CNY Lends A Hand

BYLINE: By Greg Munno Staff writer

SECTION: NEWS; Pg. A1

LENGTH: 715 words

DATELINE: Long Beach, Miss.

One group of Central New York relief workers in Mississippi ended up helping another group of Central New Yorkers on Monday.

Eight members of the team from Abundant Life Christian Center in Cicero went to a devastated section of the seaside community of Pass Christian to set up a food and aid station for emergency workers and clean-up crews. The site was a Wal-Mart parking lot smack on the Gulf.

Hurricane Katrina reduced the store to a shell. The storm surge pushed all the contents of the Wal-Mart – merchandise, shelves, registers, absolutely everything – through the back wall and scattered it throughout the neighborhood.

Among those helping to clean up the mess, the Abundant Life team found, were Ron Fassett, of North Syracuse; Jason Rouillier, of East Syracuse; Matt Wall, of Orwell; and Kerland Ritchie, of Syracuse. They work for a Syracuse division of the environmental clean-up company EPS of Vermont.

The four men are working under horrible conditions. Five bodies have been pulled from the Wal-Mart debris, not counting the 10-foot alligator carcass found on the roof of the store. A sewer pipe burst on the site. And hundreds of pounds of food from the store have been rotting in the Mississippi sun. The smell burns the nostrils and turns the stomach.

“Then there’s the propane canisters,” Wall said. “The store sold propane, and we’ve been pulling out the canisters, but it’s hard to see them. One went ‘pop’ right under a piece of equipment yesterday.”

The clean-up crew was thrilled to see some other Central New Yorkers.

“I’ll tell you what, it will sure be nice to have this aid station here,” Fassett said of Abundant Life’s efforts. “We’ve had to go off site for food during the day. This will be nice.”

Others have been as appreciative. Back at Abundant Life’s base at the New Life Church in Long Beach, workers from the Cicero church and other churches from around the country had taken piles of unsorted donated goods and organized the site into a major distribution center.

Needy people from throughout the region, like Sally Breland, picked up items ranging from food to diapers to gasoline. Some of the supplies were donated by Central New Yorkers and brought down by the Abundant Life team.

Breland, of Gulfport, decided to stay in her home during the storm. She admits now that was a mistake.

“The only thing that separated us from the people that didn’t make it was luck,” Breland said. “The house shook. It moved. The front was destroyed. This was like nothing we’ve ever seen. We have no where else to go so we are living in what’s left of the back.”

Breland picked up water and clothes.

“Most of our stuff is ruined,” She said. “We don’t have the money to replace it, and there’s no telling when the insurance money might come. The adjuster said he couldn’t get to me until October.”

Breland found the center while driving down the road and noticing two signs. Abundant Life volunteers made the signs in the morning.

The signs also guided sisters Jennifer Noll and Amanda Hansen to the distribution center. Their homes, three houses apart in Pass Christian, were both destroyed. Five of their neighbors were killed. They and seven other family members are now living in their mother’s house in Long Beach.

“We were looking for a food stamp distribution center we heard was near here and saw the signs,” said Noll as she cradled 6-month-old Aisling while 3-year-old Betsy tugged at her skirt. “Of course, the food-stamp center wasn’t up and running yet. It is amazing, but private relief efforts like this one are the only help we’ve received. The government and Red Cross are nowhere to be found.”

Hansen, also with a child 10-month-old Amanda agreed.

“Me and my husband lost our jobs when the casinos were destroyed,” Hansen said. “Here, we were able to get diapers, water, food, clothes. That helps a lot.”

To read more

Post-Standard staff writer Greg Munno and photographer Mike Greenlar are accompanying the volunteers from Abundant Life Christian Center to Mississippi. They will file updates as the week progresses.

For updates on the center’s mission to Mississippi and to comment on its efforts, visit www.syracuse.com/forums/weather/ [Note: I used this forum to live blog from Mississippi before their were better tools available for that type of blogging. You can still find those posts by searching the forum for the word “Munno”.]

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