Students go to Pearlington; Pearlington comes back with them | AspenTimes.com
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Students go to Pearlington; Pearlington comes back with them

Chad Abraham

Michael Chock can’t forget what he saw in Mississippi.The senior at Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale traveled to Pearlington early this month with nearly 50 other students. They badly underestimated how much still needs to be done and the catastrophic damage on the Gulf Coast. Photographs simply don’t do the scene justice, Chock said.”You see the pictures and everything in the news, but it’s just like small slices of 360 degrees of absolute damage. People’s houses are literally cut in half by trees. Every possession they own is covered in mud,” he said. “We had to throw out all these people’s stuff.”The destruction is just unfathomable.”The CRMS group flew into New Orleans, where scores of buildings and homes had a water ring 6 feet off the ground, he said. Pearlington was a larger shock, as many are still living in tents and government-provided trailers.One woman they came upon was shoveling out her home and then putting sand back inside the residence to absorb the pervasive moisture. By herself.”Her husband was in a wheelchair, so the task of rebuilding her house was just on her shoulders,” Chock said. “We showed up and she wasn’t expecting us because we were actually going to a different site. But we saw that she needed help, so we stopped and helped her.”Her home was on stilts, but a lower storage area remained flooded six months after Hurricane Katrina.”There were snakes and fish in there alive. There was, I don’t know, 5 or 6 inches of water in the bottom of this woman’s house,” he said.The woman continuously offered the group whatever she could – Chock described her as “immensely grateful” – while they spent the day helping her rebuild her life.The ruined landscape and subsequent resilience of the residents there helped bring his own problems sharply into perspective.”I’ve been stressing a lot about college, and going down there and saying, ‘Wow, these people have absolutely nothing. And I’m so worried about all these unimportant [things],'” he said. At an interfaith church service one day, relief workers told Chock about a rebuilding formula that gives some scope to how long it will take to rebuild.”It’s the time of the disaster, which they said was 45 days, times 10. That’s the relief effort for everyone to get help and to be in a home. So 450 days,” he said. The 45-day period spans the time of the first warning about the hurricane to when relief efforts began in earnest. “The recovery effort is that number [450] times 10. So 4,500 days for everything to be back as it was. That’s about 12 years.”Chock will be 29.The memory of the relief trip enters into his mind daily, he said. Because of that, he is going back to Pearlington for his senior class project. Chock had intended to go to Haiti for three weeks and help out in an orphanage in that stricken sector.”When I returned from Pearlington, I was kind of shocked that it was still in such a bad state. I decided I didn’t need to travel so far to give help,” he said.He leaves for Mississippi on May 10. Upon his return, he will graduate from CRMS. From there, he hopes to attend Princeton or Middlebury College in Vermont.Wherever he goes, Chock’s experience in Pearlington will go with him.


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