Robert Mahr and his fiance live in Biloxi, Miss.
Robert Mahr (from left), Jamie Ray, James Ray and Rita Ray and their dogs survived Hurricane Katrina in their van. All are employed at casinos in Biloxi, Miss., and fled as far as Mobile, Ala., before getting caught in the storm.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
That is, they used to.
Hurricane Katrina destroyed Mahr's home Aug. 29 only one day before he and his fiance, Jamie Ray, fled the area with Ray's parents, James and Rita Ray.
Stuck in traffic, the family pulled into a crowded RV park in Mobile, Ala., late Aug. 29 and endured Hurricane Katrina in their van. For 12 hours, rain and wind pummeled the van and a tree fell only a few feet from the back of the vehicle.
Once the storm passed, the family had to wait more than an hour to use the one working pump at a gasoline station in Alabama before making the 500-plus mile trip to Mahr's parents' house in Winfield.
"I'm just glad to be alive," Mahr said. "The house I was renting was down the street and 100 yards from the ocean. I know it's gone."
Mahr said the family only took a some clothes, a mattress, some money and their four dogs. Everything else was left behind, including two pet birds, a car and a motorcycle.
Lakeside Middle School pupils Spencer Plunkett (from left), Brianna McLeod, Sean Gaddy and Gina Palmese were among the those who were allowed to wear pajamas to school for donating a dollar to hurricane relief. The school will have another fund raiser, Hat Day, on Friday, and Principal Felicia Dumas has promised to spend a day in the school's display case if students raise more than $3,000.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Mahr's story is only one of many from hurricane victims who have fled to Columbia County looking for relief.
Less than a week after Hurricane Katrina hit, Columbia County residents were responding.
People such as Robert "Gabby" Mahr, Robert's father, have opened their doors to hurricane victims. Members of nearby Shiloh United Methodist Church also opened their wallets Sunday with a special offering for the family.
Pastor Dan White said the small congregation raised $1,800 to help the Rays. "This offering was a 'spur of the moment' outpouring of love for these dear people who have lost everything," White said.
Columbia County residents have many ways to contribute to the relief effort.
Goodwill announced 10 percent of all its sales on Saturdays in September will go to its Disaster Relief Fund.
The Columbia County Emergency Services Division has coordinated with local churches to load an 18-wheeler with donated items to be transported to the Gulf Coast area during the week of Sept. 21.
North Harlem Elementary School Principal Kirk Wright places a donation in a jar intended to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. Zane Kimel, (kneeling) and Ryan Smith, both pupils in Mrs. Ruff's kindergarten class, are ready to add their donations. Wright has pledged to walk to school from his Evans home if the school raise more than $2,000 for hurricane relief.
The city of Harlem is accepting donations for hurricane victims to be divided between Golden Harvest Food Bank and the American Red Cross.
Donations can be made at Harlem City Hall, the City Annex Office, the Laurel and Hardy Museum and the Harlem Police Department.
Columbia County's Farm Bureau office at 330 Milledgeville Road, in Harlem, also is accepting donations for The American Red Cross during office hours, 8 a.m. 5 p.m. daily.
The Columbia County News-Times office in Evans and Wild Birds Unlimited in Martinez are among donation sites for Hope Soap, a charity collecting personal care items for shipment to survivors.
Lakeside Middle School is one of many schools with special programs designed to raise funds for hurricane relief. The school designated Sept. 2 as Pajama Pants Day in an effort to raise funds for the hurricane victims. The fundraiser will continue with Hat Day on Friday with students encouraged to bring in cash donations. If the pupils reach their goal of $3,000, Principal Felicia Dumas has committed to spending an entire day in the school's display case.
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