Home » Katrina – I’m No Exception {Part 3}

Katrina – I’m No Exception {Part 3}

We returned to Mandeville Thursday night.  Katrina had made landfall the previous Monday.   On Friday morning, I awakened early – about 6 am.I went out to the garage to get a bottle of water, then decided to sit in the driveway and pray, begging and pleading with God to use us – to guide us and direct us.

Never had I felt such a sense of helplessness. So much disaster surrounded us.  It was overwhelming – terrifying – one of those times when the world reminds us what a tiny, insignificant speck we are on this earth.

As I sat in the driveway, a police car drove by and pulled in. It was a guy my boys had grown up with. We began talking. He wanted to know why we had come back. I told him it was because we wanted to help. He said the police’s concern was that something would happen and no one would be available to respond. They were trying to get people to leave.

I told him we were prepared to help. We didn’t know what that looked like, but we knew we needed to be there. Then, moved, prompted by an internal need to share, I began telling him a story…

My husband was in the food industry, and they had a plant in Augusta, Georgia. They had tried to get semis in with food but had been turned away at the state line for security reasons. My husband had not been able to get any help from our senator or anyone he knew in DC. No one could figure out how to get the food into Louisiana. I asked the officer if there was anyone he could talk to – asked him to please share this information with whomever he could.

As he was leaving, he reminded me to be careful and cautious as we moved about. I gave him my niece’s mobile phone number (hers was the only working phone) in case he needed to get in touch with us. About 45 minutes later, Lana came to me with her phone saying someone wanted to talk to me.

 

“Miss Janet?”

“Yes”  

“Well, I was told I needed to call you. I’m not sure why but can you tell me what’s going on?”

 

I repeated the same story I had shared with Officer Eric earlier. The voice on the other end was silent. Seconds passed…

“Ok.”

“I have someone you need to talk to, and I am going to get in touch with him and have him call you.”

“Great – sounds good. Thanks.”

About 30 minutes later, the phone rang again.

“Janet Hines, please.”

“Yes, sir – this is she.” I replied to a very official sounding voice.

“My name is Dexter Accardo, I am head of Homeland Security for St. Tammany Parish. Apparently we need to talk. I can not come to you. Can you come to me in our command center in Covington at the courthouse?”

“Well, yes sir we can be there in an hour – is that ok?”

“We will see you then. Just come through the front door and ask for me.”

“Yes sir.”

Whoa. My husband, son Jonathan, niece, and son-in-law and I headed that way. As we parked and walked toward the courthouse, the soldiers were on high alert. This was only four days after Katrina hit. I explained as we were stopped that I had spoken to the commander, and he was expecting us.

We proceeded through the security checkpoint and entered the front halls of the courthouse. In a very short time, a side door opened, and a man in uniform came toward us. Introductions were quick as he got straight to the point.

“I hear you have access to food, and I want to know what we need to do to get it here. I have 16 shelters full of people and no food. Frances Barker is the head of the Red Cross St. Tammany, and I want you to talk to her regarding logistics. I will take care of security issues.”

Another side door opened and a woman a few years older than me came toward us.   I remember clearly how she stopped suddenly,  looked at us,  took a deep breath, and approached us. Homeland Security introduced us to Red Cross and said he would provide whatever she needed to get the food in. She thanked us for coming, and my husband proceeded to tell her what he had available.

She began crying as she explained what the previous night had been like for her.

“I couldn’t sleep all night.  All I could do is pray and ask God over and over again how we were going to feed these precious souls in our shelters. We needed immediate solutions.”

He explained to her the details and the security issues facing the drivers.

Miss Frances told us…”The next step is for you to go to the staging area at the parish offices two exits down the interstate. Meet with this man. I will call and tell him you are coming, and he will coordinate the deliveries of the food with the Southern Baptists, who do the cooking and delivering for our shelters each day.”

We continued from person to person, making arrangements. And the next morning around 4 am, the state police met the semis full of food at the state line, escorted them to the staging area, and delivered the food to be cooked and distributed to the shelters.

A week later, I saw Miss Frances. She came up to me and hugged me so sweetly.

“Janet, I want to tell you that after that night I spent in my office weeping and crying and begging for God to provide for us, because no one could help, when I came out to the front hall that morning and saw you standing there, you were the angel God sent to me in response to my prayers.”

I know I am no angel,  but I do know God uses each and every one of us when we lay our hearts wide open to Him. I will never forget those moments and how humbled and honored I was for my family and I to have been one of the pieces of the puzzle God was putting together to show how He was at work amidst the tragedy that surrounded us all.

In fact, this one display of God at work through my chance conversation with policeman Eric led to so many doors that opened in remarkable ways. Because of the relationship that developed with the Red Cross, we were issued passes, allowing us to move freely through the parish in those early days when movement was restricted by curfews. This helped us stay late to prepare for the next day or leave the church later at night to travel home.

My son, Jonathan, was able to create contact lists of each director of each shelter. Every morning he would contact them, inquiring about their shelter’s specific needs for that day.  Our volunteers would then pack a load from what we had available in our sanctuary-turned-warehouse of donated supplies – all organized by volunteers – then we’d deliver them.

Our church had been left untouched by the storm. We were located half a mile from Interstate 12 – now the only way to travel through south Louisiana as I-10 was gone in many places. Our church – in tact and half mile from the interstate – was perfect for a relief center.

Supplies began to show up. A nearby church came to us, asking if they could bring a semi full of supplies to our building to unload because they didn’t have room for them. We agreed. Late that night the semi showed up. It was the first of so many that would come to our doors.  We probably received over a hundred over the next months.

The semi backed in to be unloaded and the guys opened the back doors.  Huge pieces of plywood had been secured across the back of the supplies inside  – spray painted across were the words “with love from Buffalo, NY.”  These words pierced my heart.

Katrina came through on Monday and this was Saturday evening. To think of how quickly that community responded, collecting the goods, loading them on the truck, and driving them to us…It was overwhelming. I also remember that the donations were not palletized. In fact, that was the day I learned what “palletized” meant. We unloaded every box, every bag from this full sized semi – one piece at a time.  

As people slowly returned to their homes or their FEMA trailers, the shelters closed. But during those days, God truly used us all to His glory. Many times as we made deliveries, the people would gather around and help us unload supplies, being sure everyone got what they needed. God’s name was lifted high in thanksgiving and praise in those places. The people of this community recognized God at work.

These are just a few of the many stories. As I began writing them, one after another poured out of me. Hopefully one day I will share more of them.

In the past two days, since I posted the first of this series, quite a few people who share those memories have been in touch with me. I don’t think any of us realized how much we learned through those experiences. The pace didn’t slow down and the urgency in every story never changed. It didn’t leave time for us to process what was happening. We had to act quickly – it was all about responding to the present challenge of the person standing in front of us requesting help. We were there to serve.

I guess over time the memories are beginning to unravel as we contemplate the affect it had on us.

Time softens the intensity of events. Gradually we are granted the grace to remember the good that came from the storms. We are a community of brokens, of survivors, of overcomers and in our healing we learn God was there in that storm – the storms of our past – maybe you haven’t experienced a Katrina in your life, but my guess is – you have had your share of storms. Because of God’s steadfastness in the past – I feel confident in stating He will be there in the storms ahead. Gratefully we don’t know the future but today we can prepare for what is to come as we grow closer to God. We know His truths are the ones that last forever. We know His healing and we know He loves us.

Father, we praise You in the storm. Amen

2 Responses to “Katrina – I’m No Exception {Part 3}”

  1. Ambrose Ramsey says:

    How I struggle with the concept of waiting on The Lord, and even more with the truth that God’s grace is sufficient for me. Thank you for the beautifully-worded reminder that God’s strength is made perfect through my weakness. Grace and peace.

    • Janet Reeger says:

      Ambrose – I am learning again and again that God wants us to see Him at work in every part of our lives. His strength overcomes. Our weakness is the bridge between God’s love and our stubbornness that brings us together. I love Him for teaching me what grace looks like and the peace that comes into my heart when I acknowledge His presence. Grace and peace to you as well. Thank you for reading.

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