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Marianna, FL – Weekly Report – Nov 18-22, 2019

November 27, 2019

The prior two years of my service with MDS was in La Grange, Texas in Fayette County.  US Highway 90 runs through Fayette County and Nancy Griffith’s song, Gulf Coast Highway, describes that part of Texas.  That stretch of asphalt, gravel and painted stripes were the backbone of east-west traffic in Texas for several decades before the interstate highway system.

The Gulf Coast Highway is not restricted to Texas.  The major cities along the route include not only San Antonio, Beaumont, and Houston, but also Lake Charles and New Orleans, Biloxi, Mobile, Pensacola, Tallahassee and finally Jacksonville at the eastern terminus.  All except San Antonio and Jacksonville are cities that have been greatly influenced by the Gulf of Mexico.

Most have been under the flags of European colonial empires. Most serve as the regional ports for ocean transport. All have a colorful history, having seen the flow of people and power through the past two centuries.  All have experienced the impact of those amazing forces of nature known as hurricanes.

Marianna, Florida is also located on US Hwy 90, and is the base for this MDS response. With Hurricane Michael, Marianna has experienced the effects of a major storm that rivals the impact of Camille on Biloxi, Frederic on Mobile, Ivan on Pensacola, Katrina on New Orleans, Rita on Lake Charles, Ike on Beaumont, and Harvey on Houston.  Michael did not act like a typical Gulf of Mexico hurricane.  Few storms have Category 4 winds that stretch as far inland as Michael.  After almost 14 months, the area around Marianna is still suffering, especially those who struggle financially in the best of times.  The mix of poverty and storm damage to these homes has produced the highest number of extremely sad cases I have seen in 14 years of MDS project directing.

We had our most diverse collection of volunteers this week.  We welcomed some new Long Term volunteers from nearby in Atmore, Alabama and from faraway Winnipeg, Manitoba. Our short term volunteers ranged from a couple from Manitoba, a woman from northwest Florida, a man from southern Florida and a group from Pennsylvania. That mix brought a wide variety of experiences and skills, but shared a similar amount of enthusiasm for the work here.

Most of our MDS efforts this week were directed toward the effects of those high winds.  Two houses got new roofs, first removing old shingles and felt, and checking sheathing. Sheathing was replaced as needed and fastened to meet the current Florida standards.  The newest synthetic underlayment and heavy duty shingles were applied to resist the high winds of future storms.  Men and women alike were up on the roofs working like they had been teamed up for many months. We were glad to take advantage of the cloudless skies and moderate temperatures of late fall in Florida.

Other jobs focused on the damage that happens when roofs are compromised by falling trees and high winds.  Wet and moldy gypsum board on ceilings and walls were removed, replaced, taped, finished and painted. Broken window glass was replaced and frames caulked and sealed.  A bathroom was in the process of being restored from the effects of a fallen utility pole.

A handicap ramp and replacement for a broken entry porch and steps were signed up.  The fabrication crew here at the church assembled the modules and pre-cut many of the pieces of wood.  The on-site work should progress efficiently and two more clients will be able to move out of and into their homes more safely.

Even with this great amount of work completed, there were some sad situations.  Three potential clients were told their homes would be too difficult to repair and should be demolished to allow for a new solution to their housing needs.  We were in some meetings of the North Florida Inland Long Term Recovery team, where they are trying to address these needs.

One of the high points of the meetings was learning about the good progress made toward MDS starting to build new homes.  We hope to place the floor joists and sub-floor of two new homes before the Christmas break.  That is only three weeks away, but the prospects are good that will happen.

Those threads of joyful progress, difficult work, and even sore muscles ran all through the events of this week, much like the Gulf Coast Highway weaves through the towns on its route, whether in Texas, Florida or points in between.

From Marianna, Florida, Serving Jackson and Calhoun Counties
Tom, Carol, Adam, Edee, Roger, Anne, Reuben, Laura and Carl