A place to call home

Lincoln Courier

Friday 23 December 2005, 5:59 pm

by Gaye Maxson

While Joann Nicodemus spent six weeks as a volunteer relief worker at Hurricane Katrina's ground zero in Waveland, Miss., she made a list of things she looked forward to doing again.

"Turn on a faucet.

"Take a hot shower.

"Not wear a hat.

"Sleep in a bed that's not on the ground.

"Sit on a couch and watch TV.

"Flush a toilet."

Nicodemus worked at a distribution center in a strip mall parking lot in Waveland, Miss. The town at ground zero had been destroyed by the 35-foot storm surge.

"You can't wrap your head around it," Nicodemus said. "(Survivors) came back to nothing. Not even any debris. That went inland for a quarter mile. Then you go inland, and those people lost everything, but their yard was filled with a stack of debris. Nothing can prepare you for it."

The strip mall was gutted and the parking lot had become a street fair of stations for food, first aid and supplies. Stations were run by various religious and governmental organizations as well as by individuals like her. The Rainbow Family — a self-professed non-organization from the hippie counterculture of the 1970s — was serving three square meals every day to anyone who came while musicians provided music to sooth the soul. Seventh-day Adventists, Mormons, Methodists, Episcopalians and others worked together helping refugees who came back day after day for food and supplies from the piles of donations.

A couple with a recreational vehicle offered Nicodemus shelter. When they left a few weeks later, she found a tarp to sleep under, and later a tent — without a fly. "I have a degree in outdoor rec, so it was pretty much up my alley," Nicodemus said. "Everybody that was down there was either in an RV or a tent. Those were pretty much your only options."

"I came back to my life. I have all my stuff. I'm going to a place where houses are intact. (The folks in Waveland) are still waiting in line for a trailer from FEMA. There are no gas stations, no stores, no houses, no jobs. And winter — winter's coming. I wish I could be back there helping them."