Today marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the massive storm that brought massive change. It changed the landscape of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, leaving much of it nothing but piles of debris. It changed the lives of tens of thousands of people, rendering many homeless and dispersed. It even changed the name of the area between the Pearl River and Mobile Bay. It became known as the “Landmass between New Orleans and Mobile.”

With the anniversary has come much reminiscing, many television specials and even a presidential visit…to New Orleans. With all the hoopla, who wants to read yet another story about a hurricane from ten years ago? Well, my story is a very interesting one because it involves the work of a few true Southerners who made a huge difference in the lives of many Mississippians. The one benefit of the disastrous aftermath of Katrina was getting to find out who the true friends were. It was quite a surprise. Many of the folks I had counted as close friends barely showed any concern, while several people I knew only from my involvement in Southern activism turned out to be as close as family. Three men in particular were heroes and became endeared to many locals residing in Stone County, Mississippi. Their story below was written and posted online immediately after getting satellite Internet restored via generator a couple weeks after the storm hit. I have added an appendix with some additional notes to close out this article.

PART ONE – 2005
YOU TOOK ME BY SURPRISE

Hurricane warnings are a common seasonal event in South Mississippi. Since returning home to Mississippi in 1984, I have weathered numerous Tropical Storms and close hurricanes, as well as direct hits by Hurricanes Elena and Georges. In the last two seasons we had three hurricane warnings before Hurricane Katrina. All three storms took a North-Easterly turn before coming ashore and slammed into Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. We prepared for all three, but only felt a slight “brush” from one of them.

As our family celebrated my seven year old’s birthday on Saturday, August 27, the prediction was for a Category 2 storm with a track bringing it onshore West of New Orleans. We once again made our preparations and went to bed only slightly concerned about the threat of a 115 mph storm. However, we awoke Sunday morning to a Category 5 hurricane with sustained winds of 175 mph and gusts over 200 mph. This had become a totally different storm and we had no time to make further preparations, save a few minor things (as if one could actually prepare for a storm of that magnitude).
As everyone knows by now, the storm took a North-Easterly turn as it started to make landfall and slammed directly into South Mississippi, rather than Louisiana. This storm literally took folks here by surprise.

RIDIN’ THE STORM OUT WAITIN’ FOR THE FALLOUT

Our Refuge from the Storm

Our Refuge from the Storm

We started experiencing hurricane force winds early Monday morning and they continued for over 12 hours. Those familiar with my property know of the 30′ x 40′ metal building which serves as our local Presbyterian church. We felt fairly secure in making the building our shelter due to the stout 12″ x 12″ corner posts and strong framing.

As the storm intensified, we watched the destruction out of the side windows. The wind began felling trees and wreaking havoc everywhere. The first structure to go was my barn which suffered near-total destruction. When the winds began to tear the roof off of my office next door, I ran out with a roll of trash bags and began to cover my computers and office equipment. The whole building was creaking and moving, and the roof was literally coming off. Rain began to make its way in as well. While my office suffered extensive damage, I was happy to find most of my equipment made it through just fine.

Katrina destroyed small shed

Shed with survival gear

The next structure to go was my 8′ x 16′ storage shed. Normally, I would not be so concerned about a shed, but this is where all of my camping/survival gear was stored. It was a fairly stout shed but the winds blew it to pieces. This proved to be a tough break for us as my propane cooking gear, Dutch oven gear, kerosene/propane lanterns, charcoal…all of my important post-hurricane goods were in the shed. We later managed to salvage most of the cooking gear.

As for my beautiful tree-filled property, fallen trees now littered the property everywhere. We lost in the neighborhood of 40% of the mature trees. All but one of the beautiful pines that lined the ponds went down. By the grace of God, NONE fell on any of my structures.

As for the “storm shelter,” the wind began peeling back the roof and rain was entering in. During the height of the storm we had to barricade the front door with everything heavy we could find. It wasn’t enough. To keep the door and wall from blowing in, for two hours, four of us had to literally brace ourselves and try to hold the structure back. The door/wall was giving 12″ back and forth between gusts. We thought it would blow in any minute. Again, by the grace of God, we were spared from danger.

Before dark we were able to walk out and view the damage. It was like a war zone. We had watched the progress of the storm by radar on a battery-operated television. Being in the Western part of Stone County, we took a direct hit from the eye wall. Not only that, the storm slowed its forward progress as it came ashore and we received an extra-long lashing.

THE ANSWER MY FRIEND IS BLOWIN’ IN THE WIND

My parents live in a mobile home next door to us. They sustained light damage compared to most mobile homes in the area. Both my father and I own generators and keep them maintained every year in preparation for storms. After Katrina began to move upstate we fired up the generators in an attempt to save the large amount of meat and vegetables in the freezers.

The day after the storm both generators quit running. I was able to jury-rig one generator but the repair only lasted a few hours. We were in need of spare parts which were now impossible to procure. We soon lost all of the frozen food. We had planned to cook a little bit of it each day until the power was restored. During Hurricane Georges a few years back, we fried shrimp, grilled hamburgers and wondered how the “rich folks” were fairin’. We were only out of electricity a week and a half during that “rather mild” blow. We were immediately told 6-8 weeks for this storm (we are in a rural area distant from substations and trunk lines).

Working on hand pump

Working on hand pump

Water was another concern. We had purchased a couple of cases of drinking water but that would only last about four days in the 110 degree heat index sun. Of course, we were now without generator to run the powered well. The good news is, six years ago I had a shallow well drilled and installed a hand pump. If you don’t use them frequently they dry rot, so I have spare leathers on hand in case of a storm. So I took the pump apart, made the repairs and the water flowed. Unfortunately the good news lasted only about ten minutes when the diaphragm came to pieces. We were now once again without water.

By Wednesday things looked pretty desperate. With electricity absent for two months – with no stores or gas stations open – with absolutely no communication with the “outside world,” we became very concerned. However, I did have a full tank of gas. So, my father and I made the decision to drive into Alabama and look for a generator and fuel. The further we drove into Alabama, the worse the news got. There was no fuel to be found anywhere. Reports coming from the North and East indicated no fuel was available even in Montgomery. We knew we could drive until we had half a tank left and so we continued until all hope was gone, then returned home. We had stopped at nearly every exit looking for gas, and we would talk with travelers along the way. Not only did they tell us there was no fuel available upstate, but several told us there were no generators between there and Atlanta. We were willing to drive to Atlanta, if necessary, to secure a generator…but there was not enough fuel available to get us there. Having a cell phone signal, we decided to send out a call for help. Several of you all have asked why I didn’t call you, in particular, for help. The truth is I didn’t have many numbers entered into my cell phone directory and most of y’all were at work anyway. I did have phone numbers for two good friends, Ellen Williams of Leroy, Alabama and Dewey Barber of Dixie Outfitters fame in Odum, Georgia.

I called both Ellen and Dewey and asked if an email could be sent to their mailing lists requesting one of my friends out there to bring a generator and some fuel. I felt certain one of the old FreeMississippi.org members would be on the receiving end of an email, and come to our rescue. With four children, things continued to grow worse. We were not alone either; things were bad-to-critical all around us.

HELP, I NEED SOMEBODY

Dennis Wheeler to the Rescue

Dennis Wheeler to the Rescue

I was awakened at 4:00 am Friday morning with the message that “the cavalry had arrived.” Indeed! My good friend, Dennis Wheeler of Greenville, South Carolina had received the S.O.S., dropped what he was doing, rented a U-Haul trailer, diligently sought out the elusive commodity we so desperately needed (a 7000 Watt Honda generator – he couldn’t have done better!), purchased two 55-gallon drums and filled them, and picked up some ice/water/food. He rode all night long from South Carolina nervously carrying goods that people were being shot at over. Dennis literally saved the day and things immediately began to turn around for us. His sacrifice also benefited folks all around us. We could now supply water and ice-cold well-water showers to others in our little community.

NOTE: A lot of groups and organizations have tried to take credit for this relief effort. The claims are all FALSE and make me nauseous to think about. What kind of person would do something like this – especially at such a critical time? Shame, Shame! You folks deserve to spend eternity with Abraham Lincoln! The truth from the horse’s mouth is that Dennis purchased all of these items on his own with some financial assistance from Robert Lloyd and Dan Gonzales of Florida.

My good friend Thomas Moore (who recently published the book, Hunt for Confederate Gold) also received the S.O.S. Being in Virginia he did not know how to practically get any goods to us. Tom contacted Michael Hill, of the League of the South, and asked if there was a way to get a generator and fuel to us. He followed up by sending a large donation to cover the purchase and travel expenses. Michael in turn got David Gletty of the Orlando LOS involved. He and two compatriots, arrived on the scene with a 5250 Watt generator and about 20 gallons of fuel. They would have left more fuel but needed a large quantity to get them back home. There was literally no gas for thousands of square miles out from “Ground Zero.” The fellas also left us some food and water and took my 5000 Watt generator back with them to be repaired. We later found out David Gletty was an FBI informant investigating the LOS from the inside. We all know they hire real moral folks these days. The man ended up stealing my generator when the need in our community was so desperate.

HOW DO YOU SPELL RELIEF?

Unloading the first truck

Unloading the first truck

The next help to arrive came from Ft. Myers, Florida and it came in like the Titanic. Robert Lloyd showed up late Saturday (Day 6) with an 18-wheeler. In the 50′ trailer was 50,000 lbs. of water, food and supplies. At 2:00 am, Dan Gonzales of West Palm Beach, Florida arrived with another 50′ trailer carrying an additional 40,000 lbs. of goods. This was enough to supply the entire Northwest corner of Stone County, known locally as the Magnolia Community. Robert and Dan had collected all this in 36 hours and drove all day and night to get it here from South Florida. They also brought 110 gallons of diesel and 220 gallons of gasoline, both worth their weight in gold. The goods had been collected up from various businesses and individual donors, and it all happened at lightning speed.

These two men, private citizens, achieved much more than the entire federal government could pull together for our community. The only assistance our community had received beforehand was a few cases of water and 26 cases of MREs. When we began distributing the food on Sunday, there were people in our area who had eaten nothing for 7 days. Robert and Dan, along with all the good people of Florida who contributed, had saved the day. Our community is grateful beyond words for the kindness of the Floridian donors and unbelievable legwork by two everyday Southern men.

WOULD YOU TAKE CANDY FROM A BABY OR A NICKEL FROM A BLIND MAN?

Katrina relief goods

Katrina relief goods

Black clouds have silver linings and silver linings have black clouds. The federal government in all its bureaucracy and inabilities had not responded quickly enough to render assistance immediately after the storm. Both the president and FEMA were taking a lot of flack for not getting the National Guard in to help clear roads and bring in food and water. The truth is, true Southrons have little use for all that. We like to take care of our own and let the Feds deal with the slums in New Orleans. The winds had barely died when the smell of diesel, and the sound of chain saws, started to fill the air as men jumped on their tractors, dozers and backhoes to move tree trunks, as others sawed off large branches. At sunrise you could not walk down my mile and half road. Despite the enormity of the project, by sunset we had one lane of asphalt the whole way.

When Robert Lloyd arrived with the first shipment, the driver turned onto my road and parked. The plan was to unload the entire truck into my pasture, which would have left the cargo exposed to the weather. I got with a local leader in our community, John Altman, and we made the decision to unload the goods at the Magnolia Volunteer Fire Department. We rounded up over forty volunteers to unload the trucks, as we could not locate a forklift anywhere in the vicinity. We had barely begun to unload the first truck when two FEMA agents showed up and told me to stop. They informed me that I was to take the trucks to the Stone County Emergency Management Office in Wiggins where they would take control of it. I told them that wasn’t going to happen. I showed them the Bill of Lading was in my name. I said, “I own these goods and I am donating them to the people of Stone County.” They told me they had the power under the Emergency Powers Act to confiscate anything they wanted to. I let them know we didn’t care about all that, and that such laws didn’t have any meaning to hungry people.

One of the FEMA agents

One of the FEMA agents

I knew what FEMA was up to. They had been slow to respond and the only assistance that had been provided during the first week were in places like New Orleans and Biloxi…in front of camera crews. Here in the country, we had not seen them. When I became firm with the agents and let them know we were not stopping, they left. About an hour later, they show up with more agents and the person who was apparently in charge of our county. They parked across the street and talked for some time until one of the agents was sent over to discuss the matter with me. I told him we were unloading this truck and the one after it. I let him know we setting up a system to distribute the food and we had no need for them whatsoever. I told him to go back across the street and tell the boss to return to his office, take out his map and a big magic marker, draw a big “X” on the Northwest corner of the county and stay away from us.

They all left and we continued unloading the trucks. John Altman took control of the distribution while I took Robert, Dan and the truck driver back to my house to feed them. Shortly thereafter, John came over and told me FEMA had sent two deputies over in riot gear armed with AR-15s to attempt once more to confiscate the goods. The 80-year old Mr. Altman looked right at them at said, “They only sent two of you, it will take more than that!” They had complained that our men at the VFD were armed. John told them it was necessary to protect the food. They also said there were rumors we were turning away anyone who did not live in the community. This was merely a fabricated excuse, as we never turned anyone away. FEMA ended up letting us alone, but assigned two agents to sit watch over us at the VFD for several days.

HE AIN’T HEAVY, HE’S MY BROTHER

FreeMississippi.org to the rescue

FreeMississippi.org to the rescue

After spending the morning unloading 90,000 lbs. of goods, the afternoon brought us a very pleasant surprise. A convoy arrived with several fellas that were key FreeMississippi.org members during the Mississippi flag fight, including Quentin Laymon (our North Mississippi Coordinator) and Scott Forsyth (our Lafayette County Coordinator). They pulled trailers with BBQ grills, water, ice and food to feed 150 people. I knew we could depend on these good folks to bring some relief to our area. Since we had food to eat, we sent them further South to help others.

All of this assistance came from the work of a small handful of everyday Southern men who wanted to make a difference. The spark of passion within them carried over to the dozens of others they inspired to assist. I always hear people ask, “What can one man do?” Look at Robert Lloyd, Dan Gonzales, Dennis Wheeler, John Altman, and the others. You can only achieve great things in life if you take the initiative to attempt great things in life. It’s like the Mississippi State Flag fight that originally brought many of us together. FreeMississippi.org was a small group of dedicated everyday Mississippians. We did not have experience in political activism. It would have been easy to stay at home, cuss and complain like everyone else….and do nothing. Yet we had the passion and commitment, and we achieved what everyone thought to be impossible. Look at Robert and Dan. By the time all the food was distributed, the tireless work of two men fed half of my county, one of the six hardest hit in Mississippi. Some men talk about great endeavors, only a few achieve them. Prayers are great, but feed nobody. Prayers AND action can turn the world upside down.

Unloading at Perkinston

Unloading at Perkinston

Well, there were more prayers and more action to follow. The next Saturday saw another 90,000 pounds of food, water, clothing, diapers and medicine arrive from Florida through the work of Robert and Dan. The Magnolia community was faring well, so I contacted one of the county supervisors to see if we could unload goods at the fire station on Projects Road. He said there was no way we could unload there because they had no equipment. I told him we had unloaded the trucks by hand in the Magnolia community. He insisted they couldn’t take because he could not get it unloaded. Now, here’s the rub. The Clarion-Ledger newspaper had sent a reporter to interview me because there was a rumor we were turning away black people from getting food. As already mentioned, no one was forbidden to get a share of the goods. Now, this supervisor was black, and the Projects Road Fire Station is in the black community. They were being offered 90,000 pounds of FREE goods but they were too lazy to accept it. I would have to unload it, unbox it, deliver it to the home, open the can, cook it and put it on the plate. The world is messed up.

We had these two truckloads and had to deliver them somewhere. I contacted the Perkinston VFD in the Southwest part of the county and they were happy to take the cargo. When we arrived there were already desperate people willing to help and needing what was on the trucks. Someone even came from the college next door with a forklift and made the operation quick and easy.

Todd Lange & Sons

Todd Lange & Sons

Besides, the above-mentioned men, we had others bring in goods or travel down to help. One of our church members was from Michigan. His parents brought in a large truck of goods gathered by his church. We set these up in our church building and my parents broke them down into “care packages” which they personally delivered to people who could not travel to the VFD to get food. Also, my friend Todd Lange drove all the way from North Indiana, with some of his children, to bring loaner chain saws and to help remove some of my fallen trees. Mike Broadwell of Tennessee sent two new chain saws. Bruce Cunningham of Texas sent an important shipment of tarps. There were several cash donations sent in from FreeMississippi.org and FreeSouth.org members. I have provided a list in the appendix.

In closing, words can’t express the gratitude of the Mississippians who were the recipients of all this help. The need was great and it was completely met…not by the federal government…but by Southern men and women who had not lost their souls to this sickened modern world. Thank God for you all! You have done something you should be proud of for the rest of your lives. You have demonstrated the power of determination and will always be an inspiration to us all.

UPDATE AUGUST 29, 2015

These ten years have flown by fast. Dennis Wheeler passed away in his sleep not long after Katrina. My children and I made the trip to South Carolina to attend his funeral. His family did not know us and was surprised that we would drive so far to be there. I let them all know just how much of a hero Dennis was to me. I lost contact with Dan but would really like to hear from him. Robert Lloyd’s health was deteriorating last time we spoke. I haven’t heard from him in a while.

The Knights of Malta flew one of their leaders from London to bestow medals on the individuals whom they considered as contributing greatly to the humanitarian efforts following Katrina. The following people received medals: John and Sue Altman, John Cripps, Robert Lloyd and Dan Gonzales.

Much has changed in ten years. The Coast is rebuilt, though there are still many empty lots along the beach. Our church is no more. Everyone moved out of the area seeking jobs and I’m the only one left. I have a few other interesting stories not included in the previously published article above. I might have to jot some of them down and add as an additional appendix, or new article.

Keep one eye to the Gulf…it’s been ten years now and we are statistically due for another hurricane. I hate to think what help South Mississippi would receive if another Katrina hit today?

APPENDIX ONE

RELIEF DONATIONS FROM FRIENDS THAT BENEFITED STONE COUNTY MISSISSIPPI
FOOD / WATER /SUPPLY SHIPMENTS

FLORIDA
Robert Lloyd (approx. 170,000 lbs. of food, water and supplies)
Dan Gonzales (approx. 170,000 lbs. of food, water and supplies)
THE GOOD PEOPLE OF SOUTH FLORIDA WHO HELPED MAKE THE ABOVE POSSIBLE

INDIANA
Todd Lange (Important Commodities)
Scott Lange (Loan of Chainsaw)
Jack Lange (Loan of Chainsaw)
Jay Malizia (Loan of Chainsaw)
Dan Golwitzer (Loan of Chainsaw)
Mike Fausset (Loan of Chainsaw plus lots of oil)

MICHIGAN
Gordy Harmon (trailerload of food and supplies)

MISSISSIPPI
Quentin Laymon
Scott Forsyth
Shawn McTamany
David & Susan Counce
Bill & Claire Dennison
Gerry and Friends (Estes Family)
SOUTH CAROLINA
Dennis Wheeler (Generator, fuel, and supplies)

CASH DONATIONS

ALABAMA
Herman & Ellen Williams
Stephen Bauer
Allen Brown Family
Clifton Buchanan Family

FLORIDA
Harry Seabrook Family (+ homemade cookies – yum!)

GEORGIA
Terry Diggs / Michele Hamlin
Jack Kelly / Janice Kelly

INDIANA
Independent Baptist Church

MISSISSIPPI
Mike Webb
Deane Hoekstra Family

SOUTH CAROLINA
James Leyden

TENNESSEE
Mike Broadwell (Chain Saws)

TEXAS
Rev. Frederick Padgett
Bruce Cunningham Family (also sent important shipment of tarps)
Daniel New Family
Hap & Priscilla Squires
Ken Masat Family

VIRGINIA
Thomas G. Moore
Charles Byrd

OKINAWA
Brad Hedbloom