Wednesday, January 04, 2006

More Stories from New Orleans

Everyone has a story to tell. Jim and Bonnie were at Rocky Mountains National Park when the storm hit. On vacation, the news caught them by shock. His mother, with Alzheimer’s, was in a nursing home in New Orleans. It took Jim ten days to find her. She and the other residents were loaded on a bus and sent to Lafayette. She’s still there as the nursing home in New Orleans home has yet to reopen. Iona Mae’s home wasn’t destroyed, but a neighbor’s tree did crash into their house, tearing out part of the room and causing some water damage. Her sister wasn’t so lucky. Her house flooded to the ceiling and will need to be razed. On the train coming down, I talked with a guy who is a correctional officer. At first, I thought he was telling me he was in jail. But then he flashed his badge and discreetly, as some of the passengers looked like they might have been his customers, told me part of the story. He was on duty. When the levee’s broke they had to get prisoners out of the lower levels. Life got complicated because not only was the power out, their back-up generators were underwater. His family is now in Chicago and he’s living on a cruise ship. Many others families have stayed away. The family of the pastor of this church has just come back. He came back as soon as possible, but with no schools, his wife and kids stayed with family in South Carolina. Their school opens this week.

Going through homes and making decisions about what to save and what to pitch is uncomfortable. But some of the stuff we find is humorous. Yesterday, one of our students found a stash of pot in what was probably her son’s room. Maybe he knew where to look. There was also some "lick me all over" lotion along with some visually interesting magazines. It was suggested we could take the pages apart and dry them on the lawn. We didn’t. Under a bed we found a pistol, ruined by the water. It’s also interesting to go through folks liquor cabinets, tossing bottles away and trying to guess what they once contained as the labels are either off or in such a condition that they’re not readable.

The neighborhood we worked in today experienced even more damage, both wind from the Katrina and flooding from the breached levees, than the one we worked in yesterday. A number of large trees are down, facing south. There were even more blue tarps, generally on the north side of the homes, as the wind damage appears to have come from a southward blowing wind. There is also more services here. Someone has put portable johns on each street for relief workers. The Red Cross van comes through offering free meals, but we’ve brought our own lunch. We’re assigned to a nice home, but with roof damage and a water level of nearly five feet, it’ll need to be totally stripped. Little can be saved here. We salvage some of her daughter’s awards and a sealed plastic box of pictures that miraculously was above the water level.

The owner, a single woman, is the principal of an alternative school. She had already cleared out two rooms when we arrived. We pitch in and clean out the rest, then start pulling drywall. We didn’t finish, as all the drywall including the ceiling, will have to come out. Her insurance will pay her $7,000 for the damage to the roof and estimated damage that came from water damage from above. She won’t get anything for the flood damage. All that will remain are studs, the brick, and a roof covered with a FEMA blue tarp. The owner graciously offers us drinks. As we take a break she tells her story. She left a day before the storm and wasn’t able to get back into her neighborhood until October 3. When she came back, she couldn’t believe it. She’s staying in an apartment now, hoping to rebuild. She’s lived at this home for over twenty-five years.

Ken and I work on the kitchen. First we muck out everything which is easy since a lot of the stuff in the cabinets have floated out onto the floor. Using large coal shovels, we load it all up in a wheelbarrow and dump it out at the street. After mucking, it takes less than 30 minutes to pull out the cabinets. Watching me unhook the waterlines and drains and break apart the cabinets, Ken jokes that I’m a real "homewrecker." He’s right; the dishwasher was less than a month old. As we finish the day’s work, a contractor crew from Arkansas loads up the junk out front. Now they’ll be room for the drywall to be discarded. We’ll be at it again in the morning.


  1. Isn't it a little overwhelming? Suddenly, reading your words, my few problems seem miniscule. My clothes dryer went belly up today -but it wasn't a month old either. Those poor people! You and the other people helping are saints!

  2. Sage, what a wonderfully enlightening post. It's all too easy to forget that some of the victims of the hurricane are still suffering and homeless. My heart goes out to all of the people down there. They are so blessed that you are helping them with the clean-up process. I'll say it again, you are such a good person. I'd love to have you as a neighbor

  3. don't give me a big head, I ain't no saint (i hope I'm a good person, but sometimes wonder). but thanks for the nice words. blessings.

  4. You might not be a saint, but you sure are a good person

    Very hard for me just to read that post. The poor woman, multiplied by...

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