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Whitewater heads back to Katrina-stricken city

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Carla McCann
November 10, 2007
— In Bay St. Louis, Miss., children slowly are healing from the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina that leveled about 80 percent and damaged the remaining 20 percent of their city two years ago.

At least one pastor, the Rev. Mike Cuevas, attributes part of the children’s recovery to the community of Whitewater, which has provided supplies, donations, work crews and a heartfelt offering of friendship to the people of Bay St. Louis along the Gulf of Mexico.


“You have opened the doors of the world” for the children, Cuevas said in an e-mail letter to Whitewater Police Sgt. Michael Ciardo.


“Almost every service is one of thanksgiving for the help that all of you have given and for God guiding you to our community,” Cuevas wrote.


The children couldn’t have had a better geography lesson than to look at a map of the United States to see where all of the help and love has come from, Cuevas said.


Whitewater adopted Bay St. Louis as a sister city in November 2005 after Ciardo, who also is Whitewater’s emergency management coordinator, was assigned there for a month under the Emergency Management Assistance Compact.


The EMAC is a congressionally ratified organization that provides form and structure to interstate mutual aid.


The southern city was home to historian and author Stephen Ambrose, who grew up in Whitewater. It also was ground zero for hurricane Katrina, Ciardo said.


Whitewater’s commitment to Bay St. Louis has brought in more than $50,000 in donations from business owners and private contributors and more than 2,000 hours of labor to help rebuild, Ciardo said.


“Although work continues in earnest in southern Mississippi, there still remains a need for donated labor and materials,” Ciardo said.


FEMA trailers still dot the landscape, and people have to travel to other cities to buy groceries because Bay St. Louis no longer has a grocery store, Cuevas said.


For Ciardo, being involved in rebuilding the southern city has been one of the most rewarding experiences of his life, he said.


That’s why he is leading another organized mission trip to Bay St. Louis on Jan. 2-9.


Ciardo, however, isn’t the only Whitewater resident whose life was touched by the humanitarian need within the Mississippi city.


Last year, for example, a group of about 30 UW-Whitewater Student Optimists and Whitewater community leaders traveled to Bay St. Louis to work in the schools and help rebuild.


“Two of those college students are returning to Bay St. Louis to spend this Thanksgiving with a family they befriended during their initial humanitarian effort in the city,” Ciardo said.


During the past two years, Whitewater also has hosted one of the southern city’s artists and a family of five, allowing them a short break from the reality of their world, Ciardo said.


The visits also helped tighten Whitewater’s bond to its sister city, he said.


“We want to get people involved in helping others,” Ciardo said. “This (Southern city) is our back door. And these people still are struggling with insurance and political issues while they are continuing to rebuild their lives.”


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TO HELP


For reservations or more information about the upcoming humanitarian mission trip by Whitewater residents to Bay St. Louis, Miss., call Police Sgt. Michael Ciardo at (262) 473-0570 by Tuesday, Nov. 20. Monetary donations can be sent to: “Sister City Project,” City of Whitewater, 312 W. Whitewater St., Whitewater, WI 53190.



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