Upstate parishioners help Katrina victims in Mississippi

TAYLORS — In May of this year, Prince of Peace Church in Taylors designated St. Rose de Lima Church in Bay St. Louis, Miss., as a sister parish.

Eighteen parishioners from Prince of Peace, St. Mary and St. Mary Magdalene churches and one member of a Baptist church went to Bay St. Louis May 21-27 and worked with the parishioners to help rebuild homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Prince of Peace also supports the efforts at St. Rose with funds from its outreach tithe program. Patricia Stewart was one of the Prince of Peace volunteers who wrote a report for her parish to share information about the conditions in Bay St. Louis, the work of the volunteers and the strong spirit of the hurricane victims.

Stewart wrote that many residents evacuated and later came back to the remains of their homes. Now, 10 months later, most people who have returned live in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailers, equivalent to a two-bedroom camper.  Recovery has been slow; insurance issues and governmental red tape have hampered the process, Stewart said.

The volunteers camped at the parish school and office buildings. Accommodations were spartan; volunteers slept in sleeping bags on the floor and used an outdoor shower.

A crew of six installed sheet rock and taped and mudded drywall joints. Two of the volunteers worked with a roofing team. Another team gutted houses that needed repairs. A team of four built the framing and installed sub-flooring and sheathing for a 1500-square-foot house that had been ruined. One worker from the South Carolina group helped AmeriCorps volunteers replace a moldy ceiling.

For five days, two Prince of Peace volunteers were up at 5 a.m. to cook meals for 50 hungry workers who  started their days at 7 a.m.

“Every morning the troops went out to work sites to rebuild not only homes, but lives,” Stewart said. “The homeowners’ trailers were in the yard and they worked alongside the volunteers. The local people would come up to the volunteers and say, ‘Thank you for being here.’ ”

Stewart said that all one had to do was ask, “Do you live in a trailer?”and a story would pour out. Most had the same theme: evacuating from Bay St. Louis and coming back to a flooded home with no roof. FEMA trailers provided a place to stay,  but did not replace lost clothing, dishes, bedding and appliances. A laundromat trailer is available in town but is in constant use.

Not everyone evacuated, though. Stewart wrote about Annette, an 83-year-old woman who stayed in her home during the hurricane. Her roof blew away, and after the flood waters receded she couldn’t open her door. For five days she crawled in and out of a window until the police helped her get the door open. The roof has since been replaced with the help of insurance money and volunteers, but the house is still in disrepair. She, too, lives in a trailer.

Families cramped into a tiny space didn’t complain, Stewart said.

“These people lost everything. It sat in a pile in the front yard,” she wrote. “Naturally they wanted to get back into their own homes, but complaining was nonexistent.”

Stewart went on to say that Bay St. Louis is like a Third World country on American soil.

“People who go there often say, ‘It will change your life. You will never be the same again,’ ” she said. “This group found out that that is true. Most of them said they would go again and encourage their friends to go.”

To get involved in the Bay St. Louis relief effort, call Prince of Peace Church in Taylors at (864) 268-4352.