Chris Austin, a sixth-grade science teacher at West Vigo Middle School, along with 12 others from Maryland Community Church, headed down to Kiln, Miss., 45 minutes northeast of New Orleans, in mid-January to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

The group, joined by about 100 others from around the nation, supplied much-needed manpower for Samaritan’s Purse, an organization directed by Franklin Graham, the son of evangelist Billy Graham, which provides assistance to sick and poor people around the world.

While in Kiln, the group gutted two houses ravaged by flood waters. Because of the toxic mold levels, they were required to wear face masks with respirators, tyvek suits, goggles, rubber gloves and rubber boots at all times.

While on their trip, the group drove through the coastal towns of Gulfport and Biloxi, Miss., to get a better idea of the impact Katrina had on the area.

“It looks like nothing has been touched since the hurricane. It’s just absolutely devastating,” Austin said.

Giant barges sitting on land instead of floating in the ocean; chairs, tables and precious family photos strewn across the beach; cars flipped over; and concrete steps leading up to absolutely nothing — these are just some of the images the group saw as they drove along the coast.

“It almost seemed like we were driving through a war zone in some areas with entire subdivisions, stores and restaurants completely abandoned.” Although the devastation was immense, Austin said the local residents made for a better story.

“I expected to see a lot of anger and resentment when we got there, but, for the most part, the residents were just thankful their families were OK. The love and appreciation we received was overwhelming.

“Total strangers came up and hugged us when they found out we were there to help and I can’t count the number of times we got a heartfelt ‘thank you’. It was very humbling to say the least.” he said.

When asked if he plans on going back to help with the relief effort again, there was no hesitation. “Absolutely! I can’t wait to go back,” Austin said.

“Some of us are already planning on heading back down over the summer. Plus, it helps being a science teacher since I’m able to tie everything I saw in with my weather unit to make it more personal.

“I hope that by going down there, I can show my students the importance of giving rather than receiving all the time. I want to challenge them to go make a difference in their world. I’m really glad I went.”

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