By Ken Wittekiend and Pat Shaub
Here is the latest news on the relief missions we have been flying. Most of our efforts have centered on assisting the folks in Bogalusa, La. The Baptist Men’s Disaster Relief organization is doing an amazing job in helping the residents there.
Bogalusa is one of many small towns that aren’t receiving any FEMA assistance. If it weren’t for the efforts of the church disaster agencies, there would be little or no help available. They are feeding thousands of people and providing all sorts of other assistance with supplies, communications and clean-up labor.
Bogalusa is absolutely devastated by the hurricane. Most of the houses received damage, much of which resulted from large trees being uprooted and falling onto homes and cars. In many cases, the falling trees took down power lines as well. We saw many homes where tree limbs had crashed into the living area. The church groups are working to remove these trees using chainsaws and brute force because no heavy equipment has made it into town as far as we can tell. The work is hot, dirty and dangerous.
Our role has been to bring in supplies and move evacuees and church personnel as requested. We try to take a load of food, diapers, chainsaws, etc., from central Texas when we fly into Bogalusa or other disaster area towns. Then we move folks to where they need to go.
We were asked to move a lady from Bogalusa to Monroe on Saturday. Azalea Johnson, 76 years old, had stayed in Bogalusa during the storm because she refused to leave her patients in the local nursing home. Her husband Freddy had been evacuated to Monroe from the Bogalusa nursing home earlier. Word came that Freddy had suffered a heart attack in Monroe and had been hospitalized. She was anxious to get to Monroe to care for her husband.
We arrived in Bogalusa around 4:00 p.m., loaded Azalea into N6093 Sierra and departed for Monroe as “Angel Flight 93 Sierra.” Although she had to be exhausted, Azalea did not want to sleep on the flight. She stared out the window and said again and again, “How beautiful…I can’t believe how beautiful the clouds are.” We landed around an hour later, borrowed a crew car from the FBO and took Azalea to Freddy. The smiles and tears as these two wonderful people were reunited were payment beyond measure for our small efforts. There is simply no better use of our time and resources than this.
We returned to Bogalusa, landing around 10:00 p.m. We spent the night in the church, got up at 6:30 a.m., had breakfast and departed for Gulfport, Miss.
We had an Angel Flight mission to pick up an elderly Philippine woman who had become separated from her relatives. She was trapped in Gulfport with no way to get to safety in San Antonio, Texas, where relatives live. We arrived to discover there was no ride for Severina Capparos to the GPT airport.
We located a lady who worked as the emergency room supervisor in the only functioning hospital in the area. Christine called an ambulance service, creatively found a way to qualify Severina for transport and made sure she was on the way.
Severina arrived a couple of hours later. We loaded up and headed for Texas. Stopping for fuel in Alexandria, La., we found out the weather wouldn’t permit a landing in San Antonio, so we contacted Severina’s family and asked them to drive to Burnet. We landed around 4:30 p.m., on Sunday and reunited Severina with her daughter and son-in-law.
I hope you can get some sense of the work that is getting done and of the enormous work still to be done. I wish we could share the sense of pride and joy we feel in doing some small part. The real stories are not being told. Words and pictures don’t begin to tell the story. There is an astounding amount of great work going on by people who will never receive any recognition other than in their own hearts. We hope you can find a way to join this recovery process. So much is needed and so many are hurting.
Pat and I are both moved by the American spirit that lets complete strangers come together to help in any way they can. It simply and truly makes us proud. We saw disaster relief teams from Illinois as well as Texas in Bogalusa. So many folks are helping in so many ways. These are the stories that people need to know. In the smaller towns, they arrived quickly and continue to provide essential services with little or no recognition.
For more information on Angel Flight, visit www.angelflightsc.org; Texas Baptist Men’s Disaster Relief, [http://www.bgct.org/TexasBaptists]; and Eagle Training, [http://www.eagletraining.net].