Monday, October 24, 2005

Katrina Disaster Relief - Bihn's Story

The devastation hurricane Katrina caused displaced thousands of people and disrupted the lives of tens of thousands of others. With this disruption come a myriad of stories of changed lives and desperate people. We were touched by the story of Bihn. (Pronounced Ben)

Bihn is a hero and is the epitome of the hurricane Katrina event. He is the story of what happened to many that lived and many that died. Unfortunately those that died will never have the opportunity to tell their stories. Bihn lived, and this is his story.

Bihn and his family were refugees from Vietnam in the 1970’s and came to the United States seeking a better life. They eventually settled in Biloxi, Mississippi and joined with part of the Vietnamese community by buying a shrimp boat and pursuing their livelihood. It had not been Bihn’s dream to pursue this course but as he saw his parents struggling to make their shrimp business succeed he decided to honor his mother and father by working beside them on their boat.

The most recent part of this story begins as hurricane Katrina approached the Gulf Coast in early September 2005. To keep their livelihood safe from the storm, Bihn and his family, along with other boats, decided to take their 70’ shrimp boat into a narrow canal approximately 10 miles from the coast.

Unfortunately they, as many others, didn’t realize Katrina was going to be the fiercest storm to hit the Gulf Coast area in 100 years. As Bihn and his family sat in the canal waiting out the storm the water began to rise and conditions deteriorated rapidly.

To weather out the storm a group of 5 or 6 shrimp boats would tie themselves together with ropes nearly the size of a man’s forearm. As a group the boats could withstand the onslaught of the wind and waves much better than an individual boat could. However, as Katrina began to close her course towards shore even six 70’ shrimp boats were hardly a match for her. This is where Bihn’s heroics begin…

As the storm intensified some boats were tossed on shore and others thrashed around as those aboard feared for their lives. The heavy ropes that held the boats together as a group began to snap as single boats would get blown down the canal that was supposed to be a safe harbor. As these boats broke away from the group they would smash into other boats at tremendous speed, killing many in the fierce impact.

As the ropes on Bihn’s boat broke he had no other choice but to risk his life and jump in the water to again lash the boats he was with together. Twice during the storm Bihn risked life and limb by jumping in the water and braving the 130+ mph winds and waves. As other boats around him were breaking free and the crew facing possible death from a collision, Bihn was determined not to let that happen.

As the storm continued to thrash against his boat Bihn, his family and crew feared the worst. As 10 hours passed of this continual onslaught, Katrina finally began to move past the coast and further onto land.

The wind and waves subsided and Bihn and his family began to relax. However, they had faced only the first part of their ordeal. They were thankful to be alive but soon realized that not everyone had made it through the storm. As Bihn began to survey the situation he noticed dead bodies floating in the canal. Bihn, his crew and family, a total of 10 people, had to sit onboard their boat for more than 3 weeks as supplies and fuel began to dwindle.

After more than three weeks of limited food and water and the trauma of bodies floating around their boat, the bridge blocking their passage to more open waters and the city dock was opened, allowing them to return home. The city dock that was home when in port was so severely damaged that they had to patch up the walkways themselves to gain access to shore.

Upon returning home Bihn and his family now faced the reality of a destroyed home, destroyed car and the loss of all their personal property. Seven and a half weeks after Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, we made contact with this remarkable man and learned of his ordeal.

The work order given to our disaster relief team had the instructions to remove refrigerators from their home along with all of the furniture and clean up the yard. When we arrived at Bihn’s home we realized the extent of what Bihn and his family was facing. The five or six refrigerators we were supposed to remove from the home after more than seven weeks, were filled to capacity with rotting seafood and the home was in such bad condition that it needed to be torn down. There was literally nothing salvageable in the home except for a few dishes.

Unfortunately, there was little we could do for Bihn except listen to his story and offer our friendship and prayers. We returned the next day to put plywood and tarps over the doors and windows in his home to keep the terrible stench from wafting out amongst the two FEMA trailers Bihn and his family now called home. In reality, the tarps and plywood were more of a deterrent to keep his parents out of their destroyed home, which was now a serious health hazard, than to keep the smell inside the condemned home.

Our disaster relief team was invited to visit the family’s shrimp boat and we were able to do so later that evening. Bihn was indeed proud to share with us what was once a part of his family’s livelihood but now sat idle because of much needed repairs, the destruction of nearby shrimp processing plants by the storm and the inability to obtain fuel.

Bihn and his family need your prayers because they are living in a truly desperate situation. They are faced with no source of income because of the loss of the ability to use their shrimp boat, they have a mortgage on their boat that they have no income to pay, they face rent they can’t pay on the only place they can dock their boat, and they face a serious health hazard at their home.

Fortunately Bihn and his family have been somewhat adopted by a member of the church our disaster response team was stationed at. They are living in two FEMA trailers and Bihn and his father are seeking employment. And we were able to stock them up with MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat). Keep checking back as we get further updates on the progress of Bihn’s ordeal.

This is but one story of a family that hurricane Katrina has taken its toll on. There are many stories like this one I’m sure but this is the one we have been touched by.

Alan LeStourgeon
Please see the photos below on the previous post.

Katrina Disaster Relief - Ben's Story - Photos

Photos for the above Katrina Diasater Relief story.