Back In My Day: Civilized War – Hurricane Katrina and Elsie “Ruth” Dixson; Part One

There once was this devout Christian widow from the Deep South who taught a bunch of worker bees from other parts of the country what helping others really meant. She provided a powerful witness of goodness, grace and Christian faith. Believer or non-believer, if you did not come out positively impacted by your experiences with her, you were either dead or stone cold emotionally. This truth teller is in the presence of the Lord now having passed into eternity four years ago on this day, March 31. However, when that bell tolls for me, I will then get to tell her what she gave us who were touched by her Christian love.

“May the Work I Have Done, Speak for me.”

As you read her obituary I am going to ask you to suspend your judgments about the Democratic Party and NAACP participation in her obituary. Anybody who has lived in the deep south BIMD and beyond knows exactly what I am talking about. We know that some of the white people could be dismissive, unkind and even brutal toward people of color, especially blacks. We can also be honest about how both organizations later evolved and morphed into something they were not intended to be. At times BIMD they served a valuable purpose with their movements toward equality for all people. It was something we should have all already known and applied by simply following The Word as well as our nation’s founding documents from two centuries before. Unfortunately, it also went on to demonstrate how all human efforts tend to go when people in power lose sight of the higher calling.

In this short story linked below you will see a small example of the reality of those times. Be prepared because it really was that way. We just do not want to think about it now, to push it away. After all, we were not there and did not do those things ourselves. That truth is followed by the fact that we are still needing to deal with the memories and conflicts it caused. How many years did it take for a Hebrew to trust an Egyptian or Babylonian after being held captive as slaves and treated so poorly? That is what is involved here.

I usually end up going with the Biblical 40 years to recognize meaningful change. It is a “think Hebrew” principle and a number to be considered in relative terms much like other Hebrew thought patterns. In general it takes that long to defeat sin, renew hearts and start over as a people as the Bible reveals repeatedly. It needs to progress into the third and fourth generations from the events and people that cause and live through the traumatic experiences. I see it as an extension of God’s words in Deut. 5:9 among other scriptures – the sins of the fathers. However, events and people can cause the calendar of change to be reset. Which either extends the difficult period or accelerates the healing subject to the will of the Father.

Even with that understanding, the simple number 40 sure seems to be important in scripture. If you are still skeptical, consider the following…

The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years.

The people of Israel ate the manna 40 years, until they came to a habitable land. They ate the manna until they came to the border of the land of Canaan.

Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. It wasn’t until He had done so that He faced the greatest temptations anyone has ever faced, yet he passed the the test.

Moses had a 40 day fast on Mount Sinai with God on two different occasions to receive God’s laws.

Moses sent out spies for 40 days to spy out the land.

Ezekiel laid on his right side for 40 days to bear the iniquities of Judah, which represented the number of years – 40 – that the nation dishonored God.

God flooded the earth for 40 days during the time of Noah.

Jonah warned Ninevah for 40 days.

Goliath mocked and taunted Israel for 40 days before David ended it.

The three great kings in the Bible reigned for 40 years each: Saul, David and Solomon.

Jesus remained on earth 40 days after the resurrection.

Days before His crucifixion, Jesus prophesied the total destruction of Jerusalem. Which occurred 40 years later when the Roman Empire destroyed the city and burned the Temple to the ground.

I will stop for now, but there are many more. There are 146 references to the number in total. A bit too many to be coincidental in my opinion.

What you do not yet know is that the fine lady in this story worked within to bring peace and love to all skin colors in her area. Her calling and intentions were highly honorable and blessed by the Lord. She did not have the big college degrees, famous jobs or hold political office. She worked in food service jobs much of her life. Yet, she was held in deep reverence. One reason I know is because of the witness of all we met BIMD that lived in her community. Then there were her prayers for all of us as we worked to rebuild her and other homes within that neighborhood that were damaged by the winds and flooded to the rafters by the storm surge.

However, the primary reason is because I sat with her in and outside her FEMA trailer in which she temporarily lived when she gave me some of her time.

What would have been unimaginable 40+ years before, continued the healing and reeducation of multitudes that has rippled out of that small community forevermore. Even the destruction of Katrina was turned into a greater healing from God as people from everywhere came to the area to help, to give freely of themselves and resources to people they had never met.


I had some time available that I could take a break from our business as things were running smoothly. It was about a year after Katrina hit. Our construction team leader was and still is a close friend – brothers from different mothers. He was a very experienced, hands on general contractor who had already been to the area three times. The relief organization had even asked him to come to MS to be the state’s reconstruction leader of the entire effort on a five year contract, which he could not do as he was still a few years from being able to take early retirement from his long term employment. We all knew we were in good hands as he knew the mission, area, needs, resources and had the related expertise.

Having participated in past disaster relief efforts locally and in other areas, we all thought we knew what to expect. A few in our group who had been to the Katrina storm devastated areas before shook their heads and told us we had no idea, to prepare ourselves. After the long ride from East TN, we settled into our new digs for the week. The local UMC congregation housed us in Ocean Springs, MS; which is a couple miles east of Biloxi. The church had survived the storm with only minor roof and window damage that had already been repaired. The city had been damaged, especially along the waterfront of the bay, but less so than the areas to the west as we would soon learn. A mobile shower trailer had been connected to the water and electrical supply at the rear of the church and we would use their kitchen for our breakfast and evening meals. One of the ladies from our congregation who had restaurant cook experience along with a helper handled that chore along with grocery store purchases. The sleeping quarters were on the SS classroom floors of the second story where we would use the sleeping bags we brought.

After a nights sleep, we loaded up the trucks and SUVs with people and tools to head to the Command Center (CC), which was a large high school football stadium located in downtown Biloxi. In normal times that would be a 10 minute trip from the church. However, the massive Biloxi Bay Bridge between the two cities had been wiped out by Ms. Katrina. Nearly all of the spans were simply gone, leaving tall support structures standing like giant monuments in the water. So that trip became a 30-40 minute drive in a more circular route. That Biloxi Bay Bridge was rebuilt and reopened a couple of years later with much fanfare by the locals.

At the CC we received our work assignments. It would also be the place we would go for a mid-day break if in town and where we were provided free box lunches. As the Lord would have it, our first assignment was to go to Ms. Ruth’s home for dry wall finish work and sub floor installation. All of us could not have been more pumped about what we were going to be doing to help out. We also knew we would learn how to do many construction related activities that would prove beneficial for our honey-do projects at home. On the job training! 😀

Location: Holley Street, Biloxi, MS

Ms. Ruth lived in small brick rancher on a little, chain linked fenced lot in an older neighborhood. The homes were built in the 40s and 50s for the most part. Upon our arrival, nothing could prepare us who had not been there before for what we saw. Here it was a year later and it still looked like it had been nuked in places. To give you some idea, I have linked the Getty images from the period below, even though they do not do justice relating to the extent of the damages.

One of the things you will always remember when working storm relief efforts are the blue tarp roofs of homes. They were everywhere we went even over a year after the storm hit. The massive needs for roofing materials and roofers could not be overstated. However, some homes needed structural repairs made before the roofs could be done.

The neighborhood in which we worked at one time housed many of the workers and families of the two nearby casinos, which have now grown to eight in the area. A year later when we arrived some of the demolition and clean-up work had been completed. Over half of the residential lots that once had homes were empty of everything but weeds and remaining trash. The brick and block structures survived for the most part, although all suffered some type of damage. We learned that over 5,000 structures out of 25,000 in the city were immediately destroyed by the storm. Several thousand more were later demolished due to the damages that made them uninhabitable.

Ms. Ruth’s and neighbor properties had experienced an approximate 8′ surge. Weather photos of the coast prior to landfall showed a wall of water in the ocean off the MS shore to the west that was nearly 30′ above the normal ocean level. When I say “wall”, I mean wall. It was the highest ever recorded and was centered at Bay St. Louis, MS to the west of nearby Gulfport. Pass Christian, MS, which is in the same general area, had experienced the previous high surge of 23′ during Hurricane Camille in 1969. Most residents never expected to experience that again, yet, it happened and was even more catastrophic. Many were caught unprepared despite the warnings.

Most residents had the good sense to evacuate, as Ms. Ruth did, to stay with family and friends away from the storm. Some chose to ride it out and met their demise. The houses were spray painted with designations where bodies were found as well as for flood water levels. The storm related total death count was officially updated by researchers in the following years to 1866, authorities in both LA and MS stated they really had no way of knowing with certainty and that it was undoubtedly much higher. In Ms. Ruth’s neighborhood we counted eight death markings on houses.

Into this environment we went. Four doors down was the neighborhood crack dealer who openly sat in an old lawn chair at the curb in front of his residence waiting on customers to drive up. Which they did about 5-10 times per day. He would stick his head in the car, go back into his house, come back out where he would stick his head and hand back in the car, slide the money into his pocket and sit back into his chair. All while the local police openly patrolled the area in marked cars. They had to see and had to know, but did nothing. We found out why later through a discussion with an off duty officer from a nearby town who was helping with the relief. The city had told the officers to not bother with arresting small time offenders and focus on the major ones while providing full protection to the many hundreds of relief workers scattered throughout the city.

Regardless of our surroundings we knew we were safe as nobody, including crack dealers and local thugs, messed with Ms. Ruth. She was the matriarch of the neighborhood and well known throughout the city. Besides that, the residents were generally happy to see us and encouraged by our presence. We seemed to lift their spirits as they could see light at the end of the tunnel. Some would come by the job sites to offer us water, food and prayers.

As we set up at Ms. Ruth’s we were met by her in what had been her living room. She had the biggest smile and warmest welcome we could have ever hoped to experience. She hugged everybody, talked some about the community, and then asked everybody to join in a circle, hold hands and she would lead us in prayer.

She nearly prayed the house down. We knew the Holy Spirit had entered that place. The energy was amazing. She then headed back out to go to her nearby church for some scheduled activities that day and to get out of the heat.

There were some of us who understood what happened. There were others whose eyes were as wide as saucers. There were a couple of folks who had not yet accepted Christ as their personal Savior, one of which had been a wavering skeptic who worked for our business banking operation. The looks on their faces were priceless. The comments and sincere questioning throughout the ensuing days as we labored were just as interesting. Every heart was opened.

After we arrived back at the church for a shower and dinner that first day, we held our own devotional and discussion period before getting some sleep. Everybody who had been assigned to Ms. Ruth’s team wanted to continue working there despite the CC giving daily assignments. We wanted to move her rebuild forward as fast as possible. We asked our contractor team leader to talk with the CC for that assignment for the rest of our time there. We agreed that the sooner we could get her back into her home, the sooner that neighborhood would receive the full benefit of her presence. Ms. Ruth could spend more of her time and open her home to the hurting, women’s prayer circle and other church outreach ministries as she had done pre-storm. The CC honored our request.

The Work

I will finish this part with a short discussion about the work. The flood waters had made the homes uninhabitable. The mold was high; so the interior walls, insulation, wiring, plumbing, etc. had to be demo’d. All of that had already been done prior to our arrival. In addition, the remaining structure had to be treated for the mold and time allowed for it to all dry out after the new roof was installed. Ms. Ruth’s house was built about 4 blocks high on its raised foundation, which was unusual for its period of construction and very helpful as it improved the ventilation under the home. As a result, nearly all of the floor joists and a large amount of the original planked sub floor were still in good shape after treatment and drying out.

There were two teams assigned during the week. Some in both groups handled the dry wall finish and others of us handled the subfloors, exterior punch list and lot clean up. I opted for the later as I have never cared for dry wall finish. Our team leader contractor had secured good quality plywood instead of particle board for the subfloor that we screwed in while leveling as needed. Nothing but the best for Ms. Ruth! As that was finished I rotated out to the exterior of the home and lot for minor repairs and clean up. It was amazing the amount of broken glass that I found on that small lot and driveway.

My contractor friend would get reassigned occasionally to other jobs. If a two – four man job, I would head out with him. As a result, we ended up doing jobs all the way from Biloxi to Pass Christian. The further west we traveled the worse the storm surge damage. Pass Christian was wiped out. Every home and business suffered major damage to total destruction. A town with a population of about 7000 people was reduced to 2000 a year later. I still remember the only thing I saw standing along the beach highway in the center of town. It was a McDonald’s sign that was perpendicular to the shore with severe damage to the sign, but still distinguishable. The only homes that survived for miles in either direction of downtown were located well back from the beach behind the levee. Most homes behind the levee still had blue tarp roofs. There were a handful of concrete block walled buildings still standing, but the roofs, windows and doors were gone. A handful of live oak trees made it through it all. Other than the streets and some concrete foundation pads, that was it.

Meanwhile back at Ms. Ruth’s the rest of the team were getting prayed up by her to start each day. Every afternoon they were given the best homemade lemonade from her that was made from the fruit of a lemon tree in her front yard. On our next to last scheduled work day, we all did a full blitz on her home to take it as far as we could for the next week’s team to be able to do cabinets, fixtures and painting. It was that day when Ms. Ruth beckoned me over to have some of her lemonade. She invited me inside her trailer. I guess she sensed that I had been concerned for her situation and prayed daily for her well being and that of the residents and business owners around the area.


I wanted to listen to what this great woman had to say. I wanted to just take in the experience through her eyes and heart as I knew I would probably never see her again until we each arrived in Heaven.

“May the work that I have done, speak for me.” Until next time…

Lean on me, friend.

5 2 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments


Thank you for sharing this lovely story with us. This lady was an angel and messenger of GOD’s truth on earth – giving – loving – sharing.


I’m sure Mrs Ruth later proved herself worthy of the faith you and members extended to her. Good story.

I’d think Katrina would bring back many memories as it happened and as in this case dealing with it’s aftermath. Clearly a focal/impression point in our lives that many won’t forget.

The guy below though gives the opposite impression for a similar event, much smaller but every much bit as impactful for the people it’s affected and another indicator that he should not be serving as President. For whatever reason you wish you’re left with the message that he does not care and people he’s visiting, he never really thought about even before he got there and thusly they will never be remembered.

Valerie Curren

Thank you for sharing more of your journey & about this True Saint in the Lord! The racial history of America is so complicated. What a privilege to be part of the reconciliation aspects of that ongoing tale! You have lead Quite a Remarkable Life!

Valerie Curren

I must have missed it but why do you call yourself Goober?

Valerie Curren

That’s awesome! God has had His hand on you big time! TY for sharing this 🙂

Valerie Curren

These are good tales now recorded here for posterity. Your witness is intact, the power of God is evidenced, & His provision to & through you is so inspiring! You are blessing Many, in His Name here!!! Thank you 🙂


Thank you for this!