By Msgr. Elvin Sunds
When Katrina hit Jackson we lost power for a couple of days. We also lost contact with much of the outside world since we did not have access to television. However, when the electricity was restored we were glued to the television watching accounts of the devastation together with some houseguests from New Orleans.
We saw the devastation on the Mississippi Coast. We also watched the terrible flooding and human suffering when the levees collapsed in New Orleans. We watched the same scenes of devastation over and over again. We were like someone who has experienced a horrific tragedy.
He has to tell the story over and over again before his mind can accept the reality of the event. It was like that with us, we watched over and over again until our minds could accept the reality of the complete devastation of Katrina. We our minds and emotions were numbed.
I remember driving to the Mississippi coast shortly after the storm with Linda Raff, then director of Catholic Charities. We were meeting with officials of the Diocese of Biloxi and Catholic Social Services to see how the Diocese of Jackson, Catholic Charities and the people of our diocese might help. The devastation was unbelievable.
The areas closest to the beach reminded me of pictures of Hiroshima after the atomic bomb. Little was left standing. There were slabs and small piles of rubble where houses used to stand. The few trees that were left were stripped of leaves and limbs. They were mere skeletons of what they used to be. As you went inland from the beach you were confronted with huge piles of rubble – trees, homes, boats, furniture, personal belongings, etc. swept by the storm surge into piles 30 feet or higher.
However, what was most memorable about Katrina was not the devastation but the tremendous response of so many people from within Mississippi and from all over the country. Catholic Charities in Jackson almost immediately began receiving relief supplies for the survivors. Truckloads of supplies were arriving from all over the country.
Working with the Biloxi diocese and Catholic Social Services, distribution centers were set up in local parishes there on the coast. Catholic Charities directed truckload after truckload of relief supplies to the distribution centers. Warehouse space was donated in Jackson because supplies were coming in faster than they could be delivered.
Moreover, as soon as it was safe, volunteer work crews came to the coast from parishes in the Jackson diocese and from all over the country. There was a tremendous outpouring of compassion and support.
Hurricane Katrina was a devastating tragedy from which people are still struggling to recover. However, if there is a blessing it is in seeing people working together, helping each other and so generously giving of themselves. Katrina brought out what is best and noblest in us – our capacity to love selflessly and to compassionately help each other. Let us not wait for another tragedy before we bring out the best in us again.
(Msgr. Elvin Sunds was the Vicar General for the Diocese of Jackson in 2005. He is now sacramental minister at Jackson St. Therese Parish.)
(Photos by Fabvienen Taylor)