Saturday, November 26, 2005
Katrina-battered town struggles back
By Ryan Clark
Enquirer staff writer
Zoom Photos by Ernest Coleman/The Enquirer
Kim Allen, of Union, Ky. helps hand out blankets at the Waveland Cafe,
in Waveland, Miss., on Oct. 18. She worked at the Cafe with other local
Methodist from Northern Kentucky.
HOW TO HELP
For more information, or to donate to the Gulf Coast fund, visit The
Morrell Foundation at: www.morrellfoundation.org
To donate to Waveland, send items to:
628 U.S. 90 West
Waveland, MS 39576
Needs include: food of all kinds, bleach, detergent, other cleaning
items, shovels, rakes, mops, condiments, buckets.
In October, The Enquirer followed a group of missionaries who traveled
to help victims of Hurricane Katrina in Waveland, Miss. This is one in
periodic checks on the progress.
Soon, they will head down Interstate 10, west to New Orleans. They are
packing up their food and supplies, storing away their instruments and
rolling up their tents. They say they’ve done all they can, leaving an
impression on one coastal Mississippi town.
“This is what it’s all about, man,” said a man who calls himself Flower.
“It’s all about helping people.”
For nearly two months, Flower and a group called the Rainbow Family
teamed up with religious volunteers and others to help the small
Mississippi town of Waveland, population 7,000.
But this weekend, they closed the Waveland shelter that has served
breakfast, lunch and dinner to volunteers and residents since Hurricane
Katrina swept through the area.
Now, they say, they will move on to New Orleans, where their help is
needed more. They feel like it’s time, because they have seen the
progress Waveland has made.
“We just want to make a difference,” said a Rainbow Family member who
calls himself Clovis. “Wherever we can go to help, that’s where we’ll be.”
The progress is good news to the Northern Kentuckians who traveled to
Waveland in October to help with the relief effort.
“It’s good that the area is starting to get back up and running as much
as it can and start rebuilding,” said Todd Hannan, a 39-year-old
automobile glass works designer from Florence, who helped organize the
trip for a group of Northern Kentucky Methodist missionaries.
Still, the closing brought an end to the special relationship of
volunteers who helped to revive the town.
‘A bunch of hippies’
Waveland Mayor Tommy Longo says that nearly 60 percent of all the city’s
structures were destroyed, that hundreds were left homeless and that
more than 50 people were killed in the area.
The town – 60 miles east of New Orleans – is a mix of wealthy retirees,
stubborn lifers and young professionals who longed for a quiet place on
the water. But none could have guessed who would bring help to them when
it was most needed.
Its saviors appeared about a week after Katrina struck on Aug. 29. They
The Rainbow Family, a loosely connected international group with the
motto of “no religion, no politics,” came through the area on their way
to Florida to meet other members of the group. Those in the Rainbow
Family eat only organic food, sleep in tents and keep in contact via
The few in that first group stopped when they saw the destruction in
“They did what they always do – they set up shop and started cooking,
started helping everyone out,” said Mike Sweeney, a 48-year-old
businessman from Atlanta who came to volunteer and never left.
Sweeney now acts as a liaison among various volunteer groups and the
county emergency management operation.
“I’m sure no one here thought a bunch of hippies would come help them
out,” Sweeney said. “But they did, and what they’ve done is amazing.”
In that first week after the storm, the group set up shop in the parking
lot of a Fred’s grocery store, just across the street from the city
Police Department. They covered their belongings with tents and began to
provide food, not only to residents of the town, but also for the
emergency workers who traveled there to help. Many in the Rainbow Family
described how they started cooking food and how the people of Waveland
came out of the nearby woods, some without clothes, to eat.
By that time, others had arrived – more of the Rainbow family who were
contacted via the Internet, and a group of Methodist missionaries who
had heard of the destruction in Waveland.
Together, they helped the people of the town recover.
They called their shelter the New Waveland Café.
Longo said his town could have never survived if it weren’t for the many
volunteers who helped, and he singled out those who created the Waveland
“There are so many great people in this country,” Longo said. “And to
have those come from far away to help us out, we are so thankful. The
Waveland Café has done great things for us.”
Other missionaries began to arrive and help as well, including those
from Northern Kentucky.
It has been a month since Hannan and his group of Northern Kentucky
missionaries volunteered in Waveland, and much has improved, Sweeney said.
Retail stores like Wal-Mart and K-mart have reopened, as have pharmacies
Sweeney said if there are any immediate needs for food or other items,
smaller community centers have been set up across the county. He said
more and more people are moving back to their homes or into housing
provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“I guess it may be a bad analogy, but the hurricane created a wound, and
we put a big Band-Aid on it for as long as we could,” Sweeney said.
“Now, we don’t have to supply quite as much. The wound is healing.”
The next ‘mercy run’
But for those who were there, and saw the damage and victims first-hand,
the closing of the Waveland Café is a somber ending.
“The café’s closing marks a necessary step of progress, I suppose, but
it still makes me sad,” said Barry Holland, a 39-year-old from Florence
who works in the treasurer’s office at the University of Cincinnati.
Holland traveled down to Waveland with the 13-member Northern Kentucky
group, where they helped unload donated supplies as they arrived from
places all across the country. And, like many, he said the trip was
“My time of service down there changed my life, and I’m sure the same is
true for my comrades, to varying extents,” he said. “Fred’s parking lot
will become a sort of Woodstock for our group members, and those like us
from across the U.S. I can foresee many people wanting to make at least
one pilgrimage to Fred’s, to relive their experience, to see the
progress in Waveland, and try to retell the story to their family and
The volunteers will remember the people they helped the most – like the
man and wife who held everything they owned in their car, which was also
where they lived.
Or the woman and child that had to bury their other relatives because
they were lost in the storm.
“While I am certainly more thankful this Thanksgiving than in past
years, I will find it very difficult and unrewarding to shop for, or
receive, more semi-meaningless Christmas presents, knowing what the
folks in Waveland still face,” Holland said.