WHO: Kyle Carney, 54, of Winchester
WHEN: Two weeks in September
WHY: To help victims of Hurricane Katrina through volunteer work. ''After Katrina, residents from the Gulf Coast migrated to the interior, and I worked with survivors who had lost everything," she said. Carney, a psychotherapist in private practice in Cambridge, is a disaster mental health specialist for the Red Cross.
FIRST STOP:Volunteers and staff fly into the area and muster where the Red Cross is organizing. ''In this case, it was in an abandoned
DEEP SOUTH: ''I was mostly in Laurel, Miss., about 90 minutes north of New Orleans. I'd never actually been to the South," she said. ''I stayed in one of the shelters. About 300 volunteers descended on a four-county area, and mostly stayed in churches. I stayed in a hair salon. There were about 35 of us, and we slept on the floor, and had outside showers."
AT A LOSS: ''During the day, you'd go to what the Red Cross calls a disbursement center, where people file the paperwork to get help. The lines in most of these places were six or eight hours long," she said. ''While they were waiting, they'd show me their pictures and tell me about their homes. I went to the shelters or to these disbursement centers from 7 in the morning until 8 at night. The whole time I'd talk to people about what they lost, what their lives were like, how they could cope. I learned phenomenal amounts about their lives."
DISASTER'S WIDE SWATH: ''I was told that Smith County, where I was, is the second-poorest in the US and the poorest in Mississippi. In that area, $26 million worth of checks were written," Carney said. ''The four counties I was in were declared a disaster area. They're in the center of a pine belt, and huge trees had fallen down and houses had the roofs ripped off. There was a huge amount of damage. The power was just coming on when I got there, three weeks later."
STORES WASTED: ''There were some things that really stood out for me," she said. ''People were upset because everything in their freezers and fridges was gone. It's not a cash economy, and they grow and put up food from gardens and farms for the whole year. They also freeze hunting meat, and a lot of road kill. I hadn't realized that. Many people plant trees as their retirement income, and now that was gone. The level of disability there was huge. People looked much older than their years."
KEEPING THE FAITH: ''The churches are really important. There were about 35 in the four-county area," she said. ''In one place, the churches would bring food to the volunteers. The local volunteers were very religious, very proud, very accomplished." She enjoyed sampling their Southern cooking and seeing what they got from it as well. ''We had greens and biscuits and pecan pie, and other pies. They're known for their pecan trees. They'd be talking about their different recipes. They wanted to fatten me up. People would take enormous pride in their food."
CLOUDY FORECAST: ''The work is optimistic; you see the best in people," she said. ''They let you in and open up their hearts and soul. But people get disillusioned, as well they should. There's shock and horror, adjustment and relapse. The reconstruction period is a long way off. I tell them that it's normal to feel helpless and hopeless. It's massive. Stability and routine? That's a long way off for them."