Katrina: Morenci volunteers head south

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

Some people were puzzled when Morenci Middle School principal Kay Johnson mentioned that she was heading south to Mississippi again to work on hurricane relief projects.

After all, 16 months have passed since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf.

That’s true, she says, it’s been well over a year since the enormous storm devastated the area, but that doesn’t mean things are back to normal.

katrina.again The city of Pass Christian, Miss., where Kay has visited four times now with colleagues Jim Petry and Renae Schaffner, was once a thriving community of 7,000 people.

Sixteen months later, fewer than half the residents have been able to return. Most businesses remain closed. The vast majority of the houses are gone. Large piles of rubble remain to be collected.

“Twelve percent of the houses were rebuildable,” Kay said. “Eighty-eighty percent are either on the ground or in a landfill. Or else they just washed away.”

City hall and the police station are now located in a trailer. The library is in a pole barn. There’s a hardware store and gas station in operation.

Home Depot operates out of a shed to take orders.

There are a couple of “restaurants,” if that’s what you want to call them.

There’s a Domino’s Pizza that operates out of a concession stand type of trailer and a tamale stand, says John Martinez, who made the trip for the first time.

The middle school’s veteran volunteers see some progress since their first visit in December 2005, but that wasn’t obvious to John.

“I was surprised by how much damage is still there after all this time,” he said. “There’s a section where the houses have been gutted, but everything is still at the curbside. There are streets you can’t even go down.”

John has seen damage from severe wind here in Michigan, even as bad as roofs torn off, but this is different.

“This is just totally wiped out.”

Helping out

John, Jim and another rookie, Nate Austin of rural Hudson, built a deck at a house to support a washer and dryer.

Kay, Renae and second-time visitor Emily Austin assembled a metal shed to house the laundry equipment.

The crew also removed drywall that was either moldy or damaged and installed a window for a woman who has had a tarp instead of glass ever since the storm passed through.

“She was told many times someone would be over to help her,” John said, “but it’s been 16 months.”

That job proved to be a challenge since the window she was given was too big for the framing. The men scavenged around for material and got the job done, although it wasn’t quite what they wanted.

“There’s a lot of jerry-rigging that goes on down there,” John said, “and there’s so much to do.”

He was impressed with the residents’ attitudes.

“They’ve lost so much but they’re still upbeat,” he said. “Everything is wiped out, but they still have hope.”

John said it was a very rewarding experience.

“People really appreciate having you go down and volunteer,” he said.

He figures he might make the trip again a year from now.

Kay expects to make a return trip this summer. With the response shown by Pass Christian residents, it’s difficult not to return.

“This was one of the better trips we’ve had,” she said. “People were so excited to get our help and so thankful.”

    – Jan. 10, 2007
  • Front.train
    WRECKAGE—Morenci Fire Department member Taylor Schisler walks past the smoking wreckage of a semi-truck tractor on the north side of the Norfolk and Southern Railroad tracks on Ranger Highway. The truck trailer was on the south side of the tracks
  • Front.sculpta
    SCULPTORS—Morenci third grade students Emersyn Thompson (left) and Marissa Lawrence turn spaghetti sticks into mini sculptures Friday during a class visit to Stair District Library. All Morenci Elementary School classes recently visited the library to experience the creative construction toys purchased through the “Sculptamania!” project, funded by a Disney Curiosity Creates grant. The grant is administered by the Association for Library Services to Children, a division of the American Library Association.
  • Funcolor
    LEONIE LEAHY was one of three local hair stylists who volunteered time Friday at the Morenci PTO Fun Night. Her customer, Aubrey Sandusky, looks up at her mother while her hair takes on a perfect match to her outfit. Leahy said she had a great time at the event—nothing but happy clients.
  • Shadow.salon
    LEARNING THE ROPES—Kristy Castillo (left), co-owner of Mane Street Salon, works with Kendal Kuhn as Sierra Orner takes a phone call. The two Morenci Area High School juniors spent Friday at the salon as part of a job shadowing experience.
  • KayseInField
    IN THE FIELD—2004 Morenci graduate Kayse Onweller works in a test plot of wheat in Texas. She’s part of Bayer CropScience’s North American wheat breeding program based in Nebraska, where she completed post-graduate work in plant breeding and genetics.
  • Front.winner
    REFEREE Camden Miller raises the hand of Morenci Jr. Dawgs wrestler Ryder Ryan as his opponent leaves the mat in disappointment. Morenci’s youth wrestling program served as host for a tournament Saturday morning to raise money for the club. Additional photos are on the back page.
  • Front.bank.2
    SHERWOOD STATE Bank opened its Fayette office at a grand opening Friday morning, drawing a large crowd to view the renovated building. Above, Burt Blue talks to teller Cindy Funk, while his wife, Jackie, looks around the new office. The Blues missed the opening and took a quick tour on Tuesday. Few traces remain of the former grocery store and theater, however, part of the original brick wall still shows in the hallway leading to the back of the building. The drive-through window should be ready for customers later in the month.
  • Front.make.three
    FROM THE LEFT, Landon Wilkins, Ryan White and Logan Blaker try out their artistic skills Saturday afternoon at the Morenci PTO’s first Date to Create event. More than 50 people showed up to create decorated planks of wood to hang from rope. The event served as a fund-raiser for miscellaneous PTO projects. Additional photos are on the back of this week’s Observer.

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