Luther aids Katrina aftermath - three times

When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast last summer, Katie Luther was busy working. She hadn't paid much attention to the news and had no concept of the devastation taking place.

When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast last summer, Katie Luther was busy working. She hadn't paid much attention to the news and had no concept of the devastation taking place.

Over the past school year, Luther would witness the destruction, the tears and the hope rising from the debris on three separate occasions.

Her volunteer work came about when she saw a flyer on Moorhead's Concordia College campus. A church group was going to the coast over fall break, in October. She was one of 160 students who loaded onto two buses and a couple of conversion vans for the 26-hour drive. They stopped in St. Louis for a night's sleep and arrived at the coast around 10 p.m. The group split in thirds. One went to Kenner, LA, one to Mandalay Bay, LA and Luther was with the group who went to Ocean Springs, MS.

"When we were driving on the highways, we didn't see as much," she said. "But I noticed the damage when we were still three hours from the coast."

They stopped at a Subway with matching volunteer shirts and a 50-year-old lady approached them, crying.


"She thanked us and told us how grateful she was for us being down there," Luther said. "And we hadn't even done anything yet. We got that a lot. Everywhere people were appreciative of what we were doing."

The students stayed in

a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) camp about 13 miles from the church sponsoring the rebuilding project. Luther said the tents FEMA provided had showers, laundry facilities and air conditioning available for them during their four days of work.

The Christus Victor Lutheran Church, Ocean Springs connected them to the volunteer projects. Mostly, the students gutted houses and removed the splintered wooden planks from yards.

While working, a homeowner offered to take the students on a tour along the coast. She saw a water -tower lying on its side. It had been flung 15 feet from its cement base. And the Highway 90 bridge that connected Ocean Springs to Biloxi had collapsed into the Gulf of Mexico.

"It was amazing to see all that steel and concrete destroyed by wind and water," she said.

The bridge was in the same condition on her second volunteer tour over spring break. Concordia headed up another team. This time they'd work for five days, but only a van and a car were needed to transport the 11 people.

Luther thinks the drop in volunteers had to do with the dwindling media coverage, as it fell off and focused on the Iraqi war.


This time, there was only one destination for the students, Ocean Springs.

Luther said nothing had changed since her last visit. She said debris had been removed in some places, leaving the land flat, barren and empty.

She visited with the homeowner who took them on a tour of destruction. She couldn't notice a change in his living conditions.

"It was kind of discouraging," she said. "He was still waiting for loans to go through and still hadn't gotten a FEMA trailer."

The owner, however, remained hopeful.

"He wasn't discouraged," she began, "A lot of people were like that. We went through a church, so it was mostly religious people, and every sentence it seems they added in, 'I just thank Jesus that we're still here and we have what we have.'"

Once again the students continued the clean-up. It wouldn't be until Luther's third trip in May that they'd see progress and rebuilding.

Prior to leaving, the seven students and one faculty member took an hour workshop at Lowe's in Fargo to learn how to hang sheetrock. During their 10-day stay, the group would also mud and sand houses.


Luther said it was nice to help people get into their homes instead of tearing them down.

"When you're down there you really feel like you have a purpose and you're helping people that are appreciative," She said. "You just want to keep working forever; I never wanted to leave. And we're planning on going back again, until they don't need us anymore."

The group returned May 15. May 26, Luther arrived at Camp Emmaus near Menahga, where she is working as a counselor for the summer.

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