Payson Pair Returns From Hurricane-Ravaged Area

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Watching two children from a family fleeing the ravages of Hurricane Katrina unwrap toys donated by Payson youngsters was the highlight of a relief trip to New Orleans for a pair of Payson Good Samaritans.

"We actually got to see those toys change hands and that was very emotional for us," Butch Klein said. "It happened at the Crossgate Baptist Church in Robert (La.)"

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Payson residents Butch Klein and Mike Kobo recently returned from a trip to the Gulf Coast, where they delivered two truckloads of donations.

"The family had lost their home, everything in the flooding in southern New Orleans where they (once) lived."

Klein, a co-owner of Quality Movers in Payson, and his friend and employee Mike Kobo, drove two truckloads filled with 13 tons of supplies to victims of the hurricane.

In the truckloads were water, clothing, food, medicines, personal hygiene products, children's toys, clothing, baby diapers, medicines and $6,000 in cash given to relief officials at the Baptist church.

"We had just about everything people who had lost their home and personal possessions would need," Klein said. "And it all came from the people in Payson; they are the real heroes in all this, not us."

"We just drove from Payson to Louisiana, and that's nothing new -- it's what we do for a living," Klein said.

The pair's relief effort was spawned Sept. 3 just after Katrina plowed into the southern coastal states sparking one of the worst disasters in the nation's history.

"We were riding around in the truck and talking about what we could do to help out," Kobo said.

The two decided they would contact KMOG radio station and make an appeal for donations for the hurricane evacuees.

The following day at Mountain Bible Church, where the two attend, another plea went out for supplies.

By Sept. 5, Labor Day, donations began arriving at Kobo's home in truckloads.

"We had so many people, it looked like red ants on a hill," Klein said. "We fully loaded 24-foot Budget and 26-foot U-Haul trucks."

While the hordes of volunteers loaded the supplies, Kobo's wife, Marion, surfed the Internet to plot a route from Payson to Louisiana.

Armed with Marion's directions, the pair departed Rim country the following morning. After traveling through New Mexico and Texas, the two learned in phone calls from Marion that they would have to adjust their route due to closed roads and highways.

"Luckily, we had some back-up plans," Kobo said.

As the pair drove into the northern reaches of Louisiana they began to see firsthand Katrina's devastation.

"Power poles and trees were down, roofs were blown off and there was no electricity," Mike said. "Those were sad sights."

Although the people were obviously suffering, Klein noticed a common thread of resiliency that ran through the victims.

"To me, it looked like they were fighting back pretty good," he said. "For the most part, they were incredibly organized, self sufficient and knew what to do to get her done."

The Louisiana people's courage in the face of extreme adversity made the relief journey even more rewarding for the two Payson men.

"We knew what we, and the people (of Payson), were doing was the right thing," Klein said.

While the supplies were being unloaded at the Baptist Church, Klein and Kobo took the opportunity to further tour the ravaged countryside.

"A lot of roads were closed and it was tough to get around, but we saw more (devastation) than we cared to," Kobo said.

After the truck was unloaded and the supplies were at a place where they could be quickly distributed to victims, Klein and Kobo went in search of a motel room where they could rest for the return trip to Payson. Before finding a vacant motel room, they were hundreds of miles north of Robert in Shreveport.

"All the rooms were being used by evacuees, FEMA and relief workers," Kobo said.

After a night's rest in Shreveport, the two made what they now call the toughest part of journey -- the return to Payson.

"Driving to Louisiana, we couldn't get there fast enough," Klein said. "Coming back, the adrenaline was gone."

Both agree the entire experience was a challenge they will never forget, and they wouldn't hesitate to again undertake another such adventure.

"Not at all, not in a heartbeat," Klein said. "But to do something like this required the help of all those good people in Payson ... they are the ones who really deserve the thanks."

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