Rising From the Ruins Pt. 1

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The eye of the hurricane that produced America's worst natural disaster crossed Bay St. Louis, Mississippi August 29th with 120 mile-per-hour winds and a nearly 30-foot storm surge.

Twenty four people were killed just in Bay St. Louis and thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed.

Amazingly, a tiny church a stone's throw from the beach survived.

Reverend Richard Jones of First Presbyterian Church recalled what one eyewitness saw.

"The water parted and came around the church. Lots of other churches suffered serious damage."

That little church, down to just six members after the storm, has turned into the little church that could. First Presbyterian became a kind of mash unit, hosting workers nursing a hurting city back to health.

Port-o-lets appeared outside, tool sheds sprouted out back and Sunday school rooms turned into dorms to house volunteers, 5,000 of them so far! Everywhere we turned in this town people couldn't find the words to thank those volunteers, people like Rod Murphy whose home in Waveland, Mississippi was inundated.

Murphy's wife is disabled, and when the waters rose, her mattress literally floated off the bed. Murphy said he thought it was the end...until he heard his sister scream.

"She screamed," said Murphy. "’The water's going down!’ And that was music to my ears."

He and his wife survived, but his home was a disaster, until volunteers pitched in. The Murphy's should be able to move back in next month.

They have been married 47 years and pictures of their grandkids adorn their FEMA trailer. They say they're ready to move back in the house that's been home since 1963. That move will be possible because of support from volunteers, but the church isn't getting much support from it's denomination.

Out of 20 million collected by the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. for the 2005 hurricane disaster fund, just $15,000 has gone to the Bay St. Louis congregation.

One reason is the denominations worried about using young teenagers as volunteers. They are supervised and the pastor says it's a good age to inspire them.

"We feel kids under 18 need to have that experience on a mission trip. If you wait till they're 18 they're distracted by college, and career," said Jones.

The denomination's other concern, a lack of accurate paperwork on volunteers- especially right after the disaster.

The denomination says it's already spent $6 million on general storm relief, $4 million on helping churches and staff and says the remaining $10 million will go for long-term recovery over the next seven years.

In the meantime, the little church that could keeps finding a way to bring a once flooded city a flood of volunteers.

"We need everybody, a lot of skilled workers, but we can still use unskilled too," said Crew Chief Bridget Mauriji.

If you would like information on volunteering, or to make a donation, go to wctv6.com and click on the Rising From the Ruin-Hurricane Volunteers icon.