Monday, February 20, 2006

Don't forget them

As I close out my posts on the Gulf Coast, I know that many in the U.S. have gone on with their lives. Maybe they hear about Mardi Gras and assume all is well now. Such is not the case. If you can, consider going down and helping out. Or consider donating some money. Two organizations I recommend are Samaritan's Purse and Habitat for Humanity. As you cozy down in your bed tonight, think about our fellow U.S. citizens on the Gulf Coast, who are sleeping in a tent, a FEMA trailer, a hotel room or a relative's house because they have no bed of their own. Pray for them.

The Worst

The worst destruction that we saw was in the lower 9th ward. There, a barge got loose of its moorings during the hurricane and slammed into a canal wall. The barge still sits where it ran aground. The neighborhood is totally destroyed. We saw only one house still standing. The rest were hardly recognizable as homes. Smashed houses, upside down cars and fallen trees were all that were left. There is nothing for these folks to go home to. Some can't even find where there house once stood.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Along the 17th St Canal

The damage was much worse here then in the neighborhood we worked in. That is because this was where one of the canals broke. Note the boat up on the land, houses that slid into one another, and the water line on the church. Also, the reader board on the church still has dates in August. Nothing has been done here. Trees are down and abandoned cars dot the landscape. As bad as this was, though, there was still worse to come.

Thursday, February 09, 2006


Imagine, if you can, that all you held dear was swept away in an instant. In the four months since Katrina, nothing had been done to "our" house. The flood took everything, threw it on the ground and mashed it into one big sticky pile. Things were still wet, mold was everywhere. Beautiful old furniture was delaminated and thrown around. If we tried to pick it up, if just fell apart in our hands. Thousands of books and magazines lay in heaps. We felt like trespassers, seeing family photos and gandkids' school work. We began our herculean task, shoveling possessions that were hardly recognizable into wheelbarrels to be dumped at the curb.

Everything had to go. Furniture, appliamces, clothes, books, momentos of a family's life together. Each day that we worked on the house, the debris piles were higher then our cars. It was a shocking revelation of the frailty of life. We learned a very biblical lesson: store your treasures in heaven, the things of this life are gone in an instant.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

More Destruction

For the rest of the week, we were in what was once a very nice area called Lakeview. It is not far from Lake Ponchertrain. Here we were truly introduced to the hurricane damage. The entire area had been under about 9 feet of water, as it was built on filled in marshland and is actually below sea level. The house we worked on belonged to an elderly man whose wife had died last February.

So many of the people we met already had health or family problems, the hurricane just added more to their burdens. Imagine a neighborhood that, for miles around, is destroyed.

Houses all had water level marks and spray painted codes from the searchers indicating when the house was searched and if anyone was found inside.

There is traffic on the boulevard, but very little life. No kids, no dogs, no cats. Only a few birds and a squirrel or two. Schools and many stores are closed. Some roofs have holes punched in them from where peopled climbed out of the attic to be rescued. Some second story windows have X's on them, noting where people had to be taken out during the flood. Front doors hang at crazy angles. Windows are broken. Most any house could be entered, unhindered. Indeed, the sad fact is that breaking and entering and looting is still occurring. This has occurred more than once at some houses.

Introduction to Destruction

We were introduced to the destruction gradually. At first glance, New Orleans looked pretty good. The airport was working, the downtown looked intact (albeit minus a lot of windows in the skyscrapers). We heard that the French Quarter was not damaged. There was lots of traffic, as every contractor with a pickup truck seemed to be driving the freeways. Yes, there were billboards blown down, lots of blue-tarped roofs and FEMA trailers galore, but the weather was sunny and felt like spring. It was hard to imagine mother nature at her worst, tearing the place apart. Our first day's assignment was doing tree work in Gretna. Those with chain saw experience got to work and the rest of us hauled wood and branches to the curb. We worked with several different homeowners, all with stories to tell about the hurricane and evacuation. The evening left us tired and ready to take on our next task.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Around Camp

Our camp was in a community center in Gretna, La (across the river from New Orleans). Samaritans purse staff had divided the building into mens and womens sleeping quarters, an eating area and office area. Rest rooms were outside but nearby. Also nearby was the shower trailer, the tool pick up area and the trailers housing the staff.

I can't say enough about how excellant the staff was. They kept the camp running without a hitch, everything spotless and organized. They always answered our questions with a smile, although they must be asked the same questions every week, since that is how often the teams are changed out. Lights came on at 6:00 a.m. and went off at 9:30 p.m. Each team had a job to do in the morning and ours was making about 65 sandwiches for lunch. Our chef, who kept us very well fed, was quite a particular fellow. It was either 5 slices of salami, or 2 slices of ham or 3 slices of turkey per sandwich, NO MORE, NO LESS! Speaking of food, it was quite different then home. Favorites are spicy gumbo, red beans and rise with sausage and corn bread, BBQ ribs, chicken, shrimp, crawfish and sweet potato pie. The weather was cool in the evenings but definately spring time during the day. The camilias, pecan trees, palm tress and magnolias were leafing out or in bloom (as least the ones that were not killed by the flood or knocked over by the hurricane.)

Friday, February 03, 2006

The Trip South

The eight of us set off at 5:00 am on Monday, January 23, from Pasco, WA with lots of prayers and good wishes from family, friends and church members. Our trip took us through Salt Lake City and then on to Atlanta, where we learned our first important rule of travel. That is, Never Travel Through Atlanta If At All Possible! The trip was delayed a half hour at a time for about 5 hours until weather conditions got better and Delta found a pilot and co-pilot for our plane. So, with only airline snacks as food all day, we straggled into New Orleans about 8:30 pm, only to learn a second lesson. That was: Don't Rent A Car from Enterprise! Although all the other car rental agencies were open, Enterprise had closed at 8:00 with a "See you in the morning" note on their counter. What to do, what to do???? Luckily, the director of the Samaritan's Purse camp was there to meet someone, so he took our luggage and some of us. The rest of us went with a church member who is working in New Orleans. He and his wife kindly came to the airport and took us in their SUV. We left the moldy smelling airport (an odor we were to smell in one degree or another the whole time we were there), drove by the Superdome and Convention Center, passed the cruise ships housing policemen and FEMA workers, and over the bridge to Gretna, to the Dick White Center, where we were finally able to lay out our sleeping bags and get some rest.