Residents assist hurricane victims

Local groups donate crops, manpower to help livestock owners

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— Several Routt County residents are planning trips to the Gulf Coast to help people and livestock affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

In March, five members of Hayden Congregational Church will visit New Orleans to assist with Hurricane Katrina disaster recovery efforts.

Mary Kay Monger of rural Steamboat Springs and other local cattle producers are preparing to send a semi loaded with hay to feed starving livestock in the Vermillion Parish of Louisiana. Salt water has temporarily poisoned the ground, leaving cattle with no place to graze.

The Vermillion Parish lost about one quarter of its livestock industry because of Hurricane Rita. Nearly 4,000 cattle drowned, and ranchers were forced to sell 6,000 head, said Andrew Granger, an extension agent with the Louisiana State University Agriculture Center.

"Hopefully, by mid-summer, most of the land will be able for pasture," he said.

Until then, some Louisiana ranchers are relying on feed sent from other parts of the country.

The Nature Conservancy at the Carpenter Ranch near Hayden has donated a truckload of hay to be sent to the Vermillion Parish. A neighbor is donating use of his truck to transport the hay, and two organizations have donated money for the gas needed for the trip. Additional donations will be given to Louisiana ranchers.

"Anything extra that we come up with, we are just going to give to them so they can try to get more feed," Monger said.

The five members of the Hayden Congregational Church are leaving March 17, but their trip has little to do with livestock.

"As soon as (Hurricane Katrina) happened, that was my first thought: 'I want to go down and do what I can to help,'" said Betty Barnes, who is volunteering with her husband, Bobby "B.J." Barnes.

However, helping was not that simple. Soon after the hurricane hit the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, several church members signed a covenant promising to do what they could to help. But relief organizations weren't prepared to handle an influx of good Samaritans.

"They said, 'We will let you know when we are prepared,'" said Pastor Janet Babish, who has been coordinating the volunteer effort with the United Church of Christ. "They weren't set up for people to come."

It was not until a couple months ago that Babish received an e-mail telling her that hurricane relief organizations were ready for volunteers. She and her husband, Ralph, learned only a couple of weeks ago that they would be leaving March 17. Connie Todd also is going on the trip.

"A lot of it is for our own growth and to overcome some of preconceptions," Babish said.

"I'm looking for it to change our lives as much as it changes theirs."

Some of the basic supplies they will take include respirators, paper suits, goggles and boots. They also have a list of tools that are needed and are accepting donations from anyone who wants to contribute.

Many of the homes damaged by Katrina haven't been touched since the natural disaster struck. Workers are stripping houses down to their studs to remove the mold caused by floodwaters. The Hayden contingent doesn't know exactly what they will do during their nine-day mission trip. Some of the work likely will involve cleaning and ripping out damaged drywall and insulation.

Alan Coe, minister for disaster recovery in the New Orleans area, said thousands of homes remained untouched.

"There is a lot of that, and a lot of the city is still without electricity," he said. Coe said his organization has three churches to house volunteers arriving from across the United States and is amassing a growing inventory of tools.

"When I was given this job, we had nothing set up," he said. "Everything is continually being set up and improved as different groups come down."

The organization now has 70 projects on its list, and fresh volunteers are always arriving, Coe said.

"You take one step at a time, and you make progress," he said. "It is frustrating, but you don't dwell on that, because you make progress each day."

The volunteers express a lot of different emotions, including anger, sadness and frustration, Coe said.

"A group was out yesterday for the first time working in a house that was untouched since the hurricane," Coe said. "They were telling me this morning that they had a hard time just walking into the house."

-- To reach Matt Stensland, call 871-4210

or e-mail mstensland@steamboatpilot.com

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