Editor's Note: This is a blog of sorts, the first story in a three-part mini-series from Newswatch staffer Kerry Corum, on her recent volunteer trip to the Gulf Coast.
We're constantly inundated with images of homes, cars and boats scattered like broken toys along the Gulf Coast. It's a tiring barrage of painful experiences reflected over and over in the media.
But the pictures are nothing compared to being there. I visited the Gulf last weekend. The smell is still in my clothes, the grit still found in corners of my now unpacked clothing, and the tears just moments from falling. I can't let it go. Those images will be with me my entire life, and here, I will share them with you through a three-part series including chilling pictures and stories of humanity in the midst of a devastated coastline.
A group comprised of Men of Promise, a Christian-based mission-focused group derived from Promise Keepers, and my church, Eastminster Presbyterian, conceived the idea of - instead of merely donating goods - using their able bodies to aid in the Katrina aftermath. So within moments of hearing about it, I signed on. Unsure of how much use I'd be, but willing to try anything and naturally curious, I packed a small backpack with clothes, bug spray, cameras, work gloves and a sleeping bag then met the group for our 5:00 PM Friday departure.
We loaded up trucks and a mini van, said a prayer, and drove towards the unknown, unfathomable damaged cities to our south. I can only tell you, all that media coverage did nothing to prepare me for what was to come.
I slept for a good part of the trip down, but as we got closer, something compelled me to stay awake and strain my eyes in the darkness to see what monster was coming. Somewhere in Alabama we started seeing downed trees, bent and mangled Interstate signs and battered gas station canopies with more frequency.
Just before dawn, we entered the city on Highway 49. Our sleepy eyes were greeted with what appeared to be a normal city - but spotted with buildings that were all but gone. Foundations stood next to buildings still fully intact, but littered with the former walls and enclosures - splintered and scattered in heaps on every corner. Piles of clothing, tent villages and relief sites seemed out of place for a city so alive, as the streets and highways began to awaken with early morning commuters.
Then we came to the intersection of Pass Road and 49. In the early morning haze, I could make out the yellow tape blocking our procession, just in front of a bank that loomed in the dark like a haunted house. Blackened holes in the place of windows, and the red-lettering now a nonsensical word, blown apart by Hurricane Katrina.
We turned and continued down Pass Road, the barrier to the littered beaches and ports of Mississippi, stopping at a church where a member of our group was married. This is where we would stay, patching holes in the roof of a soon-to-be haven for those displaced by Katrina's rage, and surrounded by the surreal nightmare of homes covered in live wires, split trees and the permeating smell of brine and death.