Report from the Gulf Coast from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Team member Bill Neely, as written by his wife, Wanda Neely
Early Thursday am:
I talked with Bill Thursday morning until he lost a cell signal. He and Alonza Washington, fellow Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Team (PDAT) member, were on the interstate headed toward Louisiana. He said the signs stated that the interstate ahead was closed, but they were traveling with fleets of equipment trucks and law enforcement vehicles from all over the south, and they were hoping their id's would get them in. They had arranged a meeting with presbytery personnel and pastors of south Louisiana.
On Tuesday and Wednesday they headquartered in Pensacola, FL with Walk Jones, a Presbyterian pastor there who went through Hugo with Bill and Alonza, Dennis and Ivan last summer and the recent ones this summer. (And we thought Bill was a hurricane magnet!) They visited Alabama and Mississippi, meeting with pastors and checking on churches and homes. Plenty of church members have lost homes. Many of the churches they found were flooded and damaged but still standing. The pastor who was taking them around found his church still standing but flooded with parts of several houses in the church yard. They met with pastors and some congregations but did not go actually into Biloxi and Gulfport. They said gasoline was limited, but so far they had been able to get it. They expected stores in those areas to be opening back up within the next week or so.
They will continue making contacts and doing first response work, starting preparations for long-term response. PDAT will have contact names for mission trips later.
Later Thursday am:
Bill called from Interstate 12 in Louisiana. He said there are very long lines up the interstate at exits, cars waiting for gasoline, and several cars on the shoulder that have run out of gas. At that point they were out of the area of wind damage and above flooded New Orleans.
Before leaving Mississippi they drove down to Diamond Head, a resort similar to Hilton Head, to check on the Presbyterian church there. There were guards from Alabama stationed at the entrance who allowed them to go in but told them not to get out of their car because they were waiting for their dogs to arrive so they could begin searching for bodies. Bill told them, "We want to check on a church there." The officers said, "If you can find a church there, take a picture of it. We want to see it." Bill says there was indeed nothing left, everything was flattened.
Thanks to Ginnie Stevens, Associate Presbyter, Western North Carolina for sending this out.