Ten years ago Saturday, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in southeast Louisiana. It is the country’s most expensive natural disaster and one of its five deadliest hurricanes.
It was also the largest Emergency Disaster Services operation in The Salvation Army’s history.
Not only did people donate $382 million to Salvation Army relief efforts, but following the storm, The Salvation Army EDS teams from across the country and Canada traveled to the Mississippi Gulf Coast to help recovery efforts. Among them were teams from Kentucky and Tennessee, coordinated by then Disaster Services Director, Ray Dalrymple.
“Out of 62 communities in Kentucky and Tennessee, volunteers would just call, and we’d get them trained and sent down there,” he said. “It was Salvation Army people plus about 1,200 or 1,400 volunteers from all over Kentucky and Tennessee.”
He recalled the overwhelming support from the community to help those affected by the storm: “We had some Baptist ministers and their wives who wanted to be part of the [relief efforts] for Kentucky. They went down for two weeks, came back and went down again for two weeks.”
He also described the sense of community and urge to rally around those hit by Katrina as being similar to the camaraderie felt for New Yorkers after 9/11. (He volunteered at Ground Zero.)
“During Ground Zero, someone from England said everyone in America became a New Yorker and everyone in the world became an American for a little while,” he explained. “That’s pretty much how I would describe the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Katrina. It hurt us all; we were all devastated in one way or another. We all became part of the Mississippi Gulf Coast community, especially during the recovery.”
Dalrymple estimates The Salvation Army sent between 10 and 14 teams from Kentucky and Tennessee, and each team was made up of approximately five members. These included workers for the canteen (mobile feeding kitchen), cooks, drivers, maintenance workers and people who focused on logistics.
“Some of the people went down a couple times, but for the most part we tried to use different people – volunteers, officers, anyone who could make themselves available to do that.
“We were careful who we sent to work,” he added, “because those first few weeks, the people who worked in that situation were also victims, if you know what I mean. They went down there and lived down there under the same conditions as the victims, plus they did work. The conditions were VERY difficult.”
Those teams – called first responders since they were among the first of the relief groups on the scene, not for the type of services they provided – stayed in the Gulf Coast area until just after the beginning of 2006. Their primary duty was to provide food and water, though volunteers who had skills other teams needed would be sent to work with them.
“We served the firefighters policemen, medical teams – those kinds of first responders – as well as the victims,” Dalrymple said.
He mainly stayed in Louisville, coordinating the efforts, but two to three weeks after those efforts began, he traveled to Baton Rouge and New Orleans to retrieve some equipment.
“When I went down, they hadn’t finished recovering,” he said. “It was pretty much like it was the day after [Katrina] hit. It was devastation everywhere, unbelievable: boats up across the highway, houses and buildings that were on foundations where neighborhoods used to be.”
Dalrymple, who retired from his part-time position with The Salvation Army in 2013, has been in disaster service work since 1959. He was made Disaster Services Director in 2000, so Hurricane Katrina was his first major disaster at the helm.
However, it was not the first major disaster of his career. He was also working during Hurricane Camille in 1969 and helped to put together teams for Hurricane Andrew in 1992. In fact, he said, during the Katrina equipment retrieval, he said he could still see signs of Camille’s presence.
“You never fully recover. They’ve done a good job of rebuilding down there [after Katrina], but even now, there’s still just certain signs that you can tell that Hurricane Katrina was there. Some of that, in my opinion, people have left there so they will not forget.”
To recover as much as the area has, Dalrymple said, it takes “people from all around the country and all around the world.
“We had disaster teams from every corner of The Salvation Army world come and respond. That’s the only way you ever recover from that.”
It wasn’t just The Salvation Army, of course. He said, “I have great friends to this day from Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Services, the Red Cross, Catholic Charities. It was a great team effort.”
And it was a time when people shone as they helped others who were in their darkest hour – some even when they were in that dark hour too.
“There was a Salvation Army officer they couldn’t find for several days. [He was] somewhere in the Gulfport area,” Dalrymple said. “As soon as the hurricane hit, he started serving and helping people, even though he and his family were victims themselves. They tried to get him to come home, to leave, and he wouldn’t do it. Not for a few weeks.
“There were so many little stories of ministry, help and assistance that will never be told, of people just doing the right thing. It was a time of great ministry for The Salvation Army service.”
To learn more about The Salvation Army’s response to Hurricane Katrina, visit: www.SalvationArmyUSA.org/katrina10