• Posts from Biloxi: Day 1: Sunday, June 17, 2007

    Thursday, June 21, 2007
    News Type

Arrival and Impact

Biloxi, Miss. – Our week in Biloxi officially began today as 14 alumni, faculty, and staff of Dartmouth College gathered in the Hands On–Gulf Coast headquarters, a big warehouse with a second-floor loft that rings the inside of the building. This leaves an open area in the middle for eating, talking, reading, etc. There are about 100 bunk beds on the loft, and this is where volunteers live.

"I need water" on a sign on sidewalk in Biloxi. Photo: Vicki Allen '06


This morning, Jesse '06 and I visited two churches. At one, we attended a Bible study session with older, white locals. At another, we attended a Gospel service of black locals that was filled with singing. The two churches were incredibly welcoming and happy to have visitors. At both, the people praised God's love, even in the face of adversity: one in an emphatic sermon and one in encouraging song, prayer, and sermon.

After exploring Biloxi by car in the afternoon, we returned to headquarters to meet Mary-Pat and Tony, a local couple who, like so many people in the area, still live in a FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) trailer. And like many others, Mary-Pat and Tony were trapped by the insurance companies, which seem in many cases to attribute the cause of damage to whatever type of insurance people didn't have (if you had flood insurance, your damage was from wind; if you had wind, it was from flood). Hurricane insurance, which everyone here is required to have, resulted in meager returns, and Mary-Pat and Tony are questioning whether to rebuild their demolished home and are struggling with the renovation of a shed on their property that was somewhat damaged. FEMA hasn't even officially set the rebuilding standards yet. They've said only that homes will have to be 21 feet off the ground in places.

Mary-Pat and Tony hadn't wanted to evacuate. Luckily, they changed their minds before it was too late.

The Dartmouth booth can be seen in the Hands On–Gulf Coast Biloxi headquarters. Photo: Vicki Allen '06.

Biloxi, Miss.– I arrived with six members of the Dartmouth service trip team at the Hands On–Gulf
Coast headquarters just after dinner on Saturday. We were met by the NCCC Americor volunteer, who gave us a tour of the facility. The rest of our team wouldn't arrive until well after the 9:30 pm lights-out, so we ate and settled in for the night.

  Through the entry of a restored Buddhist temple can be seen a trailer with an addition made out of a blue tarp. Photo: Adi LaBombard.

Sunday mornings are the one day of the week when Hands On  volunteers are able to sleep in, so the morning vibes were laidback. We had our first Dartmouth team meeting at noon and then set off to explore East Biloxi.

Through the entry of a restored Buddhist temple can be seen a trailer with an addition made out of a blue tarp. Photo: Adi LaBombard.

As we drove along the ocean, we saw a dramatic juxtaposition: brand-spanking-new casinos, leaning skeletons of damaged buildings, buzz-cut palm trees, and suspicously "open" spaces—nature and architecture confused and entangled, and apparently forgotten.

We had lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant and then took a walk, pulled toward two main buildings: a Vietnamese Catholic church and a Buddhist temple, both in good repair. I'd read about the Buddhist temple before the trip: It had just been built, and had opened its doors to the public on its first day, when Katrina hit and inflicted massive damage on it. The residents had nothing but good things to say about the community efforts that have led to the temple's restoration.

Across the street, I noticed a trailer home with an addition made out of a blue tarp. Towering in the distance was the Grand Casino.