An Open Letter to the people of Mississippi:
Until two years ago, I was not very well acquainted with the state of Mississippi or its people. That changed when my son moved to Ocean Springs about two years ago. Since then, we make two or three trips to Mississippi each year, and we have always enjoyed the relaxed hospitality and friendliness of the people.
My son lived in a home in a residential area that is part of Ocean Springs that was only two or three blocks from the Gulf of Mexico. We did not know if our son had made it to safety. He managed to get out of the area before the hurricane hit, but he only made it to the house of friends in Pascagoula whose home was also destroyed. The day after the storm, we were greatly relieved when he was able to call us, thanks to a total stranger who had a cell phone that was working and who generously allowed people to line up and use his phone to contact their families to let them know that they had survived the storm. When he called, he was standing on the side of a road, homeless, thirsty and hungry, and with only his two dogs that he had saved.
I loaded up my car with as much water, food, and supplies as I could carry to give to those in need and headed south. After finding him, my son suggested that we head to Pascagoula and distribute those things.
Having seen and read of looting and violence in some areas of destruction, especially New Orleans, I was a bit apprehensive about going into an area of destruction. I had visions of people fighting over the things that I had to offer, but I went despite those reservations. What I found when we arrived in a very badly hit area of Pascagoula was a testament to the goodness of people in general and the people of Mississippi specifically. Misfortune on such a scale brings out the best and worst in people, but I found nothing but the best.
We drove up and down the streets ,and it appeared that the area was totally abandoned. I saw no sign of people, and it was totally silent. We would stop and shut off the engine in the rubble here and there, and the stillness was almost deafening. Then we would call out softly, "Is anyone there?" and slowly dark forms would emerge from the rubble: little children, white people, black people, old people. It was like dark ghosts were forming out of the rubble or dead people were rising up out of their graves.
We asked them if they needed anything and, in almost every instance, they would quietly say that they had plenty! They would tell us that we should check down the street and point the way to another rubble heap. The people had absolutely nothing, and they were too proud and too concerned for other people to accept anything. Only about one in 20 people would accept something, but they all thanked us profusely for offering.
This disaster has revealed the amazing goodness of the people of Mississippi.
— Tom Johnston, Warrenville, Ill.
NOLA Deserves A Future
My letter is in response to Barbara Kent's letter from Ohio (Sept. 8-14, 2005). Ms. Kent states in all caps that Mayor Nagin and Gov. Blanco did NOTHING to help the city. How would Ms. Kent know this from her distant vantage point of Cincinatti, Ohio? Was she tuned in to the local television and radio broadcasts?
As a native New Orleanian, I can tell you that I was there while Mayor Nagin was issuing the mandatory evacuation. It was at this time that the mayor and governor began asking for help. The president did have the where-with-all while vacationing in Crawford to declare the New Orleans area a national disaster before the storm even hit. It was at this time that FEMA should have mobilized personnel into the area given the size and strength of this hurricane. Isn't it ironic that help only arrived after the president had numerous chances to do photo shoots with his shirt sleeves rolled up.
The federal government's actions in New Orleans and on the Gulf Coast mirror the ineptitude that has characterized the war in Iraq for the past three years: no plan, but ample excuses leading to the loss of innocent life.
People in New Orleans have been anticipating this situation for years, and, Ms. Kent, we are acutely aware of the constant danger of living below sea level while surrounded by water. We're in touch with the rest of the free world you mentioned. The president ignored the requests of our senators to build better levee systems, restore coastal wetlands and build barrier islands. He didn't heed the cries for help before, during and after Hurricane Katrina from a gem of a city that deserves the present and future tense.
— Gina Ferrara, New Orleans
Save the Arts, Too
One of the arenas that suffered terrible losses is that of the arts and various cultural heritage sites of Mississippi, including historical landmarks and museums. Beauvoir is shattered. The first floor of the Jefferson Davis Library has been gutted. The Dantzler House was demolished. Shearwater Pottery—the original studio of Walter Inglis Anderson—was very damaged, its showroom completely destroyed, while a storage building containing the Anderson family collection was submerged and in need of immediate help. The Old Capitol lost part of its roof and has suffered incredible water damage to structure, displays, as well as its collection. This is but a few from an increasingly growing list.
The bare-bones reality for the museums, landmarks and art galleries affected by the hurricane is that funds will desperately be needed for recovery efforts. These are not readily available from FEMA. Usual disaster protocol dictates that "non-critical" services, such as museums, must apply for 30-year loans to support restoration. With that said, preservation, renewal, and recovery of our unique artistic and cultural heritage becomes a matter for the citizenry of Mississippi. Let us join hands in honoring the lessons of our past and preserving the historical and artistic legacy of Mississippi for future generations.
The Mississippi Heritage Trust has set up a special Historic Property Recovery Fund if you would like to help in the effort to save historic properties in Mississippi damaged by Katrina. If you would like to donate to this fund please send checks made out to the Mississippi Heritage Trust with a note in the memo line that the money is to go the Recovery Fund. Checks may be mailed to: Mississippi Heritage Trust, P.O. Box 577, Jackson, Miss. 39205. All donations are considered tax deductible, and all of the Recovery Funds will be used to save historic properties damaged by Katrina.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation has also set up a Hurricane Relief Fund for historic properties in Mississippi and Louisiana. They also have the ability to fill out a volunteer assessment form to gather information about people with skills needed for surveying damaged areas. More information is on their Web site at http://www.nationaltrust.org
Another place where your tax-deductible donation will greatly assist with restoration efforts is the Foundation for Mississippi History. Please send a check payable to the Foundation for Mississippi History to P.O. Box 571, Jackson, Miss. 39205-0571.
The Mississippi Arts Commission also has a Web site where information is being gathered regarding damage suffered in the arts community, including galleries and collections, and donation sites: http://www.arts.state.ms.us/katrina.html
— Frank MacEowen, Jackson