Editor's note: McDuffie Mirror Staff Writer Kristopher Wells spent five days accompanying a group of volunteers from Thomson First Baptist Church to Pascagoula, Miss.
PASCAGOULA, MISS. - Mary Bosworth was overwhelmed with change.
The house in Pascagoula, Miss., that she and her husband had lived in for 48 of their 63 years together took on four feet of water from the storm surge of Hurricane Katrina on Aug. 29.
David "Smokey" Kitchens pulls sheet rock nails from the studs inside a Pascagoula home. For more photos from Pascagoula, click here.
Photo by Kristopher Wells
The 80-year-old's clothes, photographs and furniture were all ruined by the salt water that the storm pushed more than a mile inland from the Gulf of Mexico. And she didn't know when she would ever be able to afford to replace her two Tiffany lamps.
Katrina had not only taken her home and belongings, it had disrupted her life. Mrs. Bosworth knew things would never be the same.
But thanks to the help of a few strangers from 500 miles away, she found out that the life she used to know was a lot closer than it had been in the month since the storm.
A crew of five men from Thomson First Baptist Church and one from Thomson First United Methodist Church spent three days in the south Mississippi heat tearing out wet, moldy sheet rock and restoring hope to victims of the most expensive natural disaster in American history.
For Mrs. Bosworth they were more than a blessing. The men that drove eight hours at their own cost to work on her house without expecting anything in return are people she will cherish for the rest of her life.
"They've got to have love in their hearts to do something like this," Mrs. Bosworth said. "There's so many people that would sit back and let the other fellow do it, and I'm so proud of them and happy that they came. I just wish there was some way I could repay them."
Mrs. Bosworth ignored the sweat and dirt as she hugged each member of the team last Thursday afternoon. They had finished the job they were sent to do, and had to move to the next house on the list provided by the First Baptist Church of Pascagoula.
The team, led by Two-State Construction Co-Owner Jay Poston, consisted of former Thomson High School Principal Bill Reese, funeral home director Keith Beggs, retired banker Harold Ward, cabinet maker and carpenter Danny Matthews and Two-State Vice-President David "Smokey" Kitchens. It was the third such team sent from a partnership between FBC Thomson and FBC Pascagoula.
For Mr. Beggs, the trip put many things in perspective.
Jay Poston sprays mold killer inside a home near Pascagoula Bay. For more photos from Pascagoula, click here.
Photo by Kristopher Wells
"It was a very humbling experience to realize how blessed we are to not be affected by a disaster like they have," he said. "We take too many things for granted."
The group left Thomson on Wednesday morning with a trailer-load full of food, drinks, toiletry items and suit cases to donate to the victims. After reaching Pascagoula, the team checked in at the church and ate supper provided by the Georgia Baptist Convention's disaster relief feeding team.
After sleeping in a packed Sunday School classroom, the group ate breakfast, and awaited the day's demolition assignment. Most of the work being done in the neighborhoods of Pascagoula is gutting the walls of houses down to the studs. The flood waters may have lasted just over an hour, but the sheet rock and insulation were instantly ruined and began to mold, leaving long-lasting health hazards.
Mrs. Bosworth's house was first for the McDuffie crew, just one of over 300 homes on the church's list yet to be gutted to above the water line. A huge pile of debris sat in front of Mrs. Bosworth's yard from work done since the storm. It was all part of a home that made it through the legendary Hurricane Camille in 1969, but wasn't so lucky with Katrina.
"This here, nothing was like this," she said. "Nobody would ever believe that we got this kind of stuff. If you could have come in here the day after ... honey, it smelled worse than any sewer you ever smelled."
One by one, the homeowners shook their heads in disbelief as they met with the crew from McDuffie County, still in shock at the storm's devastation. At this point they were used to the trash still hanging in the trees and the boats run aground in neighbors' yards. It was the personal heartache caused by the floodwaters that kept them flustered; it was the thought of having to deal with the storm's effects for years to come.
"We're working on our 64th (year of marriage)," Mrs. Bosworth said, "but this is taking a toll on it."
Stories of survival
Curtis Roeder will feel the storm's effects for some time as his house was completely gutted by the time the group from McDuffie County stopped by on Thursday afternoon. But he witnessed Katrina's wrath first-hand, choosing to stay and ride out the category four hurricane.
When the water started rising inside his house, he and his wife made their way into the attic. When it was chest-deep, he remembered medicine downstairs that he would soon be needing. Sloshing through the flooded house he glanced outside and saw white caps where the street should have been.
Members of the team took a break from hauling pieces of Mr. Roeder's fence from where they had floated to listen to him tell his harrowing story of survival. It sounded to them like something they would see in a movie. For Mr. Roeder it was all too real, and it was something he said he will never face again.
The team helped five homeowners in all, each of which was glad to share stories. The talk of hurricane damage never got old with the group because it was something so horrible they couldn't imagine living through, yet it was what brought them together to lend a hand so far away from home.
Keith Beggs (right) and Danny Matthews unload boxes of supplies just west of Pascagoula, Miss. to help those still struggling after Hurricane Katrina came through more than a month ago. For more photos from Pascagoula, click here.
Photo by Kristopher Wells
For Mr. Matthews, it wasn't the broad picture he considered important. Helping one family at a time was success enough.
"I thought we accomplished a lot," he said. "Of course we can't go down there and solve all the problems, but for the people we helped, we helped them a lot. We didn't make a big impact on the whole area, but we impacted those people's lives a lot."
Mr. Kitchens echoed those thoughts of making a difference in small increments.
"We didn't accomplish a lot for the state of Mississippi, but did a lot for each individual that we worked for," he said. "...I wanted to do something, and I figured ever how small it was that this would be my opportunity to do it."
Kenneth Miller was thankful that a group had come to do something small to his house. He had moved to another neighborhood three years ago, but his son and grandchildren still lived in his former home that was inundated by six feet of water and was still covered by a blue tarp roof.
With debris from a shipyard nearly a half-mile away still covering his back yard, Mr. Miller left his home in the hands of the McDuffie crew. He couldn't bear to watch as they threw everything he owned onto the growing mountain of trash in his front yard.
"Everything in the house is going to have to come out. You can see it's beginning to rot," he said. "There's no need in trying to save anything."
Part of the process
Mr. Miller had been working in the house since the storm came through. His family had been unable to help because they all live in the same area and had their own flooded homes to attend to.
That's where the volunteers from McDuffie County came in. They started on Mr. Miller's house Friday afternoon, taking down paneling, sheet rock, cabinets, tile, showers and toilets.
Early Saturday afternoon, after the house was gutted from floor to ceiling, the group sprayed a Clorox mixture on the studs to kill the mold. The wood was left to dry, and the next group of volunteers will come in and begin hanging dry wall.
It was the experience of helping people like Mr. Miller that McDuffie resident Bill Reese will take with him. The devastation he saw on television prompted him to pack his tool belt and take off for Mississippi.
"We can very easily put ourselves in the same position, and looking at it, it's not a position I'd want to be in," Mr. Reese said. "And I'd want some help."
For Harold Ward, just showing up to help in the devastated area was a step above and beyond what most people do after disasters on the scale of Katrina.
"It's easy in our society to throw money at problems. It's easy to write a check," he said. "Not that it's not satisfying, but when you see people like that, the haves and the have-nots are both affected by this tragedy. Some things, no amount of money can really fix them, you just need help."
On Saturday evening the team reloaded the church's trailer with donated tools from Culpepper Lumber and CRS to get ready for the next team that will make its way to Pascagoula. They then set out for the next small town just to the west where they unloaded the donated goods for a relief organization that spends each day stacking supplies in the car trunks of 1,100 hurricane victims.
Sunday morning came and the ride home ensued. The group would no longer be sharing in fellowship with each other at the end of the day, but the memories of coming to the aid of people like Mr. Miller, Mr. Roeder and Mrs. Bosworth will be something the group will share for a lifetime.
And helping their fellow man in his time of need is something Matthew 6:19-22 has taught them will be treasure stored up for them in Heaven.