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Archive for August, 2008

After many days of watching, wondering, waiting and agonizing, finally GUSTAV has arrived. At least the first outer bands.

This morning crowned as a beautiful, sunny day here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast at Long Beach.

Not as warm as it has been, and with a very light breeze flowing through the nearby Magnolia and Live Oak trees, giving no hint whatsoever of how different things will be in just 24 hours.

Due to unexpected interruptions yesterday, mostly at the Center, some of my planned preparation tasks on my GUSTAV To-Do List, did not get finished. Such as installing the three new tie-downs over my trailer.

DSC_0076ABCMorning-Trailer
The badly-needed tie-down job finally in process, gets put on hold, again. The front of my car is pointed straight south, and this property is approximately 2-3 blocks north of the Gulf beach.

That little task was the primary job that needed to be, must be tackled, first thing this morning. So, I laid out the six anchors in the spots where they needed to be screwed into the ground, grabbed a short two-by-four, and started auguring them into the ground.

Tough job when you are not used to doing that every day. When I was about half done, with the three rear anchors deep in the ground, my “On Call” cell phone rang, with my Director calling to say he needed me to come over to the Center to help reposition the large, gasoline, diesel and water trailers up to high ground, and maybe a few other things.

Damn! Was I never going to get those tie-downs installed? Before GUSTAV arrived with its testy winds?

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One of the outer bands of clouds associated with Hurricane Gustav.

So, over to the Center I went, assisted with the trailer redeploying, and then got volunteered to go with the warehouse manager to deliver more specialized lift equipment, supplies and food up to the Specialized Treatment Facility, 12 miles to the north of the Center, where the last 40 of our clients were evacuated to today.

As I heard myself saying, “OK, I’ll go with Ray and get it taken care of,” I was acutely visualizing those three 27′ yellow tie-down straps laying in the grass besides my trailer, not doing a hoot in hell’s worth of good to anybody. And the countdown clock continued to tick.

Ray and I made the trip up to the STF, delivered all the things that were needed there, and headed back to the Center, where hopefully we would be done for the rest of the afternoon and evening. On the trip back, we gave a ride back to one of our Center co-workers, Stephanie D., who shared what her experience was during Katrina. Perhaps I can share that with you in a day or so. Very harrowing and incredibly stressful for Steph.

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The STF, where approximately 40 of our clients were evacuated to today, out of harm’s way, from Gustav.

As we drove up Beatline Road to the STF, I noticed a lot of traffic moving north, especially vehicles towing boats and travel trailers. Most of the businesses along the route were already closed and most had boarded up windows and doors.

After Ray and I arrived back at the Center, I talked hom into letting me borrow a few plastic tote boxes, so I could put some important papers and things in, and haul them to a more secure place than my little fragile travel trailer. Ray offered to drop them off at my trailer on his way home, so away we went.

Arriving at my trailer, Ray asked if I needed any help with installing the tie-down straps over the top of my trailer, to which I replied: “Thank you, Jesus!”

Fifteen minutes later, we were done and the new restraints were all in place. It was as if a heavy burden had been lifted off my shoulders, and my stress level went down by half of what it was running all day to that point.

DSC_0089ABCStrapsDone
Finally, the three additional tie-down straps are completely installed. I hope they do the trick against Gustav’s coming winds.

About 45 minutes later, as I was starting the next important task of assembling my gear for the transition over to the Center tonight, Ring – Ring – Ring, goes my personal cell phone this time. Dorothy, the Assistant Center Director, and my friend, was calling to ask if I could arrange to get 20 air mattresses out of the warehouse, get them inflated, and bring them up to the STF, as our Center staff members up there caring for our clients didn’t have any place to sleep, and they were needed.

As I deeply exhaled, again going visual – seeing all my gear sitting in my trailer, not in readiness for the transition, I said, “Sure, Dorothy, we’ll get it taken care of and have them up there in a little while.

Miss Dorothy is one of the nicest people (and fellow employees) I know down here, and when she asks, I’ll do everything I can to see that her request is taken care of. Dorothy has two sisters, Sally-Ann Roberts, who is one of the Anchors at WWL-TV in New Orleans, and Robin Roberts, Anchor at ABC’s Good Morning America.

So, I called Ray on my cell and told him we had another delivery to make up to the STF, and we agreed to meet back at the maintenance complex to dig out the 20 air mattresses and get them inflated.

A minute before 6:00pm, Ray arrived at the complex, and at that moment, an incredibly huge, black, rolling wall cloud, like something right out of the movies Independence Day or Close Encounters, rolled right over our heads, followed a minute later with the hardest downpour of sideways rain and wind I have ever seen.

HURRICANE GUSTAV HAD ARRIVED!

Or at least the first serious outer band of the huge storm.

Ray and I quickly inflated the 200 air mattresses, loaded them onto the box truck, and we headed up Beatline Road again towards the STF, with me following in my car. My gas tank was half empty, and I just hadn’t had time to top it off in the past two days, so I knew I should do that on this trip, or else risk not having a station available in several days or perhaps a week or two, depending upon how bad GUSTAV ravaged our area.

And wouldn’t you know the first several gas stations we went by were either closed, boarded up, or out of gas, due to all the last minute buying from people either evacuating, topping off their own tanks, or filling spare gas cans for generator use, if it comes to that. People remember what it was like after Katrina, and that’s good.

At any rate, I finally found a station at I-10, and filled up my tank, and we continued on to the STF and delivered the 20 air mattresses.

While carrying the mattresses inside the building several of the clients called out to me and said Hello, as they often do when I am doing a work order in their Cottage home. It was very heartwarming to see virtually all of them smiling and having an enjoyable experience there at the STF, out of harm’s way.

All of our Center direct care workers and support staff up there with them have done a great job of making them feel as comfortable and as un-stressed as possible, to their deserved credit, during this major disruption of their routines and normal schedules.

It was also heartwarming to note the staff’s dedication to that large and important care need up there, especially when many of them had families of their own still in a danger area along the coast, with GUSTAV approaching.

As I drove back down Beatline, traveling under I-10, towards my trailer, I checked my watch to see that it was about 7:30pm, and I suddenly realized that I had not eaten all day! Which is not an especially good thing if you happen to be a diabetic. My focus today was on many other things, and not on my health.

Ever try to find a place open to eat at, when a major hurricane was expected to start bringing its handiwork ashore? Absolutely nothing was open! Food stores, restaurants, all closed and most boarded up.

I finally found a place open, had a quick sandwich, and arrived back at my trailer, where I am finishing this post, relating to you all (or y’all) the process of continuing to prepare for Hurricane GUSTAV’s landfall.

What it’s like to be in the target zone of one of these monsters of nature.
And now it is time to finish gathering my hurricane gear, and move over to the Center to my place of (what I hope is) safety for the next few days.

Hopefully, I can continue these updates as GUSTAV continues to come ashore during the next day or two. I’ll do my best.

It is my sincere prayer that GUSTAV will not inflict the terrible carnage on any of the Gulf Coast area, like Katrina did three years ago. I don’t want anyone to have to be a GUSTAV hurricane relief volunteer. Please God, if you have anything to say about it!

Again, sincere Thanks to all of you many souls who stopped by for these hurricane updates these past few days, and for all of your expressions of support, your thoughts, prayers and encouraging and comforting words; they mean so very much.

Take care and God Bless!

Until later…

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A couple of nights ago, commenting on the Weather Channel about then, Tropical Storm GUSTAV, Hurricane Meteorologist Jim Cantori said, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this storm.”

No kidding.

025240W_smGUSTAV-5

At 4:00pm this afternoon, the Weather Channel announced that Hurricane GUSTAV, which has just passed over western Cuba, and entered the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, became a Category 4 (FOUR) Hurricane, with sustained winds of 150 miles per hour!

Damn!

Only 6 miles per hour more in sustained wind speed, and GUSTAV will be a Category 5 Hurricane, which it is expected to do before making landfall.

Double damn!!

Now it is starting to get a little scary…

In spite of that anxiety, people and institutions here on the coast continue to prepare for Hurricane GUSTAV, making preparations which include evacuation of people at risk from the coastal area.

This morning, under beautiful, sunny skies in Long Beach, I viewed my fellow staff at the Center where I work weekdays, complete the first phase of evacuation of of our clients to other like facilities at more northerly locations. It was really hard to imagine that such an incredible weather change will occur starting in about 24 hours.

Center officials are taking no chances with the safety of the Center clients, with this major hurricane posing a possible threat to the campus, and made the decision to evacuate well before the storm arrives.

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Center staff load clients on buses for evacuation this morning, in advance of Hurricane Gustav.

Six buses and several vans came to the Campus this morning, and Center staff carefully and calmly loaded our clients into the busses, which take them to places of safety for the next several days, until Gustav has passed and it is safe for them to return to their homes on the Center Campus.

Many of the Center staff accompanied the clients on the buses and will stay with and assist caring for them while they are temporarily staying at out sister facilities.

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Center staff members prepare to load their luggage on buses evacuating Center clients, who they accompanied.

The staff members I talked with this morning during the loading process expressed how relieved they were that the clients would be safe, no matter what Gustav brought ashore and over and through the 45 acres of the campus.

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Buses carrying Center clients and staff, prepare to evacuate from the Center this morning.

Eventually, all of the clients who were being evacuated today, were on board, with their clothing bags, records and any medicayions they would need while away from campus.

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Evacuation bus from the Boswell Center prepare to leave the Center, to safety.

Then it was time for the long caravan to leave, and head for their northern destinations. A number of the clients appeared excited to be going on a bus ride, somewhere. The convoy of some 15-20 vehicles total, even had a police escort to lead them up to I-10, where they would continue on to their destinations.

DSC_0070ABCYellowBusLeaving
Evacuating clients from the Center.

Tomorrow morning, the remaining 40 clients residing in the last two cottages will be evacuated, to another facility well north of the Center. Then it will be quiet there. Until the advance winds of GUSTAV arrive in the late afternoon or evening, and start stressing the huge Live Oaks and buildings on the campus and the coast.

During today, I continued with my personal preparations in advance of GUSTAV, packing up many things in my trailer to take to a safer site, and installing more tie-down straps over the top of my trailer.

Tomorrow afternoon, I will transition with my gear over across the road to the Center, into our safest building on the campus, where the next part of this experience will play out for me.

DSC_0141BCDLive Oak

Directly behind the administration building I will ride out GUSTAV in, is the second largest Live Oak tree in the State of Mississippi, approximately 750 years old, and having a limb spread from tip to tip of 162 feet across. Can you imagine the number of hurricanes that living tree has endured since it sprouted from the ground 750 years ago? Incredible!

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This is the giant Live Oak located directly behind the building where I will seek refuge from Hurricane GUSTAV tomorrow. Two of my closet friends, fellow Katrina volunteers from Wisconsin, stand at the front of the Live Oak, including, left, retired teacher and coach Michael Wollin, and writer sensation Maggie of Okay, Fine, Dammit.

I pray for all who are here, and even for my little trailer, that it can hold together in GUSTAV’s winds, and that I have my little home away from home, to come back to on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Thank you all again, for your continuing thoughts and prayers, not only for myself, but also for all on the Gulf Coast.

I will attempt to make additional Updates, but may not be successful, if phone and cable lines are adversely affected. We’ll see how it plays out…

God Bless you all, and Thanks again for being here with me in spirit.

Hopefully, more to follow.

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Editor’s note: I had intended to publish this GUSTAV UPDATE late last night, but wouldn’t you know, my internet connection took a hike then, and didn’t come back until a little while ago. I’ll attempt another update later this afternoon or early afternoon.

Preparations for the arrival of Hurricane GUSTAV in about four days, continue here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, as the storm gains speed and strength as it approaches the Gulf of Mexico today, the three-year Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

GUSTAV made a serious transition today, from a Tropical Storm into a Category 1 Hurricane and will probably soon go to a Category 3 storm, as it continues its trajectory towards the Gulf of Mexico and landfall somewhere on the Gulf Coast.

As the following figure illustrates, today’s National Hurricane Center’s projected trajectory map of GUSTAV’s path to the Gulf Coast changed only in a minor way, from that of yesterday.

205016W_smgustav-4

Most weather experts’ guesses (and that really is what they are at this point), are that GUSTAV will make landfall somewhere in southern Louisiana, west of New Orleans.

If that happens, that may be very bad for The Big Easy, as well as for the nearby Mississippi Gulf Coast (and yours truly and my neighbors here), depending upon how large and strong GUSTAV has grown to by that point. So much of what will happen with it, is still very vague.

So we on the Gulf Coast wait…

And wait some more…

And we continue to get ready.

Today, I personally observed considerable activity here in the Gulfport – Long Beach – Pass Christian coastal area, as may residents continue their own preparations for whatever GUSTAV brings their way on late Monday, Labor Day, and Tuesday.

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The following types of retail outlets were doing a rather brisk business around here today, associated with GUSTAV’s approach, including gas stations, pharmacies, hardware and food stores, and the local Lowes and Home Depot stores. The number of cars and trucks filling the parking lots of these stores
was large, indeed.

During work at the Center today, we continued preparing for GUSTAV, removing awnings from buildings, boarding up windows, moving beds around between Client Cottages, assisting with preparations to evacuate our 135 clients in the morning to other facilities more north in Mississippi, moving many of our fleet of vehicles to the highest parking lot and a few other things.

DSC_0230ABCAwnings

Most of the clients don’t realize what is going on with Campus preparations for GUSTAV in their behalf, and will probably be slightly agitated during the moving process tomorrow. But, then most of them enjoy riding in the Center buses and vans to places, so I imagine overall, they will enjoy their adventure. At least they will be in a safe place during GUSTAV.

Today, I also had the opportunity to ask a number of my fellow employees at the Center where I work weekdays, about their own preparations for GUSTAV, and their feelings about Katrina and the fact that today was the third anniversary of when Katrina came ashore with its 30′ storm surge and hurt so many families living here.

Many of them admitted that they were having painful memories about what Katrina did to them, and how much they suffered from her powerful forces.

And then, some fellow employees admitted that they had not yet made any preparations for GUSTAV. But, they might start on that tomorrow…

LIKE, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR, PEOPLE???????

One of the fellows I work with in Maintenance said that thinking about Katrina was quite painful for him, as it brought back such sad memories of him, his sister and his brother all losing their homes and all within them during Katrina.

He and I will be two of the four Maintenance guys staying at the Center in one of the administration buildings during Sunday evening, Monday and Tuesday, when GUSTAV comes through. He currently lives in a Katrina Cottage, in Pass Christian, on a lot that had probably 15′ of storm surge water rushing through it during Katrina.

Another employee, a lady, who I am going to call Melissa here, had incredibly stressful memories of the morning when Katrina came to visit her and her family.

Melissa, along with her spouse, were at her parents home, along with her spouse’s parents, the six of them, the house in an area in Gulfport that was not formerly classified as being in any flood zone.

Katrina came chugging and churning in that fateful morning, exactly three years ago this morning. The storm surge waters surrounded the home, and rose steadily in a short time, until the waters started coming inside.

As Melissa and her family members watched in disbelief, the water came into the home and the level in the home quickly grew higher and higher, until they frantically decided that the rapidly rising waters were a serious threat to their lives, and they must leave the home and reach higher ground in order to survive.

As they forced the front door open and waded onto the front porch and steps area, Melissa’s father, who was in the lead, was suddenly swept away by the swiftly flowing and rising waters. The frantic family members quickly lost sight of him, as they, themselves, with considerable effort, made their way through the deep water, all the way around the corner of the house and into a nearby large, Live Oak tree growing there.

They climbed high into the tree, desperately hanging on for their very lives, all the while consumed with grief and worry that Melissa’s father had probably not survived in the waters that took him away so quickly out of sight, as he led them from the house.

For six long, wet, windy hours Katrina raged and raged, while the five of them clung to that Live Oak tree, waiting for the terrible conditions of the storm to lessen, so they may climb down to the ground and go searching for Melissa’s missing father.

At long last, the wind and rain lessened, and practically numb from their perilous experience, they climbed down from the limbs of the tree, into the knee-deep water, and began their search.

A short time later, miraculously, they found him, alive, also in a large tree.

All during those six hours while they were clinging to life in the tree, they had no idea if he was alive or dead. And, he, also in a tree, had no idea if the five of them had perished or not. Tremendously stressful, physically and emotionally.

When I first met Melissa, about six months after Katrina, it was very difficult for her to talk about this life-threatening experience. And for the first two months after I met her, she just couldn’t bring herself to talk about it. Finally, she consented to share her story.

So, one evening while we were having supper in a large, white FEMA food tent, speaking very slowly and with some difficulty, she shared her terrible memory with me. As I listened, tears appeared in my eyes, and I slowly wiped them away as she continued.

When she was almost finished with her story, she looked down and then went on to describe that almost drowning wasn’t the worst part, nearly losing her father wasn’t the worst part, losing her home and all her clothes and furniture wasn’t the worst part, the worst part was losing her pets which she and her husband had left in their home when they had gone over to be with her and his parents. Because their home also was not officially in a flood zone, they had thought they would be safe there.

Tragically, they weren’t.

I have heard so many tragic stories from area residents during my time here with them, each one seemingly more tragic than the previous one. I don’t know how many times my heart was broken listening to them, crying tears with them as they remembered and shared those painful memories.

This evening, I journeyed through Long Beach, over into The Pass (Pass Christian), and observed many families there preparing their homes for GUSTAV’s arrival.

DSC_0325ACPassHarbor

I also shot many images of how buildings near the beach (like I am), look now, before GUSTAV gets here. I also stopped at SHAGGY’S CAFE in The Pass Harbor, one of my favorite seafood places to eat, and had a fish sandwich, before heading back to Long Beach and a quick stop at the food store for some milk and juice.

DSC_0287ABCDPass Harbor Ships

The Gulf there near The Pass Harbor, was beautiful this evening, with some children playing in the shallow water, probably not even suspecting that in only four days, that same water would be absolutely treacherous, unforgiving and merciless, to all who may be in there.

During that trip, I marveled at how much recovery the area had made since Katrina, how beautiful so many of the new buildings are now, after Katrina reduced them to rubble three years ago. As I looked at them, I silently wondered how many of them would be changed by GUSTAV.

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Along Highway 90 in Pass Christian, work is still under way to rebuild beaches there which were severely eroded by Katrina’s storm surge and wave action. Will GUSTAV reverse the tremendous progress made in that effort to rebuild the beaches after Katrina?

As I sat in SHAGGY’S eating my sandwich, I wondered if I would be able to eat at SHAGGY’S next week, after GUSTAV.

DSC_0298ABCDShaggys-1

I wondered how GUSTAV would change my life.

I decided it already had.

This evening, after arriving back at my trailer, I ran across my dear friend Maggie-Dammit’s post about the friendship we share, and how very much it connects with my life here on the coast. Maggs is such a sweet soul, she just blew me away with her sweet words. She is such an incredibly gifted writer, great mother and spouse!

Tomorrow morning early, I will assist many of the staff at the Center with the evacuation process, including fueling up all the buses and vans that will be used for the moving process. After that, I will concentrate on my own last minute preparations for GUSTAV, here at my trailer, including installing the three new 27′ tie-down straps over the top of the trailer and get the anchors into the ground, buying a few gas cans of extra gasoline for my car and generator, packing my suitcase for when I will be at the Center during GUSTAV, and packing up and moving most of the trailer contents over to a secure room at the Center, for the duration of GUSTAV.

That should take most of the day I think. And, I’ll respond to any calls from the Center that need attention, being the Maintenance guy “On Call” during this weekend and this coming week. With the clients being evacuated in the morning, hopefully it will be more quiet there Saturday and Sunday.

Depending upon what happens with GUSTAV during its approach to the coast, I may be called in to do more window boarding and other things at the Center.

And somewhere during the weekend, I am hoping to get a little sleep. Yeah, right!

Thanks so much for all who stopped by today to check out the GUSTAV posts, over 300 of you, and offered encouragement and prayers for those of us here on the Gulf Coast. Your thoughts and prayers and encouragement are so appreciated!

Please continue to stop by for more Updates, and images, as I will try my best to keep them coming before and all during when GUSTAV gets here, depending my internet access.

I am anxious to see if the Cell towers go down when GUSTAV is here, too. That would suck!

See, there’s no panic in my voice…

IS THERE……….???

We’ll see how it goes…

Take care.

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Uncertainty.

That’s something we have a lot of, concerning what GUSTAV may do here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast on Labor Day.

GUSTAV, still technically a Tropical Storm, did a little dance overnight, down between the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, and that little indulgence just may have been enough to send the eye of GUSTAV about a hundred miles to the west of us, into Louisiana, instead of heading towards the middle Mississippi Gulf Coast.

The real truth is, it’s just too early to tell what it is going to do once it enters the Gulf.

Come late Saturday and into Sunday, the developing storm will be much clearer as to direction of travel and where it will probably make landfall on Tuesday.

Here is the current model from the National Hurricane Center:

204513W_smgustav-3

As you can see, the direction of travel cone is very wide, so who really knows at this point where it will go, and how strong it will be when it gets there. People here are praying that GUSTAV keeps moving to the west.

I can tell you this though, folks around here are taking this threat very seriously, and preparations are being made by most people for whatever happens from GUSTAV.

The memories of what Hurricane Katrina did here are strongly etched in the minds of area families. So many families I talked with during my time here on my Personal Mission during the past 20 months have told me, “I foolishly stayed for Katrina, and almost was killed. I won’t stay for another one like her.”

GUSTAV pretty much dominates conversations around here, and I think it is safe to say that folks here are basically “on edge” about GUSTAV’s coming, particularly the uncertainty of what the part of it that strikes here, will look and feel like.

Gas prices have really spiked here in the past two days, going up between $ .35 and $ .40 per gallon in just two days! I am glad I topped off my half a tank two days ago at $3.31 per gallon.

Many of the retail stores have posters in their windows advertising that they will be open Sunday and Monday, and that more bottled water, batteries and portable gas cans are on the way.

With the slight change in projected path overnight in GUSTAV, preparation plan at my work place change slightly this morning, too. A decision was made to hold off on boarding up cottage windows for another day, pending upon GUSTAV’s track in the morning.

Tentatively, plans are set to evacuate all of our ambulatory clients Saturday morning by bus, to other State Mental Health sites north of the coast here in Long Beach. Again, all that is subject to change, depending upon what GUSTAV does each hour of the day.

And what am I feeling, personally, sitting here as I anticipate my first hurricane is about to roll in here in about 4 days?

Damn!

I am very uneasy, I’ll tell you folks!

After seeing first-hand a couple of weeks after Katrina blasted through here, I know what hurricanes can do.

They can be absolute monsters and destroy virtually anything in their path.

I am as brave as the next person, but, I’ll be hanging out across the road from my travel trailer, at the Center where I work during the days, in the strongest building we have there.

The rest is out of my control, and I pray that God watches over and protects all of us down here.

Whatever GUSTAV does, y’all have your own personal on-the-spot reporter on the scene. I’ll try to get some images during the storm and after for you to see.

Thanks for your prayers and thoughts, too.

This is the Coast Rat standing by…

******************************************

Another update will follow.

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And he wasn’t invited, either.

I was kind of hoping that I would have this coming Labor Day Holiday to relax, and get caught up on a few things, including reading some posts of some of my blogging friends.

Well, it pretty much looks like that scenario is shot to hell, with the current weather forecast that Tropical Storm Gustav, now down just west of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, will be breathing down our necks as a Category 3 Hurricane come Monday, Labor Day afternoon.

203214W_smGustav-2

As a matter of fact, the current projected track of Gustav as a Cat 3 Hurricane, puts the eye passing somewhere between my car and my little travel trailer, here where I am living on the edge of Long Beach, Mississippi, just a couple of blocks north of the Gulf.

Great!

Just Great!

Hey, we’re not all rebuilt yet after Hurricane Katrina, a Cat 3 when she came ashore a few miles just west of here, kicked the stuffings out of the south Mississippi to the tune of over 125 billion dollars!

And now, almost three years to the day after Katrina hit, here comes Gustav, to do God knows what to this recovering area.

Some 20 months ago, I moved down here to the Mississippi Gulf Coast to help families with the rebuilding process, as part of a two-year Personal Mission of mine. In order to help pay my expenses of living, working and volunteering here, I have been working weekdays at the South Mississippi Regional Mental Health Center, in Long Beach, in the Maintenance Department.

I’ll tell you, folks down here on the Gulf Coast are taking this watery, windy threat very seriously.

The local food store here in Long Beach was very busy this evening, with residents shopping for canned goods, bottled water and many other items, stocking up for the Holiday weekend and Gustav.

At work today, our 12-personal department held a planning meeting to discuss our preparations for Gustav, in case it does end up coming this way. Right after the meeting, the crew started “battening down the hatches” as it were here on the 45-acre campus, preparing for what could be another Katrina threat.

Tomorrow morning, we will start boarding up several of the client cottages, move equipment, fleet vehicles and supplies around to higher and dryer positions on the campus.

This afternoon, two of us sprayed around the eaves and the bushes of all the cottages, so that when we start boarding up the windows in the morning, the wasps previously living there, would not become agitated and try to sting us, like they did the last time these preparations took place. We also tipped all the picnic tables over on their tops, and secured anything that might become a flying missile in Gustav’s winds.

We will also move the large, mobile gasoline and diesel tanks to the highest location on the campus.

All of the client cottages and key buildings on campus have large generators, that automatically start when the power is lost.

After entering the Gulf of Mexico, if Gustav reaches a Category 3 status by Friday, most of the clients will be evacuated north to other State mental health facilities. If it reaches a Category 4, all of the remaining clients will be evacuated, too.

As fate would have it, this coming weekend and week ahead, has me as being the Maintenance Department person who is “On Call” from Friday evening, until the following Friday evening, to respond to any emergency calls or problems occurring on the SMRC Campus. So, I will be here in any case, to respond to any problems on the campus.

At today’s meeting, I was one of 4 Maintenance guys volunteering to stay on campus all through the storm, which is only a couple blocks north of the Gulf, but much of which is located in one of the highest pieces of land in this area. Thank God for little things.

The surge that Katrina brought ashore three years ago, was in the 31′ range. The small piece of land where my travel trailer is parked, sits on property that is reported to be 32′ above sea level, and barely did not have flood water during Katrina.

Last evening, I went over to Lowe’s in Bay St. Louis and purchased three more sets of tie-down cables to put over my trailer, which, when installed, join the other four sets on the ends, and will hopefully hold it steady and not let it be destroyed by whatever strength winds that Gustav blows through here with on Monday.

We’ll see…

I will be hunkering down across the road from my trailer, at the SMRC (only a quarter of a mile to my east), in one of the brick buildings there, when Gustav hits. Before then, I will try to box up my clothes and what few other things I have here in my trailer, and store them in a room in one of the campus buildings until after the storm, and hope and pray that I have a trailer and a bed to come back to then.

My two years of mission work was to be over about Christmas this fall. I was hoping to make it through both years without having to face a hurricane, and transition back north to my home and family in Wisconsin without facing that threat, which I had only watched on TV while folks here endured and faced those threats over the decades.

Not to be.

Please say a little prayer for me, will you? And for all the other folks here on the coast in harm’s way.

More later…

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Outdoors has always had a strong calling for me.

A. VERY. STRONG. CALLING.

From the first day I was allowed by my parents to walk down to the river near our home to fish, to the day it was OK for me to go and roam around on the hills and cliffs behind our home, my preference of where to spend my time, as much as possible, has been roaming and exploring in the outdoors.

While growing up as a young lad in rural, south central, Wisconsin, I did not have many of the distractions, (or, attractions), that youngsters of today have.

My brother and sisters and I did have a television, a black & white television, that is, to watch in our home, and we did spend a good amount of time, after arriving home from grade school, watching such shows as Howdy Dooty, and the westerns shows that were on, like Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Gene Autry, The Cisco Kid and Tom Mix. Other shows we watched included Ozzie and Harriet, Name That Tune, and The Ed Sullivan Show.

But, we didn’t have a home computer, Satellite or Cable TV, I-Pod, MP3 Player, DVD Player, Walkman, Cell Phone or Malls to occupy any of our non-school hours.

Consequently, my attention was drawn reading, and, to the outdoors.

During my summer weekdays as a youth, I was permitted to take my fishing pole, a box of worms I had dug, and walk down to the Pine River, located about a half mile southwest of our home, to spend the morning trying to catch the elusive Rainbow and German Brown trout that lurked in the holes that pocketed the river there.

This weekday adventure was a real ritual, where I would put a couple of bottles of soda, usually orange or R C Coca-Cola, maybe a sandwich, a candy bar or two, and once in awhile, a cigar or two from my father’s cigar boxes, in a knapsack, then grab my fly rod, belt bait box, my ball cap, and take off for the river to spend the morning.

My little brother would occasionally go along on those daily fishing adventures, but when he came along, I would never bring along any cigars, as I really didn’t want to let my folks possibly find out that their oldest son was smoking cigars at his young age.

Saturday and Sunday mornings, were reserved for my brother and sisters and I to help our parents with food preparation for the afternoon or evening meal serving hours at our Supper Club. Thus, usually there was no fishing for me on those days.

Having fished up and down the Pine for a long time, I came to know where the trout holes were. and the best time of the morning to try to lure them into biting on one of my worm-laden hooks, or on a special fly I floated down over the holes.

Most of the time, though on those daily adventures, I didn’t catch many trout. What I did catch were lots of suckers, chubs and carp, of which there were great numbers of each in that water.

After catching one of those types of ‘rough’ fish, I would throw them as far as I could back into the brush, away from the water, congratulating myself that I had river the river of yet another one of there kind.

Those daily experiences along the river, were some of the most pleasant of all of my memories about living in those years. I remember so vividly, sitting on the bank or on a limb I had dragged to the river’s edge, listening and watching the water ripple past, waiting for the feel of a tug on my line, that a fish was interested in my bait.

Opening a bottle of soda, holding it in one hand, and the fly rod in the other, feeling so at home there, so at peace, so one with nature, with the trees, the earth, the water, the wind and the sun.

Eventually, as the morning passed and noon approached, I would pick up my gear, turn and walk up to a place of crossing, where I would make my way carefully across a tree down over the river, and then walk back to my home.

It was dinner time, and another ritual was nearing. The Braves.

After dinner, I would walk over into the bar room of the Supper Club, walk behind the bar, and lift up the small brown radio from its hiding spot, and set it on the bar, near the front windows, and turn the button to turn it on.

Then I would reach into one of the drink coolers and take out a couple of bottles of orange soda, set them on the bar, and walk around to set on a stool and listen.

It was Milwaukee Braves baseball time.

And every afternoon, I was there, listening to the Braves, with Earl Gillespie and Blane Walsh announcing the play-by-play and color.

Those were the hay days for the Braves while they were in Milwaukee, when they had such greats as Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Joe Adcock, and pitchers Warren Spaun and Lew Burdette. Many were the times when I listened as Mathews, the ‘Santa Barbara Bomber’, Aaron and Adcock would slam back-to-back home runs off the opposing pitchers, and the Braves would win another one.

As I grew older during my boy-hood years, my summer daily fishing adventures decreased dramatically, when my father enrolled my brother and I in Little League Baseball in a town 15 miles to our south.

The more I played it, the more I came to enjoy little league baseball. After my brother finished our morning games, we would walk across the street to the A&W Root Beer Stand, and Ira, the owner, would draw us a big glass of root beer, in a large, frosted mug.

Because we were such good customers, Ira would often give my brother and I a free glass of root beer, while we were waiting for one of our parents to pick us up.

Although I have discussed my love for the out-of-doors during many of the middle years of my childhood, this outside attraction actually came to life even earlier, when I was in the second grade, just after we had moved to our home in south central Wisconsin, from southern Michigan.

After we had settled in in our home next to the supper club, in a very rural area of our county, my parents enrolled us kids in the local school, which was something very different than where we previously attended classes.

Our new school (an older structure, but new to us), was a large, square building located on the edge of a tamarack swamp, about a mile north of our little hamlet where our home was located.

In fact, our school was one of those famous, rural American schools known as a “One Room School.”

The structure had a large classroom (with a small library area set off on one side), where one teacher taught ALL 8 grades. There was also a large other room, which was a play room, for us to play dodge ball and other games when it rained, and then there was a small kitchen, where a hired cook prepared our meals (18 of them) for the students and the teacher.

Our drinking and cooking water for the school came from a well outside the front door of the school, and was drawn from the well by using a well hand pump.

The building was located on about 6 acres total, with two wood outhouses located behind the building, about a hundred feet from each other. Between the outhouses, was located our burn pile, where we would burn the trash daily in a burn barrel, which was located next to the back fence, beyond where the swamp lands began.

During the late fall, on a particularly windy day, it was not uncommon for the little trash fire to spread to the nearby swamp grass, and then spread rapidly to a large area of swamp. During those swamp fires, the bigger boys in school, would start a bucket brigade from the well pump to the back fence, trying to put out the fire before it burned the entire area to the rear of the school.

When the hand water pump was worked very fast for several minutes, while fighting such a swamp fire, the normally clean water would quickly turn rusty brown, and could not be used for drinking water until the next day, when the rust level would be way down again.

To the one side of the school were 4 level acres of grassy field, where our softball diamond was located, and where, during nice weather, the kids usually played work-up softball.

All around the school grounds, was a barbed wire fence, meant to keep nearby dairy cattle out and we kids, in.

I was not happy about having to go to this new school, after leaving my friends in my former school in Riverside, Michigan, north of Benton Harbor, and was rather a bit out-of-synch with life during that change process.

After we moved to our new home, and we two older kids, my older sister Barb, and I, started school in the one-room school, it was in late winter. On a school-day morning, if it wasn’t too cold, we would bundle up and walk through the frozen, snow-covered swamp the mile to the school house, or if it was cold, one of our parents would drive us there on a round-about gravel road, and then come and get us after school was out.

Being trapped in that new school I really didn’t like, I was anxious to be gone from there, in any way I could, in mind and spirit, and in person.

When spring arrived, and the snows melted and the grass grew green and tall, my inner spirit became restless.

Finally, one nice warm day, when our noon hour started, I went outside after eating, and walked across the gravel road, wiggled through the fence and climbed up the woodsy hill and sat on top of the 50′ sandstone cliff facing our school.

Man, it was wonderful! Sunny, warm, peaceful and not school! I laid back and just watched the fluffy white clouds move by, as time seemed to stop altogether.

Suddenly, there was the loud clanging of the school bell across the road, announcing that the noon hour had ended and it was time for all the students to come in to start the afternoon class session.

I just sat there and watched the clouds, and the other kids as they made their way back into the school. After about five minutes, the teacher came out looked around, finally saw me sitting up on top of the sandstone cliff, and shouted for me to come down and back into the school. I waved back, and said OK.

Reluctantly, I climbed down from the cliff and hill, and went into the building. Very. reluctantly.

But now, I knew how to bring relief to my troubled spirit, how to get away from this place, this new school I didn’t want to be at, even if to feel relief for only a little while.

I knew.

The next day at noon, away I went again, back to the same beautiful place. Sitting high up on the cliff, in the warm sunshine, watching the clouds float by, feeling the spring wind move through the pine trees, floating their fragrant scent through the air all around me.

And then, clang – clang – clang, and it was over. Followed by another yell from the teacher.

Damn! This sucked!

After this same scenario was played out during the remaining three days of the week, Friday afternoon, the teacher made it very clear to me that he did not want to see me sitting up on that cliff during noon hour any more.

Henh – henh- henh, …….OOOOOOOOOO-K.

The following Monday during early the noon hour, found me playing playing out in right field during ‘work-up’ on the softball field. Deep in right field.

When the next batter hit the next pitch deep into left field, and all other eyes focused on the action there, I quietly and quickly slipped over the right field fence and into the tall weeds and brush growing there, and headed swiftly towards the hills, across the gravel road from that patch of brush.

This time, I didn’t stop on the first hill, to sit and just enjoy being there. I kept walking and climbing, and was soon a good half mile from the school yard, and from the ringing bell that I could only faintly hear, announcing the end of noon hour.

Well, it all made perfect sense to me then, after all, my teacher had told me NOT to be sitting up on that sandstone cliff across from the school anymore,….and, well, I wasn’t.

I went on to spend the rest of the afternoon then exploring the hills where I had ‘escaped’ to, and eventually made my way out to the highway, and caught a ride back to my little hamlet where my home was.

When I walked into the house, apparently, the teacher had stopped to talk with my father on his way home from school that afternoon, as my father said, “Come one, let’s go for a little walk; we’re going to have a little talk, you and I.”

Well, on that little walk, my father made it abundantly clear that my days of running away from school were over. End of discussion. OK, him I will listen to.

That was the last time I ran away from school, for any reason. However, it was only the beginning of my life-long adventure with the out-of-doors, and my love for it.

Not only did I come to love my summer morning fishing experiences, but as I grew older, and was allowed to carry a .22 rifle and other firearms in the woods by myself, at every opportunity, I came to explore and come to know so much of the hills and valleys and rivers near my home.

Eventually, I came to spend more time ‘out there’ than at home.

Out there, became my home.

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COAST RAT UPDATE…

The Coast Rat has been on vacation for the past 2-3 weeks up north in Wisconsin, and is now back in Long Beach in the August Mississippi heat and humidity.

On Tuesday, July 22, I flew from Gulfport to Dallas, then up to the Dane County Regional Airport in Madison, with nary a hitch, for a change.

As I walked down the steps from the upper concourse, there was my wife and my 5-year old grandson, hand-in-hand, standing there, waiting for me. I waved to Noah, and when he finally saw me waving at him, he put his little arm up high and waved enthusiastically back at his grandpa!

As I walked across the terminal floor the few steps to them, tears were wet on my cheeks, I was so very glad to see them both. Both got huge hugs from me that seemed to last a lifetime. After we went and picked up my bag at the baggage claim area, we got in grandma’s car and headed for our home, to join the rest of the family.

I had not seen my Wisconsin children, youngest son and my daughter, since last February, and my spouse of 40 years, since last March. So I spent most of a week in late July thoroughly enjoying being with them, and with my oldest son and his family from North Carolina, who were all home that week at mom and dad’s/grandpa and grandma’s.

What an enjoyable time I had playing with my two grandsons, Noah and Truman, during that time, as well as watching them bond and play with their Uncle Andy and Aunt Hilary. And, yes, Noah got to have his “big bath” while at grandpa’s house.

We all went to the Madison Vilas Park Zoo one day; such a great time! The only sad part during that week, was when our daughter’s female kitty, Nuno, passed away that evening, at age of sixteen. When my wife told me about it the next morning, we both cried a good deal, as Nuno lived with us for many years while my daughter was living at home. A very sad morning…

The really hard part was at the end of the week when oldest son and his family had to fly back to North Carolina, back to their life there.

The following week, found me busy preparing for the Muskets & Memories Civil War Weekend at Boscobel, Wisconsin on Aug. 2 & 3. That reenactment, one of the largest in the midwestern United States, is one where I have been involved for almost ten years in one way or another.

For the past 8 years, I have been privileged to serve as the Director of Reenactment EMS Grounds Response Team, a group of 15-20 EMS volunteers who look after and respond to the emergency medical needs of the 1,000+ reenactors attending and participating in the event.

Fortunately, the reenactment went off wonderfully, and very safely, and we in EMS at the event, had very little to do, unlike last year, when we were literally as busy as bees. Preliminary weather predictions forecast hot and humid days and nights, but the actual weather was cooler and less humid than the forecast.

During the weekend, one of the reenactors advised me that he had read in an eastern U.S. magazine that our reenactment was rated by the magazine as the Number Five Best Reenactment in the nation. That was kind of neat to hear.

At the Boscobel civil war reenactment each August, we go to great lengths to have the EMS response on the event grounds the best possible in the entire country. During the daily battles at the affair, the reenactors participating appreciate our efforts to be on hand in force to take care of them, and tell us that our large and versatile presence helps make them feel like they can go to great pains during their performances in the battles.

This year’s battle sequences were Malvern Hill on Saturday, a Union victory, and a part of the Battle of Chattanooga, in which the Confederates were victorious. Every part of these battles is scripted, so as to try to present to the public as true a picture of the actual battle that happened back then.

In the Officer’s Briefing Saturday morning, I get to discuss with all of the officers present what our EMS presence is for the weekend, and how we will respond to emergencies, both in the camp and during the battles, when they occur. We even go so far as to ask the officers to instruct their men to have those taking “a hit,” early during the battle, to make some small movement every few minutes so that we EMS who are watching all of the soldiers on the field will see that they are OK, and not down with heat prostration or worse, while waiting for the battle to continue to a conclusion.

We go so far as to dress up several of our EMS Team members in either Union or Confederate uniform and send them right out on the battlefield with the troops, so they are as close to potential medical emergencies and accidents as we can get.

A real life police and fire dispatcher, and fellow EMT, Bob McNown, has been our EMS Grounds Dispatcher at this event for many years, and operates out of the Grant County Emergency Management Command/Dispatch trailer, which is set-up in the middle of our fenced, EMS Compound on the event grounds. Bob did an outstanding job at this event. All of our EMS assigned Teams are equipped with EMS portable radios during the weekend, and are in constant communications with our EMS Dispatcher to relate any problems that occur on the grounds.

We also have a large triage tent, with “misting fans” and a Mass Casualty trailer, full of lots of EMS goodies. Prior to the start of the battle, our Team deploys large ice coolers, water jugs and pails of water at four separate locations around the perimeter of the battlefield, for our team members to replenish their ice water pails from, and for uniformed reenactor ice water Ladies of Mercy and Medical reenactors to replenish their ice water pails from.

The rest of us, in assigned teams at specific sector points, highly visible in safety yellow EMT t-shirts, surround the battlefield, equipped with portable radios, binoculars, EMS jump kits and varied other equipment and supplies, oxygen tanks, defibrillators, “long boards,” “C-collars” and several gator-type vehicles, ready to respond to any medical emergency that occurs out there or in the reenactment camp. Those emergencies can be horse accidents, cannon fire injuries, powder flashes, bee stings, bayonet injuries, ankle sprains, respiratory and diabetic emergencies, strokes, heart attacks, a variety of heat-related problems and other medical emergencies.

Basically, our mission is to prepare for the worst case scenarios at this event, in terms of EMS personnel readiness, equipment and supplies, and hope for the best, where we end up using very little of our skills or supplies. Thankfully, that is what happened this year. We in EMS got to “play” very little…

This year, I had two wonderful, fellow EMTs, Teresa Sobczak and Kay Gehrke, serve as Co-Coordinators of the EMS Response Team with me, and they did a marvelous job, making the EMS Response part of the reenactment go as smoothly as it has ever gone. Thank you so much, ladies! Son Andy was also a great help during the weekend, especially during the Friday set-up process.

The hard part of this experience is that we all must wait a whole year for it to happen again. Planning for the next event has already begun.

On the Sunday evening of the event, Andy and I arrived back at my home, located about an hour and a half from the event, unloaded all the equipment I furnish for the event (a truck and trailer load), then Monday evening, Andy and I carried it all back into my basement to the shelves, until next year.

Tuesday morning, early, began a day of airline disasters, which lasted until late at night, when I finally arrived back in Gulfport, minus my checked luggage, to my travel trailer. Upon entering the trailer, I found that the power had went off during the two weeks I was gone with my family and to the reenactment, and you can guess what my little refrig and freezer looked like. What an ugly mess!

Got that all cleaned up by 1:30am, and to sleep by 2:00am, so I could get up at 6:30am to go back to work at the Center in Long Beach.

All-in-all, it was one of my best vacations ever, except for the final day of air flight disasters and the power outage waiting for me when I arrived back here. Here is a hint of how it all started Tuesday: my phone rang at 1:30am Tuesday, advising that my 6:00am flight out of Madison to O’Hare was canceled. The later flight out of Madison was late getting there, and they advised that the takeoff to O’Hare could be delayed substantially, as the plane had hit a bird while landing. Oh great! Just what I wanted to do, was get on a plane that had just hit a bird…! I could literally see this plane, with me in it, going down in flames, on the 20-minute flight to Chicago. Another cancellation in Chicago to Gulfport (last flight there of the day). Then it got worse, and I finally got to leave O’Hare at 3:30pm. Yuk, yuk, yuk, yuk….. from there.

Could have been much worse…

I apologize for not being very active with my blog during and since my vacation, or commenting on the posts of the many others that I have been reading and responding on in the last several months. The last 5 days of the vacation (at the reenactment and after), were exhausting, and I was really severely sleep-deprived by the time I finally arrived back in Gulfport, on Aug. 6.

I really thought I would have ooodles of time to post and comment during my vacation…. NOT! I am trying to get caught up on several other issues, and hope to get back with you folks very soon.

Thanks, my friends (especially you, Quin), for being patient!

The Coast Rat IS back!

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