Mayo priest Fr. Michael Tracey has written his own account of the disaster in a book that he hopes will be an inspiration to those who find it difficult to look beyond the devastation visited by the most costly storm ever to strike the nation.
New Orleans and the Gulf coastlines of Mississippi and Alabama are marking nine months since Katrina this week.
Father Tracey is marking another month in a long return journey to normality, or something like it.
“We’re back in the church and planning for high school graduation. We’re trying to put down a main floor in the church which we salvaged from a school,” Tracey told the Echo.
Tracey is pastor of Our Lady of the Gulf in Bay St. Louis, about an hour east of New Orleans.
The church, which sits 24 feet above sea level, was hit by a 35-foot sea wave at the height of the storm that struck at the tail end of August.
The water level rose four feet inside the church, washed away all the pews, tore up the floor, ruined the plumbing and destroyed the electrical wiring.
The wind also tore up the church’s roof. The church clock was stopped at 4:50 a.m. — likely the precise moment when the huge wave collided with the building, which is only yards from the shoreline along the Gulf of Mexico.
“It’s getting better all the time, it just takes a while,” Tracey said.
Some buildings have been rebuilt and some remain untouched. In some cases people are still waiting to hear whether they will be getting grants so their plans are on hold,” he said.
Tracey said he had received an “amazing reaction” from people who had read his book “She Was No Lady.”
The book, which is available on both the Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites, is a personal account of the hurricane and its aftermath but also examines how people cope and respond to devastating loss.
“I find that a hurricane or any disaster brings tears, tears of hurt, pain, anger, resentment and all kinds of other emotions,” said Tracey.
“People need to know it is okay to shed tears and that eventually they will be therapeutic. Finally, people need time. People deal with disasters and crisis in different ways, depending on inner and outer resources. No one can put a time limit on the healing process. It demands time and lots of patience,” he said.
Tracey told the Echo that one particularly encouraging aspect of the last few months had been the number of volunteers who had worked in the recovery effort and also the financial donations from all over the U.S.
“We have received a lot of help from Irish Americans groups and organizations and for this we are particularly grateful,” Tracey said.
He highlighted in particular a check for $7,000 that Our Lady of the Gulf had received from a recent benefit held in Connecticut.