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Katrina draws him back to the Gulf Coast

Larry Avicola got the call the day after Katrina hit.

The Mission College catering manager heard from his brother-in-law, a battalion chief in Pascagoula, Mississippi. It was a plea for help.

“He said everyone (in the family) was alive but they needed help, outside help, because the area was devastated,” Avicola recalled in a recent interview.

Avicola, at damaged bridge across from Biloxi.
Avicola counts 11 relatives in the New Orleans area, and the neighboring Mississippi communities of Pascagoula and Gautier (both just east of Biloxi). Among them are his sister, her husband, and several nieces, nephews, great nieces and great nephews.

“We’d drive down the street and people would run out to us yelling, ‘Help us, please help us.’”

Out of his own pocket and from private donations, Avicola recently filled two trucks with supplies, food and building materials. In mid-September, two weeks after Katrina had hit, Avicola headed east to deliver the goods. He’d seen the news coverage, and so he braced himself – but nothing could prepare him for viewing the damage firsthand.

“My heart just sank,“ he said “The whole area was destroyed. It was a place where I had looked forward to retiring because of the beauty and comfort of being next to the water. The only thing to look forward to now is a big clean-up.”

Avicola personally lost two homes, one in Pascagoula and the other in Ocean Springs. What matters most, he said, is that no relatives were seriously hurt. Working as a team, the relatives cleaned and repaired the two most habitable family homes where all are living for the time being.

Avicola, his brother-in-law (the battalion chief), and a few others then set about helping others in the community.

“We’d drive down the street and people would run out to us yelling, ‘Help us, please help us.’ It would break your heart,” he said. “I wish that we’d had a crew of 50 or 100 people with us because we just didn’t have the time and manpower to help everyone.”

Instead, Avicola’s team would help the most needy: the elderly, single moms, and people who couldn’t get into their homes because of tree damage, debris, or flattened roofs.

“We’d tell them, ‘Hey, we can donate four hours or so to help you,’” he recalled. “And pretty much, in most cases, we got more than we bargained for. In four hours, you can take out the furniture and carpeting, tear out the soggy drywall and insulation, and help them spray the mold with bleach. Basically, we’d get the ‘drying out’ process started for them.”

After seeing and experiencing all of that, Avicola was convinced his help is still needed. He’s planning a second trip to the region later this month to deliver yet another truckload of supplies.

– BY EDUARDO PARDO / Photos courtesy of Larry Avicola