The seniors rolled out of Bastrop, Texas, on Sunday with big plans for a good time on the Mississippi Coast. It was a trip that cost about $550 per person, which included lodging and a chartered bus ride. It was a normal gambling junket, of which there are many on the Coast.
But on Day 3 of the tour, what should have been a fun-filled trip from the Hollywood Casino in Bay St. Louis to Boomtown Casino in Biloxi turned into a nightmare when their charter bus collided with a freight train, killing four and injuring many.
Tuesday’s scene was one of chaos and calamity. There was confusion and fear and pain — and death.
South Mississippi first responders leaped into action Tuesday afternoon. Biloxi police and Biloxi fire and rescue and several other agencies worked together to remove the wounded and control the chaos. To many, the accident scene may have seemed like a place where faith and spirituality have been abandoned, but that was far from the reality.
The Rev. Thang Pham from Vietnamese Martyrs Church in Biloxi was the first priest of many members of the clergy who came to the accident.
“I was on Main Street and I heard the noise,” Pham said. “I was right there and the police let me on the scene and I saw many injured people and I just immediately started praying with them and anointing them. And they were so happy to see me.”
It was a horrible accident full of pain and suffering, but there was also a presence of peace.
The Rev. Adam Urbaniak
The Rev. Adam Urbaniak of Holy Spirit Parish in Vancleave also was there Tuesday to offer spiritual help. He said it was his first time to administer the sacrament at a major accident.
“We were in Biloxi for another event when we received a call that they were looking for ‘multiple priests’ to help with the wounded,” he said. “There were seven or eight of us there — it was a very strong experience to be there and help to comfort the suffering.”
He said he could see relief in the eyes of some of the injured as he prayed with them and administered sacraments.
“This is what the role of a priest should be,” he said. “We wanted to bring God to the people and we also had to take some people to God by asking for forgiveness of their sins.”
The city of Biloxi, in a newsletter sent out Tuesday evening, made special mention of the clergy who were at the accident.
“We want to express our thanks to the clergy members who were on the scene this afternoon,” Biloxi Fire Chief Joe Boney said. “We had clergy members from all denominations at the scene, assisting and comforting the injured, and, yes, providing Last Rites to those who perished.”
‘I never thought about myself’
Urbaniak said despite the depth of the tragedy, he was neither scared nor anxious.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but as soon as I got there, a police officer took me to some people who were on the ground. I never even thought about myself — I just wanted to help them as quickly as possible,” he said. “These people didn’t know us, but we were able to make a deep connection — you could see it on their faces that they were less frightened.”
He said he was impressed with the way everyone worked together Tuesday afternoon.
“It was great to see the way everyone cooperated. It was a horrible accident full of pain and suffering, but there was also a presence of peace.”