Katrina impacts members of the Islanders' extended family
It was Thursday, Aug. 25 when Steve Stirling arrived in Biloxi, Miss. to take part in a press conference announcing a partnership between the Islanders, Sound Tigers and the ECHL Mississippi Sea Wolves.
"A great day," Stirling recalled today. "The people in Mississippi were so excited about their first affiliation with an NHL team. It got a lot of press attention locally. The Sea Wolves' staff people and fans were so warm, so welcoming to me. I flew home the next morning thinking that it was such a privilege to spend a day there and see a part of America I had never been to before."
48 hours later, Katrina arrived and changed everything - forever.
Biloxi has been ravaged by the hurricane. Thousands of homes have been destroyed. The Sea Wolves' home rink, described by Stirling as "no more than a sand-wedge from the beach," has more than eight feet of water where the ice usually is. The Beau Rivage, the beautiful casino-hotel where Stirling stayed in BiloxiÂ¦well, you™ve probably seen the pictures on CNN.
After several tries, I finally made contact Saturday morning with my colleague, Mike Kelly, the broadcasting and media relations director of the Sea Wolves. Mike and his family retreated to a safe haven in Florida before Katrina hit. "We're very fortunate to be alive and have a safe place to stay," Mike wrote in an email. "Biloxi and the surrounding region have no power, no running water and no phone service."
As a result, the status of the Sea Wolves franchise is not only unknown, it's simply not a priority right now. Knowing their family members, friends and co-workers are safe is the only thing Mike Kelly and his colleagues care about.
Many of the homes of the Sea Wolves staffers suffered horrendous damage. In his email, Mike reported to me that they have been unable to confirm the safety and whereabouts of five members of the Sea Wolves family: one co-owner, one equipment staffer and three members of the sales and marketing team.
What do you say after hearing that?
I have no idea. All I know is that attention must be paid. The Islanders family and that includes our most important members, the fans will do something in the name of our new friends in Biloxi. Stay tuned.
For now, please consider going here to make donations to the American Red Cross.
The Mississippi Gulf Coast Chapter of the Red Cross is located in Biloxi. Patricia Kraemer (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Disaster and Emergency Services Director. Please contact her if you can help the people of Mississippi.
When the press conference on Aug. 25 was over, Coach Stirling took a drive in his rental car up and down the coast. It was a rare opportunity to see a wonderful part of our country, he thought.
"I watch CNN and MSNBC and Fox and it™s just so sad to see those clips of the Beau Rivage and the floating casinos and the buildings around the arena and, of course, the homes," said Stirling. "It's unfathomable to me that Biloxi and New Orleans and the other areas hit may never be the same."
It doesn't necessarily have to be that way. With a little help from a lot of people, the South will rise again.