|by Howard W. Hewitt • October 7, 2005|
As students ponder joining a group headed to Mississippi Oct. 12 to assist in Hurricane Katrina cleanup, one Wabash College staff member can tell them exactly what to expect.
Sharon Metcalf, a secretary for modern languages and Registrar’s office, spent Sept. 28-Oct. 2 in Pascagoula, Mississippi, with a group of Tennessee college students cleaning up debris.
Metcalf’s daughter, Mindy, is a senior at Freed-Hardeman University. The college has been organizing trips to help the area, and will continue to do so through Thanksgiving.
"When I heard they were going, I said I really wanted to go," Metcalf said. "But I didn’t know what a 40-year-old woman could do. I wanted to go and help, but things like that didn't stop any of us."
And it didn’t stop Metcalf, either. The college group joined teams from Miami and Nashville at a church in Mobile, Alabama, where they stayed. They would drive into Pascagoula each day. On one of the three days, they delivered food and cleaning supplies to Bayou La Batre east of Pascagoula.
Metcalf was part of a 15-person team that stripped down four houses. (Click here to see more photos Metcalf shot while working in Pascagoula.)
"It was hard labor. We tore up drywall, baseboards, two layers of tiling, I’d never done anything like that before," Metcalf said. "Everywhere as far as you can see is devastation. It’s what you can’t get in pictures, you hear that from newscasters but these people can’t go in their backyard for relief; they can’t go to their living room for relief. They can’t escape it."
And having been to the area stricken by Hurricane Katrina, Metcalf is convinced the one thing they most need is physical labor and a kind ear.
"You can throw money at it but if you don’t have people down there to do the work it’s not going to do any good," she said. "I’m a girl and I don’t know anything about construction work. But I asked one guy what are we giving them? He said if they had to pay for the work it would probably cost about $36,000. It’s finding someone who can come in and do it quickly before the mold spreads."
The team stripped homes down to the frame. They scrubbed mold off of things. Mold is the one of the biggest problems the area faces. Metcalf said there were times when they were pulling insulation out of walls that would still be wet from the 4- to 5-foot water surge.
But Metcalf also emphasizes the human side of the disaster and how one of the homeowners they helped continues to survive.
"We went to this one old ladies’ house. She was 86. Her house had three feet of water in it after the storm. We ripped up cabinets, flooring, cleaned mold off the walls. Her house was just a mess. But here is this 86-year-old woman and she slept in her yard that first week with a flashlight, no electricity and debris everywhere."
Metcalf is thrilled to know that a group of Wabash students will go down over fall break on a similar Wednesday-Sunday visit to help with relief.
"It’s needed. Those are Americans down there and we’re Americans here they need it so bad. I feel very insignificant about it. We only did a few houses and that’s all we could do. I’m struggling with how much needs to be done and we did so little.
"It’s not even like they can go to their neighbor for comfort, because their neighbor is in the same spot. They can’t escape it. Those people need people like us who can go down and listen to their stories. That’s a lot of what we did – we listened. They needed that and they needed to have someone to tell their stories."
Hewitt is Wabash College's Director of new Media/Web Editor.
Top right: A typical scene photographed by Metcalf of debris and two homes.
On left: Metcalf and her daughter Mindy sitting on some of the debris the group cleared from a home.