HJ/EDEnterprise Dispatch, Jan. 9, 2006

Many locals volunteered in hurricane relief

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

Leaving behind a trailer full of tools and chainsaws, Al Nagel of Dassel and 31 other volunteers returned from their mission trip to Waveland, Miss., to help rebuild a hurricane-devastated community.

Plans are in the making for another mission trip for four weeks during Feb. and March in one-week intervals to include spring break.

Nagel and his team are hoping to bring two Bobcats along with a fleet of people and donations for two trailers.

The trip was a coastal relief effort which began with Nagel’s son and colleagues from Crown College and it grew from there.

Nagel wanted to help in some way, so he began to plan what became a mission trip and collecting donations throughout the communities of Dassel and Cokato.

When the crew arrived in Waveland, just east of Gulf Port on the coast “Words can’t speak how bad it is there,” Nagel said.

“It looks like it just happened yesterday.”

With a town of 7,000, the majority are still without power and homes, according to Nagel.

There are rows and rows of FEMA trailers where families have spent the last four months, but the only workers seem to be the ones from churches, Nagel said.

There are many “misconceptions” of what it’s like economically in that area. For example, many think it’s a poor community.

But “these were hard-working people,” he said. Many in the area work for NASA.

Nagel explained that the damage isn’t insured. The coverage doesn’t include houses damaged by a flood, only from damaging winds from the hurricane. Flood insurance is separate, he said.

One couple’s home was 30 feet under water at one time. There was mold growing all over the walls. Nagel’s crew gutted the entire house with masks on. The pile of debris was much higher than Jim Kirkpatrick’s Greyhound bus, according to Nagel.

The homeowners were so grateful for their help. “She looked so distraught when we got there, but at the end, she was smiling,” Nagel said. And her husband said, “We will never remember your names, but we will never forget you.”

The crew joined a larger relief effort, Camp Katrina, formed by the Christian Missionary Alliance based out of a NAPA store in Bay St. Louis, Miss.

The store is filled with 200 cots, four showers, and a kitchen.

During the day the crew was assigned a job site. For example, they helped an older man by putting up new Sheetrock and removing fallen trees from his yard.

He had a grandfather clock and there was still a water mark on it, but it was still ticking, Nagel said.

Camp Katrina also had “Christmas on the Coast” so the hurricane victims could have a Christmas.

A winter wonderland was arranged in a local park with snow and jungle gyms. Large tents were set up and filled with toys, bikes, blankets, and pillows. Only a thousand people were expected to sign up, but more than 6,000 did, and more than 20,000 actually showed up. “The line was two miles long,” Nagel explained.

Individuals received a coupon to pick any item they chose. Many of the kids didn’t care to have toys, Nagel explained how one family only wanted shoes. They had been walking around in just their socks for the past four months.

A tree farmer from Wisconsin brought hundreds of Christmas trees. They put lights on them and gave them away.

With objects still hanging from trees and buildings leveled, Nagel was surprised to see that even large corporations like McDonald’s weren’t open for business yet.

One of the volunteer cooks described his arrival three to four days after the hurricane. With the window open, he could smell death miles outside of town.

In the Waveland Kmart parking lot, people without homes were gathered. He arrived during the night and the town had no power. All of a sudden, his headlights grazed the parking lot to reveal people crowding the parking lot. Nagel described this account as “eerie.”

Twenty people served food within a day to more than 5,000 people who hadn’t eaten in three days. All the wildlife was gone and it still is. “We didn’t even see one bird,” Nagel said.

People without homes sleep in FEMA trailers or tents on their properties. Temperatures, Nagel said, were 55 degrees during the day, and as low as 30 degrees at night.

Nagel and the crew left after a week but he is already planning another trip in February.

They left a donated trailer along with all the tools they brought with them, plus the additional donations from the Dassel-Cokato area. For example, JD Oil and Kirk’s Travel Plaza donated fuel and Olsen Chain and Cable donated tools.

This next trip he hopes will be even bigger. They are still accepting donations for Camp Katrina through the Elim Mission Church. Checks may be payable to Elim Mission Church with the memo being “Katrina Relief,” and may be sent to Elim Mission Church Katrina Relief, 405 Broadway Ave. S, Cokato MN, 55321.

A $1,500 donation has been given to Nagel’s mission from RFC, a division of GMAC.

If anyone is interested in donating or volunteering, contact Nagel at (320) 296-1521.

Before Nagel went on this venture, his motto was “work hard so I can play hard.” His new motto is, “work hard so I can serve hard,” he said. “We are here to bring hope.”

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