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Photographer witnesses Army in action

by Lyle Ratliff – 

Lyle Ratliff, a free-lance photographer, was asked to take photos for New Frontier. His experience proved to be so compelling, he provided the following personal account in addition to the photos shown here.

On August 30, 2005, I was asked to go to Biloxi and Gulfport, Miss., to take photographs for The Salvation Army. I will forever be grateful I took this assignment; it has made me more thankful for what I have and reminded me why charity work is so important to the success of our country.

I first stopped across the street from the Hard Rock Casino and Hotel to find out where I could find The Salvation Army in Biloxi. I used to live in Gulfport and worked as a delivery driver. I barely recognized where I was on the surface streets. I found Divisional Commander Major Dalton Cunningham. He then escorted me to the Biloxi headquarters of The Salvation Army.

As we approached, the devastation became worse and more heartbreaking. The homes and small businesses lining Howard Avenue were gone. Some structures were still standing, but damaged severely. It looked like the homes had been blasted by armored tanks. Lumber, cinder blocks, and nails lined the streets, along with tree limbs, cars, paper, televisions and anything else one would find in a home or business.

The Biloxi Salvation Army building was destroyed. But there was a ray of hope where the structure once stood. An Army canteen (from the Arkansas & Oklahoma Division) was there, preparing to feed the hungry and displaced residents of Biloxi. For many, this was the hope they needed to carry on during this traumatic time in their lives.

This experience barely prepared me for my second day when I arrived in Gulfport, where Katrina first hit land.

I met many people in Gulfport who were desperate for help. I heard their stories of how their homes simply blew away in the winds. They told me they were sleeping on their porches at night because that was the only thing left of their homes. Many were covered with mosquito and other bug bites. I, too, was quite aware of the flies biting me and other people.

I met a few people in the food line in Gulfport who had no way of contacting loved ones in other parts of the country. One woman in particular touched me. Her name was Suzanne Seymour of Gulfport, Miss. She told me how desperate she was to contact her sons and how she did not know if one son was safe or not. Two of her sons live in Florida, and one lives in McNeil, Miss.

She told me how some of the displaced residents tried to bathe under overhangs of buildings during a rainstorm, using the run-off from the roofs as bathing water. I could not believe how people just like me were now living so miserably in just a matter of hours––their lives changed forever.

I asked her about the meal she received from The Salvation Army. Her voice trembled as she told me how warm and good it was. It was extremely obvious how thankful she was for The Salvation Army. For many residents, the Salvation Army saved their lives while they waited on other aid from federal and state officials.

I told Ms. Seymour of the Internet lists of the survivors and she pleaded with me to put her name on the Internet because she said her sons were computer savvy and would find her name if it was online. I told her I would do it. How could I not? I would want someone to do that for my mother if the situation was reversed. After I took her name and information and a couple of other survivors’ names, Ms. Seymour grabbed me and hugged me. It was a moment in time I will NEVER forget.

I plan on finding Ms. Seymour after this crisis subsides and see how her life is progressing.

After leaving Gulfport, I stopped in Gautier, Miss. where I saw another Salvation Army emergency services canteen. Unfortunately, the need for aid had overwhelmed this location, and they had run out of food and ice. Water was still available. But even as I took some photos, the water ran out.

One family drove up; the mother begged for help. She had an infant in her arms and a toddler in the backseat. A look of despair and fear covered her face. Unfortunately, that look is on many faces in the Gulf Coast and New Orleans.

From this experience, I now remember why I was a member of Key Club in high school. It has made me want to help in any way I can, not only the victims of this disaster, but other people in other places. I hope you feel the need too and have compassion to help in the same vein as the good people of The Salvation Army.

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