Burners Without Borders – Report from the Field

[This dispatch reported by Boy Scout]
Biloxi, Mississippi

Today the crew started to clear a set of four lots between Kuhn St and Sophia St near Howard Ave. The gulf is a clear shot from these lots and they got the full force of the waves that hit the shore. Every building within the path were pushed in several blocks and then washed out to the sea leaving 3 to 10 inches of white sand with beautiful full shells buried within. These houses are what is called ‘gone-gone’. They are a total loss with nothing left standing that did not leave the premises before the storm. The 4 and 5 storey buildings in the distance are casino barges that have washed up over a hundred feet from the shoreline.

One man I met across the street, John, had a yard covered with his collection of hundreds of 12″ LP records and upside down cars half sunk into the ground. He found 6 out of 8 nicely carved posts from his front porch up to three blocks away. He showed me a photo of a beautiful wood sided home taken a week before the storm.

Everyone in the camp took shifts clearing out the rubble, fallen trees, wrecked appliances, and foundation piers. We slavaged as much of the cinder block onto four pallets ready to be fork lifted out. The giant Daewoo excavator, Daawoo front loader, and tiny Kubotou tractor were running all day clearing everything into giant piles on both streets. Lunch for the crew was courtesy of a church run community recovery center. Thin meat chili and a cheese roll. Tomorrow, when the machinery finishes clearing out the big pieces, we’ll rake/shovel out whats left. Today’s find – a makeup case full of not totally wrecked wedding photos of a Viet family.

Dinner was hamburgers and corn courtesy of Salvation Army. Plain but good warm food followed by yet another burn barrel under the street light next to the dome. There is a permanently hot bonfire in the back for those who desire quiet. There is no shortage of wood to warm the night and entertain the pyromaniac burners.

Many people in the community prefer for the Temple Crew to do their clearing because we try to salvage what building supplies we can to help defray the cost of replacement. We are only doing lots for the people who were uninsured or underinsured. Mostly shrimpers and elderly who got little or nothing but free meals, blankets and maybe a FEMA trailer. Many of the folks here work the shrimp boats and used the cash to buy everything.

Although the distribution center is closed because most everyone is out in the field all day, there is a steady stream of folks coming to the temple to give or ask for aide. The community and the relief agencies are taking care of feeding us (along with everyone else) with endless carbs and sugary snacks. Last Sunday the temple had a great vietmanese luncheon for the ‘day of sorrow’ holiday the monk declared. Many many families came out for mediation and chanting. The church next door gave out a semi trailer full of blankets and warm coats. The traffic jam was worse than Van Ness Ave on a weekend day.

We are endlessly thanked for our efforts by everyone we pause to talk to. Yesterday we got an invite to eat at a six grill bbq set up next to a field of trailers.

About the author: Tom Price

Tom Price is the former Executive Director of Black Rock Solar. Prior to that he was the Environmental Manager for Burning Man during the Green Man theme, and was in the Gulf Coast for six months during the genesis of Burners Without Borders. He's been attending Burning Man since 1997, and he's proud to say that his decade plus streak of breaking down from sun stroke on the playa on day three remains intact.