While it has been five years since Hurricane Katrina hit, the aftereffects of the natural disaster continue to be felt.
To ease the burden of some residents in Pass Christian, Miss., several local residents recently spent a week, helping with the restoration efforts.
“There are still problems there,” said Ethan Starkey, a Washougal High School senior. “People are not living as well as they could have been. We went to help those people who are slowed down a little. People are not focused on them as much as New Orleans.”
He said the East Coast heat and humidity were a challenge.
“It was hard to do the planting, weeding and other outside yard work,” Starkey said. “We were not as used to the heat as people who live there. It was 103.”
He is the student Rotary liaison for the WHS Interact Club.
“It was an amazing experience, and I plan to do it again during the school year for my senior project,” Starkey said. “By the second or third day we got there, I was thinking there were still places that were not developed and people who are living in poor conditions. A lot of businesses failed because of the disaster.”
Anna Kellog, another WHS Interact student, also traveled to Mississippi, along with Camas High School students Michael Roberts, Juan Velez (of Ecuador), Tim Beilcke (of Germany) and Samuel and Lucas Nicacio.
Starkey said he had met some of the CHS students before the trip.
“Both high schools work together,” he said. “After the trip, I’m a lot better friends with them. It will be easier to work with them during the school year on Interact projects and local community projects.”
Robert Nicacio and Bill Thorbecke, members of the Camas-Washougal Rotary Club, also participated in the Mississippi service projects.
Nicacio said the rewards included “being able to do something that is helping people in a bad way.
“There was gratitude from the local people,” he said. “They asked what brought us there. They were intrigued.
“The middle of the storm hit Pass Christian,” Nicacio added. “It did not get much press. My goal was being able to help. It is better to give than receive.”
The C-W participants spent their first four nights sleeping at St. Ann Catholic Church. They stayed in a Holiday Inn Express, with a pool near the ocean, during the last two nights of the trip — compliments of the Pass Christian Rotary Club. That club also hosted a pizza party in a Rotary trailer home and a barbecue at the Pass Christian Yacht Club.
The service projects in the hurricane-effected areas included landscaping around a library and City Hall. City services, which had been located in trailers after Katrina hit, were eventually moved into a complex that includes a police and fire station.
During their visit, the C-W volunteers moved books from a trailer into the new library.
The participants also moved a disabled woman’s home office from upstairs to downstairs, and they cleaned surfaces, sanded the floor and did some landscaping.
“Her son is in Iraq, doing his second tour,” Nicacio said. “She was and still is in need. The kids would like to go back and help her. We suggested the local Interact Club get over there. They will make it a goal to start a club at Pass Christian High School and adopt her.”
Connie Jenkins, a member of the Pass Christian Rotary Club, indicated to the C-W Rotary and Interact members there would be post-Katrina service project opportunities in that area for the next 10 years.
Thorbecke is the C-W Rotary Club international service chairperson.
“We learned the area that we went to was devastated by Katrina, and they have lost a third of their population,” he said. “There are concrete foundations all around the town. You can see concrete slabs and foundations that were obliterated.
“The people did not have the heart to come back and rebuild and go through that again,” Thorbecke added. “They anticipate a major hurricane comes through every 30 years.”
The population of Pass Christian, which had been approximately 6,400, is now 4,200.
“The people were very grateful that people across the country cared enough to help them out — to send donations, do service work, help rebuild and help them get done what needs to get done,” Thorbecke said. “It was heartwarming to experience the gratitude. These are resort towns. They don’t have any industries down there. Their economy is dependent on tourism.”
He said hearing story after story about the death and destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina was a challenge.
“One person told me he had two German Shepherds, and he had to leave his dogs in order to evacuate,” Thorbecke said. “He thought they were dead. One survived by itself for two months. The dog was anxious and quite traumatized. That hit home with me, thinking what that would be like with my own dog.”
Overall, the trip was seen in a positive light.
“It helped the students understand what these events are like in this world, how service is an important thing to do and how grateful people are,” Thorbecke said. “It gives them a sense of hope.
“We’d like to make this an annual event with CHS and WHS Interact clubs doing some fundraising activities for service projects and cultural exchanges in other parts of the country and the world,” he added.
For more information about Rotary activities, contact Carol Keljo at 606-4960 or visit www.cwrotary.com.