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Survivor's story

How volunteers helped Katrina victims rebuild their homes and their lives

Charlotte Huntley/The Week

(Published April 26, 2007, 2:49 p.m.)


She left as soon as she heard the warnings. "I've been hit by every storm that has ever come across the Gulf coast. I knew this was going to happen to me again."

Marion Booth, whose vitality belies her 71 years, spoke at Calvary Community Church during a visit to Walworth County to meet and thank the people who have helped in the rebuilding of her home.

Volunteers with Operation Nehemiah, an organization that helps hurricane victims rebuild, traveled to the Gulf Coast in December of 2005 to help victims of Hurricane Katrina rebuild. ("Rebuilding the Gulf Coast," one home at a time, The Week, March 5, 2006)

That's when they met Marion Booth.

Walworth County's Operation Nehemiah began at Calvary Community Church in Williams Bay, but it is supported by funds and volunteers from all over Walworth County.

Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast in August of 2005. Booth was living in Gulfport, Miss. She immediately left her family home and went to Jackson, Miss. to stay with her daughter, Sandra Kay Maye.

The storm was much bigger than anyone predicted and when Booth heard the news on the radio, she knew her home was in trouble.

After the storm passed, she tried to go back home, but Highway 49, the regular route to Gulfport, was closed, so people drove through the woods. "It was like a maze," Booth said. Men in trucks blazed a trail for others to get through, and they did, in spite of the mud and standing water.

"When I finally reached my home, I could barely get into the driveway. There was debris from my house, my neighbor's home and from places that no one knows. There was insulation, Sheetrock, curtains, bed mattresses--whatever was in the way of the wind and water was present on my yard and in the driveway. It was shocking."

Her roof was badly damaged; the home was full of belongings that had been torn apart, broken up and left in piles inside the house from the force and quantity of water, jamming her doors.

"We were able to push one door open, since it was about gone anyway, and we finally got inside. And I'm home."

It was home, but not livable. The carpet was soaked from the water that was still almost knee-high. The inside doors were sagging. "You're just pushing your way through wet furniture, wet clothing," Booth recalled. There wasn't a dry spot in the house. Sheetrock had fallen off the ceiling and walls. There was no place to sit, no place to sleep.

Booth's daughter, Louvenia Evans, came home to find that a tree had fallen through her house in Gulfport. She and her 12-year-old son got plastic to put on the floor so they could have a dry place to sleep.

Several times Booth had to stop talking because of the overwhelming memories.

Another daughter, Ann Collins, also lives in Gulfport, and her home was damaged as well. Collins and her two daughters and grandbaby slept in their SUV for over a week. "When they were able finally to get into their house, a falling Sheetrock hit her across the face and broke her nose."

Her son, Ivory Douglas Walker, lives in North Carolina, and another daughter, Angela Gail Holloman, lives in Virginia.

"We needed to cover the roof with something. The only thing we could find were garbage bags--the large garbage bags. They were selling them for $30 a box. Thirty dollars for garbage bags! Just as we got all that up," Booth paused and took a breath, "a rainstorm came up and blew that back off."

Then she heard about the blue roof people, who would put a tarp on the roof for free. Booth signed up immediately, and waited for three weeks until they showed up to check on her roof, but they wouldn't do it because her roof was unsafe.

The days of trouble left her exhausted. One day she fell asleep on her couch and woke up when she heard a crash. The garbage bags on her roof had been full of water; they broke and the water came cascading down the staircase "in a perfect waterfall," Booth said.

She received a check from FEMA for $5,200, and armed with that, she tried several avenues, but was unable to get anyone to do anything for her. "One day came a man with a truck and about 12 young men. And I asked him if he could go up on the roof and he said, yes, he could fix it. I am so happy that he was able to help me, I didn't ask for any identification; I didn't get an address; I didn't get anything from him."

She went to the bank to cash the FEMA check and the teller asked Booth to have him sign the check before she gave him the money. "Which was a blessing, because I'm at a point now I don't know half of what I'm doing.

"So he came and they did what they wanted, and took the money and left."

In Booth's estimation, the job was "tacky." They shingled over damaged plywood and covered the vent for the gas heater; when the gas company came, they would not turn on the gas because of the useless vent. And the roof still leaked.

By this time, Booth was out of money. Booth had been a social worker and worked for Head Start in Harrison County. In her later years, she was self-employed, running a private kindergarten. Now she was a widow and retired. She had no income, no insurance. She called her congressman, Gene Taylor. He told her to get in touch with some of the church groups, "because FEMA is not going to give you any more money."

A list of churches and organizations that were supposed to help would take the information, but they were getting so many calls that they just couldn't return them all.

One day Ann said to her, "Mother, what are you going to do?"

"I'm gonna wait. I'm not gonna do anything. I'm gonna wait."

"On what, Mother?

"On a promise made to me. The Lord said, 'I will never leave you, nor forsake you.' He has never left me. He's never forsaken me. He's been by my side continuously."

Meanwhile, two groups gutted her house and left. She never saw them again.

A group of volunteers from a church came to help her daughter Ann with her house. Booth asked them for help and they told her to see the North Carolina Baptist men, but they couldn't take on any more." They referred her to Cross Point Church in Gulfport.

At Cross Point, she said, "Things began to happen for Marion," Booth said. Cross Point was the liaison for Operation Nehemiah and Booth welcomed the workers with open arms. One of them was Jacque Tertany, and she and Booth formed an immediate bond.

Jacque and Mike Tertany are from Fontana, and are owners of Tertany Exteriors. Jacque explained because of the work that they do in their business, they were able to evaluate what had gone wrong with the work done on Booth's roof. With funds from Operation Nehemiah, they repaired her roof so it wouldn't leak and made sure the gas vent was working.

During her time in Walworth County, Booth stayed with the Tertanys. She said she had a chance to ride the train to visit Chicago and to go to the lakefront on Lake Geneva. She also found furniture for her home at Inspiration Ministries.

Volunteers have worked on Booth's home four times and another group will continue the work on April 29, putting in her kitchen cabinets.

"I don't have words to express how I feel," Booth said.

"I know God heard, because he has taken care of Marion."

If you want more information about Operation Nehemiah, or you would like to go on the next work trip in June, or if you want to donate, please contact Gene Ingersoll at (262) 949-7315 or Calvary Church office at 245-6294.



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