Gulfport/SeaBee Base/DR #307 farewell

Today was my last day here. Tomorrow I fly back to NYC. This is a little photo essay of my home for the last three weeks here in Mississippi:

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[the front entrance to our warehouse/barracks, with one of the mobile sink/washing stations]
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Survival Stories

Eagle Point Roof
The first week I was here I rode an ERV through Eagle Point, a wealthy community with large estates and homes. The storm surge really whomped the area and many of the homes were severely damaged, along with lots of trees down and cars destroyed. An Austrian man from that area invited us out of the ERV to tour his property and hear his story.

His yard looked pretty good, all things considered, which he explained by saying that he had spent all his time since the storm cleaning up. (In typical Germanic fashion, he was making order out of chaos. And was quite disparaging of the continuing state of disrepair of his neighbors’ yards.) He showed us a small pile of possessions outside his bungalow: a table, a small dresser, a few metal plates. These were all that he was able to save after the storm went through.

The storm surge brought a 12-foot wall of water, which swept through his area, mowing down everything in its path. He had taken refuge in his house and was carried out through the windows, but was able to grab ahold of his roof to save himself. He used a tire which floated by to rescue one of his neighbors and bring her back to the “safety” of his roof.
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Convenience vs. Need

Image hosted by Photobucket.comThe last week or so we’ve been assessing our route to see how dire the need is. As the weeks have gone by since Katrina hit, people (at least in our area of Long Beach) have been starting to get their lives back in order. Electrical, gas, water, and phone lines are being re-established, and folks are getting their appliances working again. As that starts to happen, they need us less and less.

We still serve just as many meals — if not more — but it’s turning into convenience feeding rather than the life-or-death kind. Convenience feeding is something the Red Cross is willing to do for awhile, but we don’t want folks to get accustomed to it, as they need to regain their autonomy and ability to take care of themselves.
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Long Beach C

Image hosted by Photobucket.comAfter four different routes, I’ve settled into ERV 1166 on Long Beach C. We’re part of the five-ERV contingent which serves Long Beach, a working-class community adjacent to Gulfport. It’s on the other side of the tracks (literally) from the devastation on the beachfront, but still suffered a lot of destruction. There wasn’t much flooding, but many homes are badly damaged, with fallen trees, crushed porches, holes in roofs, etc. Some homes are abandoned, some have been condemned by the authorities, and many people are living in FEMA trailers or tents — often in their own front yards.

My driver Bill and I have been together on this route going on ten days or so. For some reason we have not been able to hold on to a second support person. It’s been kind of amazing how many different folks have passed through our ERV: Ron, Jen, Marty, David, Etta, Mark, Patty, and now Steven, whose last work day is Friday, so I’ll have at least one more person to train before my deployment is done. We’ve had people get sick, we’ve had folks on their last day, we’ve had people from HQ who wanted to ride on an ERV (she got car-sick riding around in the back)—we even had an a-hole who I requested get transferred off.
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Illicit Pix

My ERV excursions the last couple of days have led me through some amazingly devastated areas. I’ve even been able to take photos here and there. Here are a few:
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Touchdown

As we flew in over the Gulf I could see snatches of the devastation — some downed trees, blue tarps covering roofs, some piles of debris — but it wasn’t ’til we piled into the shuttle that the extent of the damage came into focus. At first, as we drove away from the airport, it was mainly boarded up store windows, piles of twisted metal and lumber, and some shattered billboards, but then we went into the restricted zone right along the beach.

The van driver warned us not to take pictures — officially frowned on by the Red Cross for sensitivity/privacy reasons — so I had to take it in with my eyes. It’s like a bomb hit the place. The road along the coast used to be lined with houses, hotels, and restaurants. Most of them are completely gone, right down to the foundations.

Some images: each street address we passed was marked with a spray-painted address and the residents’ family name. Some included messages like “all OK” or “we’ll be back.” The trees, which look like they were once majestic and beautiful, are just gnarled limbs, most of which are covered in wind-blown clothing. It’s an eerie sight, these grayish-brown trunks and branches dotted with colorful T-shirts and underwear. When we passed a river, I saw fishing boats and sailboats had been tossed around like toys. A couple of big boats were actually resting in a knot of tree branches, 20 feet off the ground. Awe-inspiring.

We got here just a little too late for orientation, so I’ll head “home,” which is the Navy SeaBee base in Gulfport. Then I gotta get up good & early for 8 AM orientation, where I’ll be assigned my duties for the next three weeks.

The rumor is that there are laundry services available.

Biloxi Blues

It’s official: I’m being deployed by the Red Cross. I got the call today that I’m being sent to Biloxi, Mississippi. As soon as I got the word, I called the R.C.’s travel agency to arrange my trip. Turns out they don’t have any flights to the region until Wednesday, so at 9 a.m. on October 12, I’ll be flying into Gulfport, which is close by.

I’ve been assigned to work in sheltering. I’m still hoping to work in (or drive) an ERV (Emergency Response Vehicle), but we’ll see what happens when I get there. I’ll be in Biloxi for three weeks, which means I’ll miss the rest of the baseball playoffs, the World Series, and worst of all, Sari’s birthday. The sacrifices one makes, eh?

This evening I went back to R.C. HQ to finish the paperwork. They gave me an official ID badge and a debit card with $900 on it ($150 to outfit myself before I go, and $250 per week for incidental expenses). I also got a really cool CamelBak drinkable backpack. You know, one of those things that’s filled with water and has a drinking tube. So in the next couple days I’ve gotta get the rest of the things I’ll need down there: a bedroll, lots of sunscreen, and all the other stuff thamesrhodes recommended.

So there you go, it’s really happening. I hope I’ll be able to post frequent updates, but I have doubts about the reliability of Internet service down there.