A year ago today, the biggest natural disaster in U.S. history struck the Gulf Coast.
Hurricane Katrina caused billions of dollars in damage, killed about 1,500 people and touched the lives of millions across the country, including many here.
Some in Lawrence say their experiences surviving the storm or dealing with its aftermath forever altered their lives.
"My trips to Mississippi completely changed my outlook on life and my attitude toward others," said Karin Feltman, an emergency room nurse at Lawrence Memorial Hospital who has done relief work in the Gulf. "I not only realized how little we need to survive but how lucky I am to have the comforts that I do have.
"I have vowed to myself to do more to help others and have started by volunteering at a local elementary school, Health Care Access, Habitat for Humanity and church."
Lawrence residents - some who lived through Katrina and others who volunteered in the ravaged region - said there is still dire need for volunteers to help rebuild.
Some have made repeated aid trips and have more planned in the coming weeks.
We talked with several Lawrence residents who weathered the storm to share their perspectives one year after.
"Even the worst day in the ER now is nothing. It's nothing compared to what it was down there," said Corinne Zimmers, a nurse who one year later said she felt both angry at the government's failure to do more but grateful to be alive.
When Katrina hit, Zimmers was in her fifth month as an emergency-room nurse at the Meadowcrest Hospital in Gretna, La., a few miles southeast of downtown New Orleans. She had moved there from Kansas, where she worked at Stormont-Vail Hospital in Topeka.
The hospital quickly became overwhelmed with the sick and injured. Zimmers worked three days without leaving the hospital.
The hospital eventually closed, its patients rescued and transferred elsewhere. Zimmers returned to Lawrence to be with her daughters and was given her Stormont-Vail job back.
Her first day back at the Topeka hospital involved treating victims of northeast Kansas flooding. Her co-workers thought perhaps Katrina had traumatized her and weren't sure how she would handle the flood victims.
"I finally said, 'Back off. You know what? I'm going home after my 12-hour shift. This isn't even close to the same,'" Zimmers said.
In Louisiana, she faced dehydrated patients, no air conditioning, little power to run medical equipment and not enough medications. When she returned Lawrence, it took her weeks to recover from the exhaustion of the ordeal. She says she still experiences some claustrophobia.
After recently watching a documentary about the federal government's response to the Gulf Coast disaster, Zimmers now criticizes President Bush for not leading a quicker and better response.
"Now that I've looked back, it was like 'Oh, my God, they did desert us,'" she said.
Zimmers said she hoped to return to the Gulf Coast to volunteer.
"I just know no day can ever be as bad as those days, I hope. It just made me realize that everybody's the same. We all just want the same stuff: safety, security, food, water. That's it," she said.
Home lost, gained
Gloria Madere slept on the floor for 12 days at a senior citizens center in Bay St. Louis, Miss., with limited access to her pain medication for her many health problems.
When Madere's daughter, Cathy Reid, of Lawrence, picked her up and brought her back to Kansas, Madere left the place she had lived her entire life.
"That was my home. At 75, you kind of hate to give it up, but my daughter needs me, as well as I need her," Madere said Monday, her voice shaking and tears welling in her eyes.
Her daughter hugged her tightly and said: "This is your home now, mama."
Madere said she mostly remembers those who helped.
"We became family at the (Miss.) shelter, and they made sure I was safe," she said.
In Lawrence, residents donated clothes and a new pair of dentures to help her, and she said she believes that camaraderie and caring needs to be a bigger part of the rebuilding.
"If the people would quit complaining and work together," more could be accomplished, she said. "That's the big thing."
Feltman, the LMH emergency room nurse, returned to Long Beach, Miss., about six months after volunteering there in September.
"It was almost exactly the same," she said. "A few highways had reopened and, I think, one house had been rebuilt, but that was it."
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- 6News video: Group organizing trip to aid New Orleans hurricane victims (02-12-06)
- 6News Lawrence's complete Hurricane Katrina coverage »»
- Delayed response to disaster irks Lawrence native (03-06-06)
- Katrina underscores public's frustration with government (03-06-06)
- Video: Bush was warned before Katrina (03-02-06)
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- On the Street: What should people do locally to help hurricane victims? (09-02-05)
She and a friend, Lindsey Burgess, spent "spring break" helping rebuild homes, including one of a 98-year-old woman who was living in a FEMA camper.
"It was miserable. Her house had standing water up to the ceiling," Feltman said. "We pretty much gutted it."
Feltman said many of the hurricane victims are either waiting on money or volunteer help.
"A lot of volunteers have quit going, but they are still in need," Feltman said. "We were only able to help with maybe three or four houses, but there are thousands."
She made lifetime friends, one of whom was one of her first patients, Tamela Prince.
Prince, her husband and their three children are still living in a camper on their property. Feltman said they are rebuilding the inside of their house, which was gutted by the storm.
"They lost everything they owned except the shell of their house," Feltman said. "My Bible study (group) adopted her family last year for Thanksgiving and Christmas. We sent her family money so they could have holiday meals and presents."
Feltman said she was able to meet with Prince in March and take her out to eat.
"She has a very positive outlook and a strong faith in God that keeps her going," Feltman said.
Feltman also said she keeps in touch with the other volunteers, mostly by e-mail.
"It is amazing the bond that you forge in such a short time when you are faced with adversity as immense as Katrina's devastation," she said.
Feltman plans to return in 2007; she wants to help after the coming hurricane season.
Kansas University's Architecture Students for Social Action have given hope to residents of the Seventh Ward in New Orleans.
Professors Nils Gore and Robert Corser and students have made three trips there this year to help plan and construct buildings at a community garden. This semester, 16 students will help build a community center.
Gore said the city seemed worse during his last visit in May, but that may be because more people have returned to haul debris and start over.
The rebuilding process has given the KU students a sense of purpose for their learning, Gore said, because they saw it put to use.
The group also collected donations and received $4,000 from a Central Junior High School fundraiser.
Joe and Shirley Edgerton of rural Lawrence are disaster response coordinators for the East Conference of the United Methodist Church. They've spent 10 weeks in the areas devastated by the hurricane.
Last September, they helped set up a work site in Bay St. Louis, Miss., where they took orders for work that needed to be done and helped organize those efforts.
Joe Edgerton said they helped serve "thousands and thousands" of meals and collected a lot of cleaning supplies.
"When we first went down there, it was total devastation," he said. "There was no business district. There were few habitable homes."
They ran the work site for five weeks before turning it over to other church leaders. Joe Edgerton said the Kansas conference of the church has had at least one team of volunteers down there since the hurricane hit.
"Volunteers are more severely needed now than then," Joe Edgerton said. "It is going to be a 10- to 12-year process."
A year ago, Joe Edgerton said, volunteer efforts focused on cleaning areas to place FEMA trailers. Now, the focus is on rebuilding and helping victims re-establish themselves in their communities.
The Edgertons will be returning to the area Sept. 28 with many of the original team members who went a year ago.
Joe Edgerton said it is important for volunteers to revisit and see the "rebuilding stage" because "it's very tough to go in and tear up someone's home and witness the destruction."
'Great need' remains
Byron Edmondson, director of ministry needs at the LEO Center, said although he had seen progress during his three trips to the hurricane-ravaged area, still much needed to be done.
"I think people (elsewhere) are forgetting about it," he said. "There is still a great need down there."
Edmondson says he just found out there would be funding available for another mission trip he is hoping to organize for October.
He said during his trips, he helped cut trees that had fallen and cleaned houses, a process many volunteers call "mud out."
"You go into a home where everything has been destroyed. The water was up to the ceiling," he said. "The home is filled with mud and rotten food. We had to cart out all of the belongings and clean up.
"You can read about it and see it on TV, but to see it in person is something," he said. "The devastation goes on house after house, block after block, mile after mile."
He said seeing the disaster made him feel more fortunate and thankful.
"I have more concern for those going through hard times. And we have people here going through hard times, but not on such a massive scale."
Making local commitment
Jane Blocher, director of Douglas County Chapter of the American Red Cross, said the Rev. Joseph Dang, made multiple trips to Biloxi, Miss., where he helped families affected by the hurricane.
Dang was able to help relocate five families to the Lawrence area with the help of the Red Cross.
"Dang worked around the clock trying to find jobs, medical resources and shelter," Blocher said. "He brought them in the office, and then we partnered with him and other agencies to try and get them settled and back on the road to recovery."
Dang said he was hoping the families would make Lawrence their permanent home, but instead they opted to return to Mississippi. He said he has heard that they are doing well, working and getting back on their feet.
Since helping with the hurricane recovery efforts, he has become a member of the Red Cross disaster action team in Douglas County.
"If we have a disaster, I will be there as a team member and to offer support religiously," he said. "My ministry is about helping other people."
He said the hurricane should serve as a reminder "to appreciate what you have because it could be gone in a moment."