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Path of Hurricane Rita September 2005

Get ‘er Done

New cover of 'Hearts across the Water' ebook.
New cover of ‘Hearts across the Water’ ebook.

 

“Git ‘er Done!”

 

 

I’m driving along in the camp truck near Oakdale on Hwy 10. A black GMC truck comes quickly up behind me. On the top of the front windshield is painted, “Git ‘er Done!” As the truck quickly speeds around me, I can hear the bass on the loud stereo speakers. I can’t tell what song it is, but it’s not Snoop Dog or Eminem.

This is a redneck truck and it’s probably playing Skynyrd, Hank Jr. or Gretchen Wilson. As this truck, driven by a pretty woman with long hair, goes around me, I see the rejoinder on the back windshield, “Got ‘er done.”

Once again I’m glad I live in the midst of the best people in the world—rural redneck country people. I use each of these terms with the highest of respect. And when the chips are down these good-hearted people can be depended on. Especially in a time of crisis.

They say in a crisis is when you find out what people are made of. I can agree with that statement.

In crisis is when people either reveal themselves as a giver or a taker. We saw plenty of that with both Katrina and Rita. People revealed themselves as a victim, expecting someone else to take care of them, or a victor, who took the bull by the horns and got things done. There were whiners who cried about everything and then there were winners who made things happen. There were those doers who didn’t wait around for permission from FEMA or the Red Cross or the mayor or government. They simply did what needed doing and “got ’er done.” They had a “W.I.T.” attitude: Whatever it takes. Whatever it takes to get the job done.

Here are stories on some of them. Their kinds of stories seldom make the evening news, but they are the real heroes.

Carl

As New Orleans emptied on the weekend that Katrina approached, Carl Lightell made a decision. He made a conscious decision to stay. As he sent his wife Mamie off, he got ready for the storm.

In Carl’s neighborhood of Terrytown, heavy rains often flooded their area. Carl and another neighbor found that if they went out and periodically cleared the storm drains of debris, the flooding could be averted. So these two men took on the unofficial job of storm drain cleaners.

Carl’s drain-clearing partner had left New Orleans so the job was left to him. He wasn’t sure if cleaning the storm drains would keep Katrina’s waters out of his neighborhood, but he planned to find out. He rode out the storm. Many times he went out in the driving wind and rain to clear them out. Several times it looked as if the water would get in the homes of the neighborhood. But it didn’t.

And the next day when the levees broke, Carl’s area was unaffected.

He told me how he stood on his porch as the looters starting coming through the neighborhood. He didn’t say a word and didn’t have a weapon. He simply stood there with arms crossed on his porch letting the armed young men know he was there and wasn’t going anywhere.

I met Carl when he later joined Mamie at the City of Hope shelter in Dry Creek. He was a quiet, wiry, black man who avoided the crowds at the shelter. He sought to quietly go about his business. It was evident in the weeks he was here that he liked to work. He had made a lifetime of working hard and didn’t intend to change now.

It would embarrass Carl to know he was mentioned in a book for simply “doing what he had always done.” But Carl’s story and his role needs telling… for every looter carrying a big screen TV out of a store, there were ten Carl Lightell’s staying for the right reasons. For every victim screaming at the government or FEMA, there were the “Carl’s of the world” picking up the load and carrying it.

 

Tom

Then there is the story of my friend Tom Dunville. I’ve known Tom for seven years. He is a wonderful artist and the nicest guy I know… when he is sober. Tom has fought a life-long battle with alcohol. Sometimes with the help of the Lord, he has won. At others, it seems as if the bottle has had the upper hand. But sober or drunk, he is my friend. I love him like a brother.

Tom resurfaced in Dry Creek on the day that the levees flooded in New Orleans. Tom and his son-in-law Tim Evans saw the flooding going on in New Orleans. From their house in Westlake they watched in horror as the city went under. They and four other buddies immediately decided to do something about it. But first they needed a boat. Tom remembered that our pastor, Don Hunt, had a fishing boat. So they borrowed our pastor’s flat-bottomed aluminum boat and headed out.

They were stopped at the edge of New Orleans by state police and turned back. But they told “a little white lie” to convince the officers that they were part of the official Wildlife and Fisheries Department caravan coming in. They “had just gotten separated from the rest of them.”

Once they were inside New Orleans there was no stopping them. They put the boat in at the 17th Street Canal that separates Orleans and Jefferson Parish. By going through the levee breaches they were able to get to the areas of the city with the deepest water. For the next four days they rescued people from rooftops and the second story windows of buildings.

Tom told me they never saw a uniformed official in the first three days. Civilians did the entire rescue. Tim Evans and a Baton Rouge marine, Mason Crawford, commandeered (my favorite post-hurricane word) a one-ton semi-truck and five flat-bottomed boats and used them to haul people off rooftops to Interstate 10.

Now if you saw Tim, Tom, and their crew, you’d say they look like a pretty rough bunch. I’d agree with you. But if you were stranded on a roof for three days, you’d see their heart long before you looked at their hair or dress.

When describing his decision to go to New Orleans, Tom Dunville had a simple but deep explanation, “After I saw the flooding, desperation, and great need I just felt compelled to go.” That’s a good word: compel. It means to “bring about by force.” Tom and his friends saw a great human need and something deep within them forced him, in compassion, to take action and go make a difference. Once again, a group of guys who decided to “get ‘er done.”

The complete story of the Evans/Dunville “fishing expedition” was in the Lake Charles American Press edition on Sunday, September 11, 2005.

 

Colonel Tom.

 

Tom McCaig is a DeRidder native who retired as an Army Colonel. He and his wife graduated from high school with my parents in 1953. I’d never met Tom until he walked up to me on the campgrounds on day 3 after Katrina. Trying to organize and deal with over 400 evacuees who now realized they’d have no homes to go back to soon was tough.

When Tom said he’d like to help, I quickly took him up on it. I’ve never been one to turn down help especially at a time like this. Tom later related that he’d come expecting to help serve meals or clean up for a few days. However, this was a man with the gift of “getting ‘er done” and he was greatly needed in the confusing days after Katrina.

“Colonel Tom” as the evacuees began calling him was just what was called for: A man who knew how to get things done. He took over the process of FEMA registration, Red Cross paperwork, unemployment, SSI, food stamps, and dozens of other aids our evacuees needed. He soon had a van loaned to the camp for the duration of the shelter. Personnel from every state office were personally coming to Dry Creek to see to the needs of our folks.

Behind all of this was Col. Tom in his yellow LSU hat. Evacuees would say, “But Col. Tom in the yellow hat said…” I grew to love Tom in these days as he worked so hard to help these total strangers… all in the name of the Lord.

 

Yep, another man that knew how to “get ‘er done.”

 

Mullets to the rescue…

I took my youngest son Terry to DeRidder with me for the Beauregard Emergency Preparedness meetings on the day before Rita struck. A large group of over fifty men and women from all walks and agencies were there. There was an excitement and tension in the room that is even now hard to describe. Sixteen-year-old Terry didn’t comment on the feeling in the room but leaned over to me and whispered, “Daddy, look at that row of guys with the mullets.”

Now I must stop and explain what a mullet is, or was. I’m not sure how the name originated but it is a hairstyle. A mullet-wearer lets his/her hair grow long in the back and cuts it short on the sides and back. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Joe Dirt,” you’ve seen a classic mullet. The official motto of a mullet wearer is: “All Business in the front/All Party in the back.” It became popular in the late eighties and nineties. However it still seems to be popular in Beauregard Parish where we’ve always been about one decade behind most trends.

All three of my boys can spot a good mullet a mile away. I’ve had them come up to me at Wal-Mart and say, “Daddy, mullet alert in line 8. It’s a beaut.” So Terry’s mullet alert at the emergency meeting didn’t surprise me. I look at the mullet row and tell him, “Terry, that’s our local fire department. I taught every one of them in school.”

In the coming days after Rita I came to appreciate those mullet-wearing East Beauregard firemen even more than ever. When something needs to get done, they get it done. One of them tells me, “Well, we may be the step-children of the parish fire system, but when something tough needs doing, we’ll do it.” Then with a chuckle he added the classic redneck “get ‘er done” mantra, “It’s always a lot easier to get forgiveness than permission any day.”

On and on I could go with examples of the “get ‘er done” philosophy we saw during the two hurricanes. May we remember that we saw the best of most folks during this time. When crisis comes there nearly seems to always be several groups of people. Some are concerned and want to help and will take action if given permission. Others choose to sit on the sidelines and correct or criticize every action and move of those on the field.

Then finally there are those who are compelled. They see a need and their heart will not let them sit back or criticize. They must act or die. That is what happened when the two “C” words of compassion and being compelled connect. Action results and this action is aimed at helping people. It is when we see the human race at its best.

A compelled person with the “get ‘er done” itch grabs what is at hand—a boat, a fire truck, or the telephone. While others turn away from the challenge, they choose to stay. Like Carl Lightell, they remain and clear the storm drains. Whatever it takes… wherever that may lead.

 

 

A life philosophy of getting it done.

That doesn’t need a hurricane to shine.

They’re around us everyday.

They are black, brown, and white,

City-bred and redneck-lived,

Educated and simple.

May we see them

And celebrate their being compelled,

Of being called to action,

Of having compassion no matter the cost.

That “get ‘er done” way of life.

 

 

 

About Curt Iles

I write to have influence and impact through well-told stories of my Louisiana and African sojourn.

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