Seeing Hurricane Katrina's devastation has brought a new outlook to eight Nevadans who recently helped rebuild a small part of the storm-ravaged area.
"It was so overwhelming, I can't imagine what these people went through at the time of the storm," said Susan Haas, deputy chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt. "Some towns were obliterated and are completely uninhabitable."
The Nevada contingency joined about 300 others - all volunteers - from tourism and visitors bureaus across the United States to cleanup areas and prepare them for sod and trees. They also sifted through rubble looking for artifacts from a historical area in D'Iberville, Miss.
"I'm still trying to process what I saw and experienced," said Joy Evans, special events manager for the Carson City Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"No one could have been prepared or trained to handle a disaster of this magnitude. No one."
Haas said they dug through rubble and personal objects of people's lives, like photos and teddy bears. It meant a lot for her to lend a hand to help the people there - she is from New Orleans.
"It was a wonderful opportunity for all of us," Haas said. "My roots are in New Orleans, my home is in Nevada."
The group worked in the area of Jefferson Davis' home. Each representative from Nevada wore a hat with the words "Nevada Cares" printed on it.
"Enough has not been done and I wish it (progress) was further along," Haas said. "The community has made great strides and their spirit has not been broken."
Susan Sutton, with the Virginia City Convention and Tourism Authority, said she feels blessed to have been included in the group. Though it has been several months since the hurricanes, she said much restoration is still needed.
"We saw little indication of life being restored to any sense of normalcy for these people," Sutton said.
The group ate in a soup kitchen housed in a big tent, which had a pump water station and a big jar of disinfectant for washing. The temporary shelter was organized by a multi-faith church and provided a place where remaining locals could get a hot meal and a sense of community.
"These people are not fine, their lives will never be the same," Sutton said. "They are without the human comforts we take for granted. They need our help and support more than ever. They need our hands, our prayers and our unconditional commitment to their future."
Senior Manager of Rural Programs for Nevada State Tourism Larry Friedman said his most immediate thought when seeing the devastation was, "America has no clue how much devastation there still is and how overwhelming the destruction is."
"I laid sod in front of the coliseum in Biloxi and the director of the coliseum said if people saw the new grass, it would send a message that although they have not completed business with the insurance company, they are going to rebuild," Friedman said.
The volunteers were lodged at the Mississippi Air National Guard barracks in Gulfport, Miss. They departed each morning at 6 a.m. by motor coach to the D'Iberville Tent City for breakfast and site location instructions.
• Contact Rhonda Costa-Landers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1223.
WHAT: Tourism Cares for Tomorrow
WHEN: March 16-19
WHERE: Gulf Coast; D'Iberville, Miss.
WHO HELPED: Susan Haas, deputy chief of staff, Lt. Governor's Office; Joy Evans, special events manager, Carson City Convention and Visitors Bureau; Larry Friedman, senior manager of rural programs, state tourism; Ed Spear, White Pine County Tourism; Babs Daitch, Las Vegas Territory; Susan Sutton, Virginia City Convention and Visitors Authority; Meg McDonald, Laughlin Visitors' Authority; John Meyer, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority
On the Net: www.tourismcares.org