I’m not sure if its the large number of problems around the world, or Americans’ tendency to forget things right after it happened…but I’m guessing most people don’t realize how much work is left to be done on the Gulf Coast from the destruction of Hurricane Katrina. My mom has gone down many times to help and recently returned and wrote up the following report on her experience. As always I thought it was very interesting and it made me sad that I’ve never been able to go.
Last week I joined a group of 10 people from Grace Church Brooklyn Heights and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden on a Hurricane Katrina reconstruction trip to New Orleans. This was Grace’s 10th mission trip to the Gulf Coast and my third. It says something about the state of affairs in New Orleans that someone would want an old lady up on a ladder sanding their ceilings. But if you check out the first picture that’s what you will see. I spent the entire week sanding and mudding dry wall. Not the most exciting experience but eventually I came to see it as an art. We had to wear masks to protect us from the dust that was everywhere. By the next day I was wearing goggles as well. We were working on a house in the Seventh Ward. For most of the week, the neighborhood was completely deserted. As best we could tell only two houses on the block were occupied. Many of them are boarded up or the roof has caved in; in some circumstances they are now covered with vegetation. If you look at the next picture, you can see our entire group and the front of the house. Check out the hole in the gable. That is where the owner broke through and escaped to the roof where he was rescued by a boat–meaning the water was up almost that high. Mr. Hammond (he is the black man in the second picture) who owned the house we were working on was incredibly grateful for our help. He has been living in a FEMA trailer for almost four years. He was actually written up in the New York Times. You can read his story here http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/08/us/08trailer.html?_r=1. Most of those people were in our group but there are three people there who had flown in from Hawaii to work for a week.
We were very lucky that the weather was perfect while we were there. It was in the low 70′s, which was good working weather. We ate our lunch everyday by sitting in the concrete front yard–3d picture–where we soaked up the sun and complained about the sanding. We worked from 8 am to 3:30 each day. We actually quit about 3 and cleaned up all the supplies–see 4th picture. Everything–all the tools, supplies–etc. had to be loaded on a truck everyday and taken back to the warehouse because they were afraid of theft.
One funny story. One day a large truck came down the block and appeared to drive off the curb, where it sat half turned over. Later in the day a big forklift came and we all got a charge out of the fact that the driver did a terrible job because in trying to right it, he turned it all the way over on its side. Then they came back and took an old washing machine and propped it up. The next day another truck came and dropped two half-demolished cars onto the block. The next day there were old refrigerators and other appliances thrown in a yard. And then they came and sprayed mud all over them. It turned out that a new HBO pilot was being made called Treme about NOLA after Katrina. They were recreating the days after Katrina when we were doing our best to clean it up!