Distribution Sites Sprout from Devastation
By Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA
American Forces Press Service
PASCAGOULA, Miss., Sept. 5, 2005 Amidst the seemingly endless vistas of tragedy between Mobile, Ala., and Gulfport, Miss., relief distribution sites are increasing in numbers and providing vital sustenance and essential personal items to help ease the discomfort of Hurricane Katrina's victims.
Army Sgts. Will Jones (right) and Robert Spires of the Alabama Army National Guard offer cans of baby formula to a hurricane victim at an aid distribution point in Pascagoula, Miss. Photo by Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Near the Port of Pascagoula, donated goods are being rushed in by the truckload, unloaded, organized into packages, staged and then reloaded into storm victims' vehicles. It's just one of many relief distribution sites popping up in shopping centers, parking lots, churches and anywhere there's ample space to accommodate the masses in the coastal towns.
The Alabama Army National Guard operates three of the distribution sites in Mississippi.
"They're fantastic and so well-trained and organized," disaster relief volunteer Becky Grogan said of the Guardsmen. "They just came in and made this assembly line."
The Alabama soldiers, all volunteers, have been on the job at the distribution sites for about four days now.
"I've got power and ice and most of these people have nothing," Army Sgt. Will Jones of the 1206th Quartermaster Company said. "We've got everything we need," he said, referring to the condition of his own home after the storm.
That prompted the Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, who just returned home this past February after more than a year away from home, to volunteer to help in disaster relief operations in neighboring Mississippi.
Guard officials here say the National Guard soldiers were mobilized and deployed to provide relief within 24 hours after Katrina made landfall and tore through the region. Soon after the first donations were delivered, Guardsmen were busy sorting and preparing the items for distribution.
At this particular site, families were being given two boxes filled with canned and jarred goods, crackers, jam, peanut butter, toiletry items, cleaning supplies and miscellaneous food items. Families with babies received diapers, baby food and formula.
Car and car of victims steadily drove into the site for supplies Sept. 4. The Guardsmen loaded the goods--a bag of ice, two boxes of goods--and in return, received some "thanks, guys" and "God bless you all" comments from coastal residents.
West of Pascagoula, supply trucks rolled into another distribution point. Motorists, some with high-water marks still on the outside of their cars, waited patiently in a line that stretched about a quarter mile, but moved quickly as Guardsmen loaded the cars and kept them moving.
"We've got 40 to 60 tractor-trailer rigs that come in here each day with supplies and they get emptied daily," said Alabama Army National Guard Maj. Mark Holland.
The Guardsmen say they will stay as long as the community needs them. Alabama's adjutant general has stated that most of the state's soldiers will remain on duty for at least two weeks, and will then be replaced by fresh troops to allow the current force members to return to their civilian jobs.
"I hate the situation, but it makes you feel good to do something positive," Jones said. "What makes this worse is that this is at home. Some of these people have no homes; Slabs are all they have. All of these people should be safe."
Guard officials in the area said they could not estimate how much aid is being delivered to victims of Hurricane Katrina. They are focused instead on getting aid being donated by citizens throughout the country to survivors.
"It's reassuring to see them out here," resident Bob Boucher said as Guardsmen loaded his pickup. "It makes us feel like we're not in this alone."