Sunday, September 27, 2009

atlanta deployment: day 3

so the cnn story never happened today, but i had an awesome day anyways! (maybe tomorrow)
i went out to do a story about the bulk distribution centers that we have opened in austell, ga.
this small, but mighty town got slammed by a flood in 2005 and got an even bigger record breaking flood earlier this week.
today i met the residents, volunteers and even the mayor.
it was an honor to gather stories of the people we help.
the stories are heartbreaking, surreal and hard to hear...but i have to share them so we can raise awareness of how many people need help. this town of 8,000 has around 500 families that have lost their homes... most of them have lost everything they owned along with it including cars.
after a long day i got to go have dinner at roasters with an old college buddy/vonmaur makeup coworker, jennifer and her friend marc.
roasted chicken, mac n cheese, sweet potatoes, corn bread and sweet tea of course (when in georgia)

it was ammmmaaazing. voted atlanta's best and rightfully so.
i will definitley be going back!

below is the story i wrote today for national with the photos i shot.

Keep on Living: The faces of Austell
By Danelle Schlegelmilch

When I arrived in the quiet town of Austell, GA I didn’t really know what to expect. My mission for today was to go to the Austell Community Center, which was located in an old converted grocery store, to see how bulk distribution works. What I learned was: a flood can do a heck of a lot of damage, but it can’t crush a small town’s spirit.

When I arrived at the community center I saw families entering to find the pieces to rebuild their lives. Clean-up kits, bleach, clothing, water, ice, food and diapers were stocked on the shelves as volunteers continued to bring in items to keep this town of 8,000 going. I had the pleasure of meeting a lot of these great volunteers, residents and even the city’s mayor today.

Joe Jerkins, Austell’s mayor, told me that there are more than 500 families that have been affected by the recent record-setting floods. I could tell that Joe was exhausted and hadn’t slept for days. He said that the city’s employees have been working around the clock for days to make sure everyone is being taken care of. Scott Thomas, a city council member, was also there telling me stories of how he had been directing traffic around flooded roads and rescuing pets this week. He said, “The Red Cross has been a great help. I don’t know what we would do without them.”

I also met a teenager named Kristian Hernandez whose parents’ house had more than 10 feet of water, literally filling his basement bedroom. He said he got out with his clothes but lost everything else. He came into the distribution site today to find diapers for his little brother. He said he couldn’t find them anywhere else, but was glad to see that we not only had some, but we had his size.

It was at this distribution site that I heard about ‘the house that floated down the street.’ Local residents were all a buzz about a house that had been washed down the road and I asked where I could find it. After receiving some rather non-specific directions I ventured out to try to find it.

About ten minutes into my adventure I had given up and decided to head back to the chapter in Atlanta when I accidently stumbled across the street they were talking about. As I drove to the end of this dead-end street I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was literally a house in the middle of the road. Not a mobile home – it was a ranch house that had been washed across the front yard from its brick foundation.

What I couldn’t believe even more was that the man who owned the house was sitting in a lawn chair in the driveway alone. At first I didn’t realize it was his house, since it was so far away from his driveway, but the closer I looked I noticed his house was indeed gone and all that remained of him and his wives lives was a bit of one brick wall, bits and pieces of personal items and his wives Coca-Cola collection.

The sixty-something man with long white hair smiled at me as I turned my rental car around in the street that was blocked by his house. I rolled down my window to ask him if the Red Cross had been by to help him and if he needed a clean-up kit, food or anything else. He said that he had his clean-up kit, wasn’t hungry and was doing OK.

I parked the car and began to hear the amazing story about Ron Kitchens, the man whose house had been through two floods in four years. When his house flooded in 2005 he didn’t have flood insurance, but he gutted it and rebuilt it anyways. This week when the flooding started again, he was glad he had flood insurance but didn’t know what to expect.

He and his wife got out of their house when the water started to rise and came back on Tuesday to find that their home had floated about a block across the yard and stopped in the middle of the dead end street. The washer and drier was in the front yard, tools laid out in the driveway to dry and his wives Coca-Cola collection that has survived both floods, was lined up on what once was the foundation of his home.

Ron said he won’t rebuild the house this time and that he and his wife are looking for a new place in town. As I told him how I couldn’t even imagine what they must be going through to rebuild their lives again he told me, “We are a lot luckier than some. We got out ok. You just have to keep on livin’.”

When I was leaving he got a Red Cross broom out of the clean-up kit to sweep his driveway. He smiled, chuckled and said, “Now this is the Red Cross at work. Don’t let this get you depressed.”

the tale of the moving house...

where ron kitchens house use to be

where the house floated through the yard

where it ended up (about a block down the street)

you can see the foundation with his house in the background...

what remains of his house now.

No comments: