Times-Standard, Oct 27, 2005

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Editor's note: Leah Harry, of Eureka, traveled to the Gulf states to assist with relief efforts in the hurricane-ravaged region.

Algiers, Waveland and Biloxi. These are just a few of the names of places where relief efforts are going strong and lives of local people are a daily effort in survival. There is no easy fix to this situation, but it is evident that more help is needed.

Relief centers are set up all over to provide food, ice, water, hygiene and baby supplies, porta-potties and sometimes hot meals or showers to residents. Tents are set up amid lumber piles where houses used to be. Entire lots are covered with tent villages. Business are closed or destroyed, cars are ruined and in some places piled on top of each other, no one is working, no one is doing anything except surviving, and others are providing the relief.

People have found themselves here from all over the country like Bob Griffin from Florida, who says when asked why he came, "because I couldn't stay home and not do it. There needs to be energy that heals here."

He explains what it is like being here: "Nobody is preaching anything. They all are out here saying, 'What do you need?" His sentiments are repeated in a phone call with the Common Ground Relief center located in Algiers, a suburb of New Orleans. "When you come down here you have to remember it is not a political thing. We are all working together here. ... We work side by side with everybody."

Maybe this is why so many people have found themselves here. The Vets For Peace have volunteers from Maine to New Mexico, and even some crew working with film maker Michael Moore. One volunteer with the Vets for Peace, when asked how long he planned on staying, said: "I don't know. I just quit my job and came out here."

There, of course, is the military and police as well as Red Cross and occasionally one can find a FEMA truck in a relief center, but the majority of the work is being done by your everyday people from church groups to the "Rainbow Family."That team provides hot meals three times a day in Waveland, Miss., and serves the hungry, often including the police and military who are tired of MREs as are the rest of those hit by the hurricane.

One couple explained that they drove an hour and a half to get to Waveland because the relief center where they were close to only was run by the government and was providing only water, ice and self-heating MREs.

The relief center in Waveland, on the other hand, had those things as well as hot food (provided by the "Rainbow Family"), showers, hygiene supplies, baby supplies, a food selection, a medical tent providing tetanus shots, clothes (most of which were in Dumpsters because of the lack of volunteer help to organize and protect them from the rains), and various other donated supplies. The couple explains, "You think this may not look like much, but it's pretty nice compared to where we are."

It's true the distribution center or relief site in Waveland did not look like much. Trash and debris line everything, including this giant parking lot converted into a distribution center.

The ground is toxic because of the local chemical plant that was only miles from this site, and the ditches are filled with green-black stagnant water. As soon as something touches the ground everyone is encouraged to throw it away.

Things are in chaos and there is a constant hum of action, trucks being unloaded, food being made, garbage being thrown away. This place is no pretty picture. But right now, it is all that these people have.

The relief worker in this scenario is incredibly important. Everyone here is being used to their fullest potential -- medics, cooks, drivers, builders, organizers, even those who play guitar or drums in the evening seem to be playing an important role in lifting people's spirits.

One night, the local police that were on shift from midnight until morning sat with the drummers in the "Rainbow Family," because they too seemed to need some relief from the grind and intensity of harsh conditions and hard work. One officer from out of the area even took a picture to show his friends back home. This place is in a revolutionary time without a revolution. It was a hurricane that brought people from everywhere to so many of the relief sites scattered all over these Gulf states, but it is good will and a common vision that keeps them here.

These sites are just some of the many across Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Texas. These people are just a few of the countless that are here to help. It was said by many that their time here is like a "calling" and many seem driven in this way. The beauty and intensity of the cooperation and dedication is a true testimony of human good will and spirit, but the question remains is it under control? Or do they need more help down there?

If the idea of countless homes, trees, cars and businesses destroyed and cities decimated yet still filled with people wondering what to do next does not answer the question, take the words of the organizers for Common Ground Relief center in Algiers: "Come on out, yes we do need help."