to stop and smell the flowers. They may take flight for a while, but they will always return.

2:07 PM  
Blogger judypatooote said...

Thanks for taking the time to post what is going on, and your pictures are great.....I hope you feel better real soon....

3:24 PM  
Anonymous ebrownlyle said...

You speak so eloquently of the realities of life on the Gulf Coast post-Katrina. I am a Louisiana resident who has spent may happy days during the last four years at LaFrance Marina in the Ansley-Heron Bay area near Waveland. It breaks my heart to see the destruction left by Katrina and to know the toll it has taken on my friends in the area, many of whom have lost everything. Keep up the good work. The world needs to know people from places other than New Orleans are suffering greatly.

6:03 PM  
Anonymous FuturisticPlans said...

I went home to Hancock County this past weekend for the first time since before the storm. This post echoed my feelings then. I think you guys are doing a great job not only recording and reporting this disaster, but speaking for everyone else who calls the Gulf Coast home.

6:52 PM  
Blogger R2K said...

Let it all out man.


R2000

8:00 PM  
Blogger JC said...

I come here to check in every day although I don't know that I have made a comment as yet. I am sure there are many more people like me that are out here reading your words and about your experiences. My son is there and is finally getting to the point of at least existing. You are in some small way a link that I have with him as weird as that sounds. You have given me a lot more information than he would as he doesn't want to worry me and we have short phone conversations (now that his phone works again)
I think that it was just a matter of time for some of the emotional aspect of this to start taking a toll. Be extra careful of yourself and don't be afriad to baby yourself a bit for a while. You need that after everything that you have been through. There is along road ahead I am afraid. You will need your strength, so must take good care of yourself.

11:26 PM  
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