A most humbling experience | AspenTimes.com

A most humbling experience

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

Hurricane Katrina survivors George and Margaret Ladner of Pearlington, Miss., are particularly thankful this Thanksgiving season.The Ladners are moving into a new house this weekend that was built almost entirely by volunteers. Wind and an incredible surge of water during the hurricane in August 2005 destroyed their old house, which they built in the mid-1960s. The new house is in about the same spot – but higher.Pearlington is a small, unincorporated working-class community near the Mississippi-Louisiana border that Hurricane Katrina hit particularly hard. The little town was essentially the bull’s-eye for the hurricane.The Carbondale fire department picked Pearlington for direct aid because it seemed like the rest of the world had forgotten it. Eventually the rest of the valley joined in what’s been called the Pearlington Project – an ongoing relief effort that changes its focus as the town’s needs evolve.The Aspen Times has tracked the progress of the Ladners as they try to restore their lives. It’s mind-boggling what they have endured over the last 15 months.”It’s hard to believe. It’s almost like you’re in a dream,” Margaret said.One month after the storm, Margaret, 74, and George, 75, sat in lawn chairs near the damaged shell of their house and said they didn’t know how they could rebuild in the town that’s always been their home.

At that point, they were just glad to be alive. They barely escaped flood waters during the hurricane while staying in the home of a relative in nearby Bay St. Louis. One of Margaret’s sisters wasn’t so lucky: She drowned in a different house in Bay St. Louis.Their plight remained uncertain heading into last summer. They lived on their property in a standard-issue trailer house the Federal Emergency Management Agency delivered, but a meager insurance settlement and aid from the government wasn’t enough to rebuild.The Ladners’ salvation came through the hundreds of volunteers who descended on the town from points all over the country. A woman named Jennifer Johnson of Huntsville, Ala., learned about their situation and organized several volunteer work missions for a new house.”If it wasn’t for her we’d still be sitting,” Margaret said.Framing began in June. The house slowly took shape thanks to volunteer efforts through Johnson’s BRICK Layers (Believers Rebuilding In Christ’s Kingdom) and other organizations. They were waiting this week for a plumber to make final hookups before they moved in.

Johnson and her family will join the Ladner family for Thanksgiving. “After leading 16 mission trips there this year, my heart still aches for the many families that will spend their second Thanksgiving and Christmas in unfinished homes and FEMA trailers,” Johnson wrote in an e-mail. ” Some of the families that we are working with have moved back into their homes without flooring or interior doors because they have run out of money.”Margaret knows how fortunate she was to be targeted by volunteers. More than 100 people helped with construction of her new home, she estimated. She and George befriended many of them and stay in touch.”It’s the most humbling experience,” Margaret said. “Words can’t express how I’ve felt.”The Roaring Fork Valley’s Pearlington Project continues to coordinate volunteer trips to the town, delivering supplies and providing labor for home construction. Financial contributions can be made to: Aspen Valley Medical Foundation, Pearlington Project, P.O. Box 1639, Aspen, CO 81612.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com.The Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.

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