Biloxi, MS - Katrina clean up, day one

Karol Collymore

Last night I arrived in Biloxi to start a week-long volunteer journey to continue the rebuilding process after Hurricane Katrina with Hands on Greater Portland. I feel lucky; it's 75 degrees, sunny, and we just missed the rain. I wasn't sure what to expect as far as the volunteer dorm. I have some fear - ok obessive qualities - about the state of bathrooms, showers, and beds. They are fine, the bunk beds are fine and there are positive reminders all over the walls of just how many people have been through this building helping Biloxi move forward.

Today, my team - Dale, Chris, Bob, Carrie, Selena, Emily, Sara, and Brenden - spent about six hours scraping toxic black mold from the house in the picture. It seems when some insurance companies came through and gave the OK for folks to move back to their homes, they didn't factor in water damage clean up. Many homes now have to re-gutted, scraped, and put back together again, mostly with volunteer work. This process costs way more than most home owners can afford and they have been waiting over a year to have the work done. We wore masks, Tyvek suits with booties, and plastic gloves. If you think that sounds hot, imagine being in it all day. Lawrence, the home owner, stocked us with sodas, horseshoes for breaks, and good company. He was so grateful for the help, any help that I think it made us work a little faster.

Buttersquash_mac_cookies_010_2When I thought I wanted to blog about this experience on Blue O, I wasn't sure what political angle I would use to link it to Portland. Sure our group is from Portland (save Chris, my BFF from Jersey) and Portland is a city of do-gooders, but I wanted to make it politically relevant. From what I can tell so far, we are all liberals who think the government failed this area two years ago and isn't doing enough today to continue to fix what's broken. Perhaps more pertinent connections will reveal themselves in the coming days. But on a personal level, to see damage to this extent - and worse in many places - still, two years later is unreal. To see three and four story apartment buildings with water lines right under the roofs is disarming. There is still so much destruction, its hard to feel that our short week will matter. We've helped Lawrence today and who knows who we'll help tomorrow. But our work barely scratches the surface.

  • Andy Nelson (unverified)

    It matters, Karol, that all of you are down there. It may feel like your efforts are but a drop in the bucket. But everything you are doing matters and helps. On one hand, it's really a shame that the federal government has so botched this one that we've largely left restoration to groups of "do gooders" like all of you. On the other, it's awesome that volunteers are actually answering the call. You are reminding folks in the Gulf Coast -- and in Portland -- that they are not forgotten. I think that matters.

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    If you get a chance, go see Stan Tiner of the Biloxi Sun-Herald. He'll remember that guy from Reed College in Portland who organized a retrospective on the hurricane a year and a half ago in New Orleans. Ask him to see some of the headlines that they printed, and tell some of the stories about how important the paper was during those critical first weeks when all other media sources were offline.

  • Leo (unverified)


    Please keep writing. Please keep telling the real story from our communities in MS Gulf Coast. The casinos just made a record breaking revenue at about $111 million for September and no one is being held accountable.

    The Governor wants to divert $600 million remaining in our housing funds for a port project in Gulfport. Ask the people that you help if they agree with the Governor that the job is done. Thank you for coming out here.

  • Nancy Gilliland (unverified)

    Karol, I am Emily's Mother and Brenden's Mother-in-law. I am proud of your group and the help you are giving to those who so need it. The government is letting us down. It does not seem to be a democracy anymore. I hope your voices will be heard. Nancy

  • Randy2 (unverified)

    "There is still so much destruction, its hard to feel that our short week will matter."

    But it matters to Lawrence.

    Call me a foolish idealist, but I think the "butterfly effect" applies in situations like this.

    Good for you, Karol.


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