Justin Hobart House

Above & Beyond

A doctor. A professional relief worker. A volunteer. Two men, one woman. One thoughtful and soft spoken, one clinical in approach, one energetic and voluble. Between the three, they witnessed everything Hurricane Katrina’s remorseless fury visited upon the Gulf Coast, from the unimaginable destruction to the resiliency of the human spirit.

Dr. Jonathan Fine, Rudy Von Bernuth and Veronica “Ronnie” Tulla were part of the huge national response to the havoc and ruin of the worst natural disaster in U.S. history. By design, by profession and by nature, they found themselves responding to the storm’s tragic consequences, yet they were hardly the only people or entities from lower Fairfield County who were part of the relief effort.

The Mid-Fairfield County Chapter of the Red Cross raised $450,000 in donations, from large corporations to small lemonade stands. Stew Leonard’s raised more than $10,000 from its three in-store wishing wells and then the Leonard family added $10,000. Truckloads of food, clothing and essentials originated from this area — not the least of which were boxes of backpacks, filled with supplies collected by local schoolchildren.

The hurricane has long passed, but not so its hold on the people whose stories are told on the following pages. Dr. Fine is housing his displaced mother. Von Bernuth’s humanitarian-aid visits to the area continue. Ronnie exchanges e-mails with fast-formed friends. Their personal stories bring home the true nature of the situation in Louisiana, Mississippi and the entire South. Katrina’s worst is over, but these three local residents still find themselves inextricably gripped by the lives and landscape 1,200 miles away.

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