Much improvement has been made, but much more is yet to be done
By Kristen Miller
Minnesota Disaster Relief is rallying the troops again for two more volunteer trips to the Gulf Coast region.
Despite the lack of media attention, there is still a lot more to be done, according to Al Nagel, project coordinator.
Although much has been cleaned up from Hurricane Katrina’s devastation, Camp Katrina, a volunteer camp based in Waveland, Miss., still has 235 work orders.
“There is tons of work to be done yet,” Nagel said.
Just two weeks ago, Nagel returned from a similar trip organized by his brother’s church in St. Paul.
Nagel noticed that many of the residents have come back to the area and a good majority of the businesses have reopened.
However, Nagel also saw a new piece to the disaster the emotional toll it’s taking on the residents.
Nagel has seen, firsthand, the tired and worn out looks on people’s faces. Even speaking with Waveland’s mayor, Tommy Longo, Nagel could see how emotionally and physically exhausted he was.
Nagel pointed out that these relief trips can be very emotional even after only a week of experiencing the situation.
“They have been dealing with this for two-and-a-half-years,” he said.
“They can’t escape it,” he added.
Speaking with the mayor, Nagel also became aware that not only did the residents lose their homes and much of their livelihoods, but they also lost everything that was fun including parks, theatres, etc.
“These are the last things to be looked at,” Nagel said, meaning rebuilding homes is top priority for the residents.
“Fun is a form of relieving stress. They need to laugh again,” he said.
Since Hurricane Katrina, there has been a steady flow of volunteers from all across the US and Canada to help with the restoration effort.
The mayor told Nagel, he didn’t know where the town and its people would be without the help of the volunteers.
This is considered to be the largest volunteer effort in US history, according to Nagel.
Even with the current rate of volunteers coming to the area, Longo said it could take another eight to 10 years to put the area back together.
With camps similar to Camp Katrina strewn up and down the seaboard, hundreds, if not thousands, of volunteers show up each week, according to Nagel. Camp Katrina, alone, has 20 to 60 volunteers each week.
“But the media is not talking about it,” Nagel said.
“Just because we don’t hear about it on TV, doesn’t mean it’s all cleaned up,” he said.
Undoubtedly, there have been vast improvements, Nagel said.
“But there is still a long way to go,” he added.
Now, there is a push to get residents living in FEMA trailers into what are called MEMA (Mississippi version of FEMA) mini cottages, Nagel explained.
It has been discovered, formaldehyde was used to make the FEMA trailers and some residents are experiencing respiratory problems that could lead to chronic and lasting effects.
When asked what motivates Nagel to continue coordinating relief trips to the Gulf Coast, he says it’s seeing lives change.
“I’m not sure whose life it changes more, the ones we are serving or those who are going with me to help serve,” Nagel said.
“That’s my drive,” he added.
Sponsor a volunteer
If someone cannot go, but would be willing to sponsor someone else to go (whether full or partial), their donation would be appreciated.
For more information about Minnesota Katrina Relief, to sign up for either the Saturday, March 29 or Friday, April 6 departure, or to receive notices of future relief trips, check out www.mndisasterrelief.org.
Plan a volunteer trip to Mississippi
There are two trips planned for March and April. The first trip will leave Saturday, March 29 and return Sunday, April 6. The second trip will leave Friday, April 18 and return home Sunday, April 27.
The cost of the trip is $450, which includes food, transportation, and lodging.
Sponsorships may be available.
For more information, contact Gary Plowman at (612) 227-9416 or Al Nagel at (320) 296-1521.