September 28, 2005

Hello dear friends ...

It's been a few days since I have posted a note to you ... I think it's time to share a few thoughts with you.

First, let me begin by saying on August 27th ... when we drove into the driveway with trailers loaded down with furniture and all our personal belongings ... to a rental house ... to live for a few months while we begin building our log house that we've dreamed of since the day we got married ... 15 years ago ... I sure never dreamed that 4 1/2 weeks later ... we would still be living out of boxes, and focusing each and every minute of our lives helping America recover from the greatest natural disaster in history.

The past month has been the most moving experience of my entire life.  Not only for me, but for my husband, son and the many many volunteers who have been at my house answering phones, talking to family members about the missing, typing thousands of names, crying one minute and rejoicing the next.

When the first phone call came in on Sunday afternoon ... the day BEFORE the storm ... "Katrina ... I live in Memphis, TN ... I have been surfing the internet to find out information on Hurricane Katrina ... I ran across your website ... and just wanted to tell you what a blessing it was to me ... a fellow Christian ... God intended for all this to happen ... and you gave me hope when I needed it the most."  I had a feeling down deep that there was something about to happen.

The next 3 days were the toughest - trying to read the minds of the people ... wanting to give them the information they so craved.  Making sure they had correct phone numbers ... links to the right websites.  The emails were pouring in.  I had already changed the website many times to keep up with the demand.  The missing and stranded persons emails were coming in.  After many many phone calls to FEMA, Red Cross, Governmental Agencies ... I finally stumbled across help from the Louisiana State Police who had a call center in Baton Rouge.  These folks were going to be my new best friends.  And God Bless their souls for their kindness and help to so many.

As the phone calls and emails rolled in from family members who had received text messages from stranded individuals and families, or who believed that their family members were still trapped in attacks, I would go through them one at a time, look for emergencies and those still stranded and call each one individually in to the Search and Rescue team.  I would call the report in, call the person who reported them missing ... let them know what I did with their form ... expressed my thoughts and prayers ... and asked them to keep in touch with us.  I can't tell you how we all felt, when the family member would call back and tell us how the rescue took place ... their stranded family member was safe now and going to LIVE!  We would all cry and cry!  What a blessing and a miracle ... here we were ... in Virginia ... helping to save lives!  Thank you Lord!

I asked family and friends to come and help type into a database the names of the missing and try to organize it in some fashion for future help.

This went on for DAYS ... and DAYS ... my house was overflowing with over 40 volunteers from our county.  Family and friends brought in food, typed, read and helped sort emails.

September 1, my 6 year son ... starts the 1st grade.  First day at school - and mommy and daddy now with 4 days without sleep.  He comes home to a house full of volunteers, boxes all over the place ... and phones ringing off the hook.

I honestly do not know how we made it through those first couple weeks.  Brady was as happy as a lark.  My husband Curtis worked all day - then came home to a hot supper that someone brought in - he kept Brady busy and happy - kept the cooler full of sodas and a big basket of snacks.  He ran phone lines, hooked up more computers ... whatever needed to be done.

We were steadily collecting data of missing persons ... our goal was at that time working with the Search and Rescue ... which we did for almost 2 more weeks.  During this ... it really troubled me at the fact that there was not "one" group handling all this.  There were too many websites collecting missing family members.  Mine also was set up because of this same problem.  No one overseeing this ... with my name being Katrina ... and the website bringing in millions of visitors ... it was the place for everyone to park ... thus the need for an organized format.

The media jumped on the website hot and heavy for a week or so ... telling all about how I was offered thousands ... yes thousands ... up to a 1/2 million dollars for the domain name.  Many talked to me about what I was doing ... how and why I was keeping it going ... the focus seemed to be on me turning my site over to Hurricane Info and not taking the $500,000.  

Still inside I was screaming for someone to listen ... there was no organized format for helping to connect people with the people who needed them and wanted them.

Finally after 5 days ... I made contact with the Coast Guard.  Completely by accident!  There was a division of Homeland Security setup and managed by the Coast Guard to help missing and stranded persons.  The Homeport site was going strong.  Along with my contact there - I began to pattern my missing persons form after theirs.  We worked very close from then on - and I uploaded files to them to be meshed with their database.  I felt like this was the only official website that I could trust would "use" my data to connect families back together.  I couldn't have made it this far without their support!  Thank you dear ones!

Since then, I have been in close contact with the Red Cross (who graciously brought us 10 PCs to assist with typing), with Homeland Security, and with the DMORT division of FEMA to make sure that all the data that I collected is being sent to the right groups to help in connecting our people once again.

Senator George Allen's office has been a great strength for me through this entire project.  They have provided me with many documents for the public and guided me through many obstacles.  It has been a wonderful learning experience for everyone involved.

After 16 days with no sleep, I finally crashed ... only to wake up with more ideas for the website ... and ready to charge the world.  After having Lymes Disease in the early summer ... I was absolutely amazed at how much energy I had and how in the world my brain was still functioning.  I definitely contribute alot to Mt. Dew!  ha ha

The website has faced many challenges over the past few weeks.  It has changed from simple links, to a very powerful message board where thousands of messages from across the WORLD of help, hope, and even views on politics have been discussed.  We had to deal with a few crazy ol' souls who enjoyed rambling on and on about racial issues or insisted on using vulgarity or threats.  We made it through that also.

The website was a place for America to mourn the loss of many who perished.  It was a place where the world could post their condolences to victims and in a quiet peaceful manner - continue to help those still in need.

Those who have experienced Hurricane Rita, used the site to find comfort, look for information, and continue to connect with one another.

I have tried to be as fair as possible with everyone - not endorsing one group or the other.  Not knowing who was soliciting money for themselves or really to help victims.  There are forms for users to fill out regarding their needs and offerings.  The pages are starting to get LONG ... I am concerned about people coming back and updating these records in the future.  I can't call ALL of them individually.

The site is now a place for victims to ask for help ... individuals, businesses, churches, and organizations to post their willingness to donate or post job openings ... a place where people once again ... "connect".  

Ironically ... my husband named my business in 1994, Computer Connections.  And oh boy ... have I lived out that name over and over again.

The site is facing challenges once again.  It is growing ... needing more management.  And I am quickly wondering where this will all lead.  I have put my business on hold ... I have to work ... I've hired a person just to help keep up ... the volunteers have mostly all gone back to their normal lives ... the bills aren't getting any smaller ... we are getting ready to adopt 4 children ... and the website needs to expand once again.

So ... my dear friends ... my whole life has always been about "people" - all those around me who needed help.  And by God's grace ... this website will continue to do the same thing.  It has had over 6.5 MILLION hits since August 29th, 2005.  That is UNBELIEVABLE!  I now bring to you ... what can I do to make it better?  What would you like to see happen to the site to continue to be a blessing to others?  How can we make the site work for now the VICTIMS who are now able to get on line and look for help?  I've thought about an on-line Angel Tree ... and many other options.  Katrina.com is the place where the traffic is so heavy ... and I want it to help people.

Our goal as Americans should continue to remain the same ... help those in time of need.

Only the Lord above knows what plan He had when my parents named me Katrina.  After a TV interview one evening a couple weeks ago ... my mother said to me ... "Katrina ... I have to tell you again about the day we named you.  You were a whole day old.  Your Daddy would hold you and walk around in the hospital room looking at you ... all the names we had picked out didn't fit you.  He just kept shaking his head.  You were born and in this world a day ... still no name.  Then one of our friends from church came in to see you.  She said ... how about 'Katrina'?  Your Daddy looked at you ... with big ol' tears running down his cheeks and said ... YES ... she looks just like a 'Katrina'."  Of course, I cried and cried when she told me.  Giving anything if I could hear my Daddy call my name once again ... "Katrina Lynne" ... on this earth.

I know that Daddy will call my name again ... and God has blessed through this website a million times over.  The meaning of my name means "pure" - I looked it up a couple weeks ago ... I am just plain ol' Katrina.  Nothing fancy - and I love my family, friends and neighbors with my whole heart.  I want this website to continue to be a blessing to others ... and even though we are experiencing a few bumps in the road ... I know that it will be all okay if we give God all the credit for allowing it to happen ... and seek His Will first.

I hope that once all this settles, I'll get to meet with the Heads of Governmental offices and these various charities and organizations to discuss the positive and negative effects of the internet and how we as a "people" can use technology to better our country.  In a "computer world" ... there are some things that a computer JUST CAN'T DO ... it's only as good as the people who are using it.  There are times that computers won't solve our problems ... they can't carry people out of flood waters ... they can't put an arm around a person who lost their loved one ... but we can use them to help us better organize all these efforts. 

If you have suggestions - please feel free to email me at katrina@katrina.com.  I treasure your advice and cherish your comments.

This is your website ... where does it need to go from here?

With much love ~ Katrina