Billy Berek, a long term volunteer from Chicago, talks about his experience responding to Isaac in New Orleans and surrounding areas:
“It was the worst area I’ve seen; houses completely relocated by flash floods; trailers over turned; foundations deserted by their seemingly sturdy compatriots. All kinds of livelihoods slammed into the seemingly benevolent levy of the Mississippi, by the water that the storm surge towed in from the gulf.
And I think the worst part is that a lot of the homeowners had just gotten back today. So it wasn’t the houses you were seeing ruined, but you could literally see the lives/dreams of these people dashed. The looks on their faces were of utter longing and desperation.
Just complete bewilderment as to how this predicament could befall them again only seven years after Katrina. And every time I saw one of their faces, I just didn’t know what to do or say. That look of pain is unmistakable and unforgettable; just as that look on their faces is burned into my memory, they have that same burn in their hearts: that moment of seeing all they’ve ever known in ruins, stamped forever into their souls.
Some residents we tried to help were beyond assistance, in some disaster induced purgatory, incapable of doing anything themselves and unwilling to accept our meager offers of assistance. The only option for them was to run away from it all, wonder why and dry their eyes. However as a volunteer, your insides churn and all you want to do is the same thing, run.
Ultimately, my compassion triumphed over my emphatic feelings of despair and I reached out to a man seemingly beyond any consolation. He had lashed out at our previous attempts to lend aid, but to give in and leave him there on his own would mean abandoning any faith in humanity and overall admitting that some disasters are irreconcilable.
My final offer of supplies was met with an upturned frown. Not a smile by any means, but enough of a hiccup in his disaster induced depression to be a remarkable gift that of realization, hope and connection. Some long forgotten sense of brotherhood of all men. That despite the engulfing darkness, light could still pierce through and allow this man to see a brighter future not anything specific, but just to know that this future existed. For just a moment some saintly presence united us. Then he politely turned down our offers of cleaning supplies and resumed gathering his things in order to depart from Plaquemines Parish.
I am honored and proud to be a member of the United Saints that has been able to provide a sense of calm in a sea of gloom and muck.”