From the air the devastation to Mississippi's Gulf Coast is utter and complete. And it's hard to imagine how things will ever get put back together. Homes, forests, factories all lie in various stages of disintegration. From my vantage point in a Blackhawk helicopter flying relief mission, I saw so many pockets where people already living in poverty were left with nothing. What step comes below poverty?
The hard lines between haves and have-nots have been totally obliterated in many places. Everyone will be starting from scratch. Our first stop with a chopper filled with MREs (meals ready to eat) was Pass Christian. I was so sure the folks waiting below would be happy to get the boxes of food. But when we landed, they came over and said, "We have food. We need fuel to power our generators. We can be self-sufficient if they would just get us some fuel."
Steve Gilbert told me he and his neighbors are third-generation military and they pride themselves on being able to care for themselves. But without fuel to cook their food, and power his mother's oxygen machines, their hope is running out. They say they served this country, now they need it to serve them.
In nearby Kiln, Mississippi (best known for being home to Green Bay Packer great Brett Favre) the story was the same, only the needs different. Dale Barfield and others had been waiting at a local church for six hours for an ice truck. They weren't expecting a Blackhawk helicopter and didn't need the MREs. Ice and water is what they need. Barfield told me no one blames the Army National Guard for delivering the wrong items; it's more a matter that there is a disconnect between the providers and those in need. "Where is FEMA?" he asked. And he added, "We feel for the folks in New Orleans, but we need some help too." Another woman told me her community is nearing its breaking point. "We're at each others' throats," she said.
Then it was back in the air for a tour of Gulfport, the coastal town that bore the brunt of Katrina's force. Entire neighborhoods have been reduced to matchsticks. Shipping containers lay scattered everywhere.
The amount of clean-up this is going to require is unimaginable. A local radio host said today, "This isn't going to be done in a day, or even six or nine months. It's something we are all going to have to work toward together. It will happen, if we don't give up." Looking down on the mess that is the state I used to call home, my heart was breaking.