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From: Fr. Melchor Bernal, SVD
Date: Sep 02, 2005 10:28 PM
Subject: First hand report from Fr. Gus Wall, SVD

Reports From the Bay

I'm forwarding a first hand report from an SVD living/working near New Orleans.

Fr. Melchor Bernal, SVD
St. Justin Parish 2655
Homestead Road
Santa Clara, CA 95051-5322

(from Gus Wall)

Hello everyone,

Yesterday morning I talked with our Vice Provincial, Fr. Jim Pawlicki, who had recently transported several of our retired SVD from Bay St. Louis to Vicksburg & Greenville, MS. He wanted me to coordinate a trip with another SVD to Hattiesburg, MS where we would meet a van load of the remainder of our retired members and a few others and transport them to the Lafayette and Baton Rouge areas. Due to poor cell phone communication, however, the SVD I was supposed to link up with ended up driving all the way to Bay St. Louis on his own, and so, I was instructed to travel to Bay St. Louis also on my own, and I proceeded to do so.

I was under the assumption that the major roads were closed, so I proceeded to drive the back roads of Louisiana after I reached Baton Rouge. The trip taught me of the immensity of the damage that the great hurricane had inflicted on populations great and small in Louisiana and Mississippi. In some places so many trees and power lines and other debris covered the roads that local authorities had simply plowed or cut paths just wide enough for an averaged sized vehicle to fit through. As I wove my way through the wilderness created by Katrina I encountered people camped out here and there, in whatever shelter they could muster, waiting or hope for something better. Some were just trying to survive. Many had a glazed look to their faces and looked worn down and worn out. Yet many were battering their way through the debris trying to make some order of things and at least get some clear paths of transportation set up. All in all, the trip which normally takes two-and-a-half hours from Baton Rouge to Bay St. Louis ended up taking me six-and- a-half hours.

As I neared Bay St. Louis, I encountered even greater destruction, houses half way on the road, cars strewn about like toys, boats on top of houses, cars in trees, house totally demolished, gas stations & stores shredded to pieces, people wandering around lost and confused. Others were clustered together waiting for water and food.

I have spent the majority of this summer in Bay St. Louis and have come to appreciate the town and the inhabitants. I was not really prepared for the destruction I encountered. The town was demolished. The nice old town area I was accustomed to walking through each morning this summer was totally destroyed. Beachside restaurants, bars, and shops had totally disappeared. Our Lady of the Gulf Catholic Church had the steeple fall back onto the main church so that the church was severely damaged. Other churches were totally wiped out. The only two church structures that are mainly intact are St. Rose De Lima (SVD Parish) and our own Chapel at St. Augustine's. They mainly suffered water damage and need the mud cleaned out and pews put back in place. With hard work they can be put back in shape, as they will be needed by the local community which has lost its other churches.

Our residence at St. Augustine's has turned into a small refugee camp for about 25 or so people in need of shelter. They are staying in what was once the novitiate, at least in my time that is.

We share our food and water and some help us out by cooking. I was quite happy and proud to see that we had opened our doors to as many as we were capable of helping.

Most cars have been left inoperable due to the sea water. They say the cars just floated and bounced about in the water and were render totally useless. The biggest damage to our building is water and mud. The carpets on the first floor are soaked and need to be removed as does a great deal of the furniture. Pawlicki, Sebastian, George Gormely and I spent a good part of the day removing tree branches and making a safe location to cook and another to place trash. We also went to Bay High School to collect ice, water and a few MREs (meals ready to eat) for our community and guests. Christman Hall has suffered a great deal. The roof is quite damaged and water leaks through into many of the second floor rooms. As a result, some of the rooms have ceiling tiles falling down. Christman Hall and the retreat center will need a great amount of work. I believe the province center and provincial home are beyond salvation, but some records need to be retrieved from there.

Most of the SVD community has been relocated over the last three days- some will come out for a little rest and then plan to return to get to work fixing things up, I plan to do the same.

Our provincial and Fr. George Artis left with me today. I dropped Fr. Simon at Immaculate Heart of Mary and Fr. Artis at Holy Ghost in Opelousas. I will gather supplies over the weekend that we need to start work and return with the supplies on Monday or Tuesday of the coming week.

Please continue to remember the many ravaged by natural and man made disasters throughout the world and thank you for remembering all of us during this trying time.

Gus Wall, SVD