Amid all the Southern tinged "y'alls" and "yes, ma'ams," Tom Cicio's Brooklyn accent seems a bit out of place. But hugs and a helping hand can go a long way toward making even a Yankee feel welcome in the South, and the retired NYPD officer has been doing a lot of both for folks in Pass Christian, Miss.
Mr. Cicio has seen massive destruction before. He was three blocks away from the World Trade Center when the second tower collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001, and had to take cover as the massive debris cloud raced toward him. He spent the next five days working at ground zero securing the area during rescue operations.
As hurricane Katrina gained strength, churning toward the Gulf Coast in late August, Cicio and Mike Turnbull, a Missouri partner in a house renovation business, were glued to the television. It was clear to them the destruction would be massive. They decided that night to help with the relief effort. They tried to go through established relief organizations, but didn't get much response. Finally they went on their own.
"Once you go through devastation, it affects your heart and mind. This was our opportunity to help people," Cicio says.
The morning after attending ceremonies in New York City to mark the fourth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Cicio was on a plane heading south. He met up with Mr. Turnbull in Gulfport, Miss., and together they have worked for a month doing everything from traffic control to cooking dinner for fellow volunteers. If they saw someone by a destroyed house they stopped. If a person didn't have water or ice, they would find someone who did.
As the sun sank slowly into the Gulf, the two delivered much-needed ice and supplies to retiree Chester Collins. Katrina had reduced Mr. Collins's house to a slab. Sitting beside the tent Collins now calls home, they talk about the past and speculate on the future.
Afterward, Collins shakes hands with the men as they head for their Jeep. Overwhelmed by the support from so many volunteers, Collins says: "I didn't know there were this many good people in the United States of America."