Tuesday, January 03, 2006

A Day in the Life of a New Orleans Relief Volunteer

I’m sitting on my cot in the second story Sunday School room that is our home for the week. A crescent moon can be seen just above a branch of a live oak. I’m tired, but am clean, having taken a shower. It’s been a long day and in a few minutes, Bonnie will have our dinner ready—beans and rice. Bonnie is from here and her cooking smells good. I won't be checking many of your blogs over the next week, but I hope to have an opportunity to share with you my experiences here. I'll catch up with you all later.

First Day on the Job:

New Orleans is surreal. Sections of the city like the French Quarter are in good shape. Businesses are open. Cars navigate streets with temporary stop signs. But other neighborhoods are abandoned. There is no need for temporary signage. There is still no electricity. Blue tarps are ubiquitous. You can’t live here, but groups are returning to do the hard work. And Marines are patrolling the streets, making sure that those doing the work are suppose to be there. We’re sent into one such neighborhood. On the surface it looks nice. Sure, the grass is a little brown and in front of some homes there are huge piles of furniture, household goods, and other rubble. If you could avoid seeing piles of debris, you would think this is a nice middle class neighborhood. Only there are no people here. We pull up to the house to which we’ve been assigned. It’s a single story brick home. There’s a car under the carport and another in front of it in the driveway. Other than the cars looking a little dirty, nothing seems out of order except that each house has a ring around it, indicating the water level. And spray painted on the brick is the date the house was checked to make sure no one was inside.

Walking up the driveway, I’m grossed out before I get to the first car. The steering wheel and the seats support a hearty growth of mold. They’ll have to be towed away. Inside the house, black mold grows on the walls, as if someone decided to paint black pokey-dots. All the furniture is ruined. The owner asked if us to try to save her dining room furniture and her china.
Otherwise, we’re told to haul it to the streets. It takes two hours for nine of us to haul everything outside. The refrigerator is of particular interest to one of our more inquisitive of college students. He opens it! It hasn’t been on since August 28th, and the stench is overwhelming. He slams the door closed and we secure it with duct tape, before hauling it to the street. Just about everything goes. Couches, chairs, televisions, and clothes in the closet, shoes (this lady had three wheelbarrows of shoes and another one just of purses). We save the dining room furniture, but wonder if its salvageable. Certainly the china and many of her knickknacks will be okay, once washed in bleach.

About lunchtime, the neighbors who live across the street drive in from Houston. They’ve already hauled out most of their belongings, they’re now starting to gut the house. We talk a bit. He tells about how quickly the water rose on the night after Katrina hit. In 20 minutes, it went from a foot or so deep to upwards of five feet deep. "We crawled out on the roof from the second story," he said. "I went, jumping roof to roof, till I found a boat to steal. Paddling it back to the house, I loaded my family and we left." They spent several days in the Convention Center, before walking over to the Superdome, where they were loaded on a bus for Houston. He seems in surprisingly good spirit. I suppose he’s had time for it to sink in that all he’s accumulated during his lifetime is lost.

After lunch, we begin to pull out the dry wall and carpet. We stop frequently to rest and drink water. The respirators we’re all wearing sucks up energy. The carpet and padding is heavy, still soaked with water. The drywall breaks out easily, filling the rooms with dust. To be outside on the street without the mask reminds you of just how nice of a treat fresh air can provide. By four o’clock, the sun is dropping lower in the sky and studs are exposed on the inside of the house. We sweep up and stack all the salvaged goods in one room. After one last check, we lock up the house, and leave. Tomorrow, we’ll do it again.


  1. Wow, this must be an amazing journey you are on! I can't imagine experiencing what those people are going through-losing everything they own. You are doing such wonderful things by being there and helping in the ways you are. I look forward to your posts the rest of the week to hear about what else you are encountering on your trip.

  2. INteresting. Keep up the good work. I had a Gal Pal down there working in an Army Hospital set up in the big Dome apperatus. I talked to her on the phone and she said she had worked on a Carriage Driver who had gotten hurt. Carriage drivers for tourist and they were depending on an Army Hospital.

  3. I cannot imagine what those people went through. It is overwhelming to me. Bless you for helping, sage, and I look forward to the rest of your reports.

  4. Once again, God bless you and everyone who you are traveling with. You are such a gift to this world!

  5. Being from the area and growing up around there...this is very sad and painful to me.

  6. Darn I didn't think you were going to be posting from NO