|by Brock Johnson '07 • October 20, 2005|
If the razor wire and the military checkpoint weren’t enough to tell me I wasn’t in the cornfields of Indiana anymore, the houses that appeared to have fallen from the sky did the trick.
Wabash has taken me many places both physically and mentally. As a caravan of Wabash men left the chapel steps last Wednesday for Mississippi, I was unaware of the devastation, the adventure, and the edification that awaited us.
"Did you see the house on top of that car?" one colleague asked as we entered Pass Christian. "No, I was perplexed by the refrigerator up in the tree," said another.
It was much easier to believe we had entered a Hollywood movie set than to realize we were amid an American city once full of PTA meetings and Pee Wee football games.Our shock consumed us the first day, but waking up to mosquito bites, vicious flies, and a half road-kill, half port-a-potty aroma helped reality sink in on the second morning. I only had to live in the environment for four days. But beyond my realm of understanding was how any resident could open his or her tent, FEMA trailer, or relative’s door each morning, only to face another day of clearing destroyed memories and possessions. After a few days, the answer was quite clear.
Equipped with respirators, elbow-high rubber gloves, and an eagerness to help, a group of Wabash volunteers set out last Saturday morning to gut flood-damaged houses. The first home we found looked untouched by the storm had there not have been a mountain of trash piled in front of it. We entered to find a mom and two sons removing mold-covered drywall. It was obviously not the typical weekend renovation with Tom Petty playing in the background; silence was the only tune that permeated the sludge-filled home. As I shoveled these strangers’ photographs—too ruined to keep, but not so ruined that it kept me from distinguishing a five-year-old Batman birthday party picture - I suddenly realized the storm’s destruction reached much further than buildings. It reached into the hearts, minds and daily lives of every Pass Christian citizen in a way that would profoundly affect the rest of their lives.
Another day of volunteering allowed us to see another side of the storm I hadn’t anticipated. The middle school and high school in Pass Christian were severely hit; the unaffected elementary school now serves as the campus for all three. Mobile classroom trailers will allow for essential education to continue in spite of a national disaster. With continual budget cuts, public education is a challenge on a normal day, but the community and volunteer effort that was able to pull together a school system in Pass Christian was an amazing sight. Teachers alongside students and parents helped transform a place barely suitable to live into a fully functioning school corporation.
From a family, to a community, to a group of college guys from Indiana, it was an overwhelming experience witnessing people come together to help those in need. It's clear to me these people are the reason residents of Pass Christian get up in the morning. They have a community to rebuild, lives to salvage and continue, and people who believe in them and to assist along the way.
Editor's Note: Brock Johnson shot all of the Pass Christian photos in Album 1 & 2 accompanying the main story.