Back from Katrina – for a while

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 19, 2005

For two weeks after Hurricane Katrina ravaged his hometown of Hatties-burg, Miss., Chris Parish worked between 14 and 18 hours a day, handing out food and water to hundreds affected. He watched people torn from their homes. He saw young babies who hadn’t eaten in days. Grown men broke down in his arms, not knowing what to do or where to go.

On Monday evening, Par-ish finally returned to his Springfield Terrace home, free from one of the most devastating episodes in American history.

And he can’t wait to get back.

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&uot;I saw my friends helping friends,&uot; said Parish, who works for the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration. &uot;I want to continue helping people as much as I can. People down there need as much help as possible.&uot;

&uot;Like everyone else,&uot; Parish said, &uot;I was watching TV that Tuesday night (the day after the storm hit).&uot;

He called his parents, but could only get garbled messages. They told him that the power was out in their home, and that they were tree-locked in their driveway.

Parish stocked up his truck with food, fans, generators, gas cans and other equipment.

&uot;It was filled to the roof,&uot; he said. &uot;There was everything I could think of. I had to drive slow because I was afraid the tires would blow.&uot;

He headed south, leaving behind his wife and baby daughter. Sleeping for just an hour, and stopping at the end of every state to fill up on gas, he got home in 17 hours.

&uot;Tuscaloosa was the last place I saw power,&uot; he said. &uot;176 miles later, I hit Hattiesburg.&uot;

His parents (his father had had heart surgery less than two months before the storm) were &uot;OK, but a little strained. The tension in the whole town was so thick, you could slice it with a knife. Everyone was scared. There was no power, no phone. You didn’t have water, and if you did, it couldn’t be drank, because it was contaminated. There was no cable – just televisions with a fuzzy local channel and radios. There was no fuel – if a gas station opened, 100 or 150 cars were there, and the gas sometimes ran out. People were fighting over it.&uot;

He was deputized by the local police department. &uot;That allowed me to continue running aid to people,&uot; he said. &uot;With a badge, there’s no checkpoints and no curfew.&uot;

The curfew was strict, he said.

&uot;The police arrested anyone on the street after dark. At night, the city got pitch black, and people were scared.&uot;

He and some friends started driving up and down the streets, chainsawing trees out of people’s lawns and driveways. They handed out food and water.

&uot;People are poor in our area,&uot; he said. &uot;The Red Cross hadn’t been set up yet. You don’t know how many people hadn’t had food, water or ice for three days. If you looked straight down the street, the houses looked like they had been bulldozed.&uot;

In exchange for a bit of Parish’s security work, places like Domino’s Pizza and convenience stores donated food, cigarettes and beer.

&uot;Walking up to a person’s house with pizza caused them to flip out,&uot; he said. &uot;My mother turned into a tea factory, and I think I gave out 20 gallons. I saw a handful of families living in a gutted garage with the roof missing. They bathed in a pond.&uot;

His first few days, he said, he worked 18 hours a day. For his entire tenure, he never worked less than 14 hours a day. By the time he was finished, some services had been restored and some of the people had food.

But not all.

&uot;When I left,&uot; he said, &uot;some of the people inland were in as bad shape as when I got there.&uot;

That’s why, after Parish returns from Santa Fe, visiting his ailing father-in-law, in a few weeks, he’ll be heading back to Mississippi.

&uot;I have specialized local knowledge,&uot; he said. &uot;I can help with rescue operations. I was sad to see people’s lives ripped apart, and I think I can really help.&uot;