The Christian Broadcasting Network

The 700 Club with Pat Robertson


Still Rebuilding Lives Ten Years After Katrina

By Cheryl Wilcox
The 700 Club -It’s another beautiful day on Mississippi’s gulf coast. Here in Biloxi, Mississippi, a group of volunteers work to repair dunes damaged by hurricane Katrina. The deadly storm made landfall on August 29, 2005. 

Thousands chose to ride out the storm. Among them were Ken and Dawn Wetzel. She was three months pregnant and her grandmother was on dialysis in critical condition.

 “We decided that we would stay back and as soon as the storm was over that we would run in and run to her rescue and make sure that she got the care that she needed,” noted Ken.

“I really wanted to stay, I didn't want to leave,” added Dawn.

According to Ken, “Typically these storms would be in and out of here in 3 to 6 hours.”

Not Katrina. For 12 hours, the massive category three hurricane pounded the coast with winds up to 140 miles per hour. That created a record breaking 28-foot storm surge that caused flooding along the rivers and bayous as far as 12 miles inland.

Dawn recalls, “To see the water rise so quickly was, I mean, something that I had never seen before. It really started to get bad where we were trying to hold the heavy leaded-glass doors closed, literally with our hands.”

Dawn called her mother to tell her they were moving to the second floor. By daybreak, the water had reached the second story. Ken called his parents for prayer. “We were going to get out of the house for fear of it washing away, and as soon as I got off the phone with them, Dawn pointed out to me that the water had started receding.”

That morning, America watched in disbelief as the reports and images started coming in; entire communities underwater; people clinging to rooftops. Venturing out, Ken and Dawn found they had lost everything they owned, but others had lost much more.

Ken emotionally recalled, “I discovered that this neighbor had lost his wife and daughter and in-laws in the storm there beside him; that he had watched them perish.”

While Ken and Dawn had family close by they could stay with and they could help them, they saw others with no one to turn to. Ken knew he had to do something. “I went out that next morning just looking for somebody to serve.”

After borrowing a vehicle, Ken went to the nearest relief station, loaded up with “meals ready to eat” (MRE’s), and took them to people throughout Biloxi. He did the same every day, as others jumped in to help.

“We would deliver MRE's in the morning and we would do whatever the Holy Spirit led us to do that day,” he said.

For weeks, Ken labored long hours in the oppressive heat delivering supplies and helping with clean-up efforts. As difficult as the task was, the stench was becoming unbearable. “We would help people “muck out” their houses; remove all the items to be discarded. They were still retrieving bodies out of that neighborhood that were covered in debris. And you could smell death.”

Then, he developed a staph infection from the rancid water that was resistant to antibiotics. Ken recalled, “The first two months that I had it, whenever we checked my temperature it was never below 102º. It caused me to feel miserable. It was painful. When I asked them about the open sore that I had on my leg they said, ‘Well, legs can be amputated.’ I went home that night and I was in despair, and the reality of possibly dying set in at that point.”

Exhausted and hurting, Ken poured out his frustrations to God.

“I asked Him, ‘what kind of God are you? Is this the best that you have? How are we ever going to come out of this?’ All of a sudden when I stopped, it was so silent that my head was ringing. Suddenly I heard a voice in my head and in my heart, and I didn't realize it at that time, but it was a personal revival for me.”

Ken made a decision. "’If I’m going to die, I’m going to die serving the Lord. I'm not going to be in a hospital bed with doctors saying that they had done everything that they possibly could.’ If I was going to die, I was going to die with purpose."

After two years of treatment, Ken was finally cured of the staph infection. Ken continued helping others recover from the storm, while he and Dawn started rebuilding their own lives. That work continues today. In the wake of Katrina, Ken and Dawn founded New Life Disaster Relief that, for 10 years, has been helping communities devastated by natural disasters. 
“We constantly seek opportunity. We know that the example that Jesus set, He often did things in the physical before He addressed the spiritual needs,” said Ken.

Dawn was quick to add, “But it's been very rewarding.  There's been a lot of blessing in it. And I just thank God that He's put us in a position to help others.”

Ken concluded by saying, “I just want to serve God. I want to serve my family and I want to serve others.”

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