Sunday, November 06, 2005

Alex's Mom Checks Back In

Another e-mail from my friend volunteering to help Katrina victims in Louisiana:

There was a sign in front of a church we passed today that said "It's just stuff." That's true, but it's tough when it's your stuff, and it's all gone.

I wasn't aware that there had been sort of a mini-tsunami here. Lake Ponchatrain (not sure if that's really how you spell it) was 7 miles from the neighborhood we were in today, but a huge storm surge, whipped up by 175 mile an hour winds, sent a 7-foot-tall wave about 10 miles inland - and the wave was like 20 miles long. These people never dreamed they were in danger of flooding, being so far from the lake, so needless to say, most don't have flood insurance. Trees with root balls the size of cars were just uprooted.

I "mucked" today -- and it sucked! (But not for the reasons you might think - read on) Imagine a house that, at one time had 4 to 5 feet of standing water, not to mention now in it's ninth week with no power or water - think about what nine weeks with no power can do to the contents of a refrigerator and freezer. As one of the guys said tonight, "I smelled smells that no one should ever have to smell." The standing water was now gone, but the dampness was there, and the mold was growing up the walls. The mattresses and upholstered furniture were still soaked, and the dresser drawers were stuck closed, but full of water! Standard operating procedure with the refrigerators is to duct tape them closed - very well - and then haul them out. And you have no idea how heavy a soaking wet sofa bed is. First we carried everything out to the side of the road. You just pile the stuff up and eventually FEMA comes and picks it up. It took hours to empty the house - there was little to nothing we were able to salvage. But it wasn't so much the smell, or the dirt, or the heat, or the hard work that made it such a hard day - not that any of that was any fun - it was that Miss Helen, the homeowner was there, having just come back after being evacuated to her daughter's, and saw her house for the first time. She is 82 years old, has lived in the house for 40 years with her husband who just passed away last year. She was outside, watching her entire life being carried by her and thrown out into the street, saying things like "That was my Mama's buffet," and "My Daddy made that table." We tried to save some things for her, pictures that were up in the top of closets, etc. She had asked us to find the flag that was presented to her at her husband's funeral, and you have no idea how hard we all looked, but we never found it. However, we had a Marine volunteering with us today. She's stationed in New Orleans, and this was her first day off in over two months, and she drove up here to help us - and she is going to arrange for some Marines to deliver a new flag. Miss Helen finally left after the contents of the house after it was emptied - then we started tearing out all the carpet, and ripping out all of the drywall, down to the studs.

That was just the story of one woman and one house, but it's being repeated tens of thousands of times down here.

Yesterday, we were at the home of a young couple with 4 little kids. They got out of town the Saturday before Katrina hit, went to Texas, then had to evacuate again when Rita hit. They finally came back a week ago, to find two big trees on their house, one of them through the roof - and what the water didn't ruin, the mold did. Other than what they had taken with them, they lost everything. Although I was on the tree crew, it was still touching watching the muckers carrying out all of the baby stuff, and little kids toys, and all of their belongings. At least in this case, the home owners were only there for a little while, and were just amazed at how much we'd gotten done.

I have so many stories to tell. We heard at dinner tonight about a young couple (in their 30's - young for most of us) who came in today. They have 3 little boys, 9, 7 and 2, and she was 9 months pregnant when the hurricane hit. During the evacuation, she lost the baby. They finally got back yesterday - 3 trees through their house. The only room in the house with no damage is the nursery they had set up for the new baby. June in the office says she was sobbing with both of them. He has lost his job because of the hurricane. They said they didn't know what to do, and June said: We will help you.

We have a great volunteer nick-named "Hurricane Jack." He was a farmer all his life, and sold his farm last year - he's in his sixties, long gray ponytail, rarely without his straw cowboy hat. He and his wife have been here about a month. On his way driving down here in his big truck, loaded with donated supplies, he heard that they were desperate for skip-steers or bob-cats, so he stopped somewhere on the way and bought 2 and a trailer to haul them on - and you should see him picking up whole huge trees with those things. Anyway, it was also mentioned at dinner tonight about another woman in her 80's, whose husband died four months before the storm, who lost so much, but one of the things she had told us was that right before the storm her washer and dryer went out, and she had just bought new ones (financed), and she is still making payments on those but they're ruined, and now she has to buy more - and Hurricane Jack stood up and said he would buy her a new washer and dryer. That's the kind of people who are here.

I could go on and on, but I will tell you lots of other stories and show you pictures in person.

There is a fear here that as the months go by, the volunteers and the support will dwindle along with the news coverage - but this is a situation that it is going to take years to recover from. I'm here 9 weeks after, and can't imagine what it was like immediately after the storm it's still so bad now. Instead of looking to come back between Christmas and New Years (the airfares are too expensive, and actually, they have plenty of help over the holidays - Thanksgiving and Christmas - because a lot of people have off, college kids are on break, etc.) I'm thinking of looking into coming back around mid-January, and I would love to come with a "crew." It's only about a 3 hour flight to New Orleans from either coast. You have to get yourself here (but your plane ticket is tax-deductible), but it really won't cost you much other than that. Even if you can only come for a long weekend, maybe fly in late Thursday and leave late Sunday or on Monday. I'm telling you, the return on your investment will be a thousandfold - maybe more. If anyone is interested, let me know - trust me, the strong-arming will continue, so you might as well just give in now - and we'll start discussing dates that might work for everyone.

I am off to a much more primitive camp tomorrow - the Best Friends Animal Rescue camp in Tylertown, Mississippi - I don't know if there will be computer access, so you may not hear from me until I get back next weekend.

Please keep everyone here in your thoughts and prayers.


At 2:57 PM, Anonymous seawitch said...

I have tears in my eyes because I realize how hard Hurricane katrina is hitting the old people. There are so many stories like the ones your friend is sharing in Louisiana and Mississippi. One of my co-workers mother lost her home during Katrina and her husband last year. Ms. Shannon is usually the most happy go lucky person in the world and it is hard to see the change in her. It wasn't so much her home, but all the pictures and family heirlooms that is the hardest for her. A 20 foot storm surge took her home. She is a survivor though and has received a FEMA trailer and now lives next door to her daughter.

There are so many MS. Shannons. Please tell your friend that her and the people she is working with our are hereos. Tylertown is about 60 miles northwest of where I live. My brother has some friends there and if she needs anything, I can ask him to call them and help her out.

At 3:18 PM, Anonymous Felis said...

It is hard to believe how much these people suffered.

At 4:44 PM, Blogger Esther said...

Thanks seawitch. I forwarded your comment to her. Thanks for the offer!

My heart is with all the Ms. Shannons.

felis, it's overwhelming.

At 5:54 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

This personalizes what so many are enduring in the Gulfport Region.

The story of the elderly lady is heart-wrenching. So is the one about the woman who lost her baby so close to term.

God bless these volunteers and keep them strong!

At 8:56 PM, Blogger muse said...

A friend of mine who was helping in Gush Katif at the time it was destroyed, told me that she was doing fine, until she saw a pair of slippers, just sitting in the street, lost, and she lost it, became hysterical.

At 9:04 PM, Blogger Esther said...

I'm with you AOW.

Muse, I can sort of relate to that. I never cry. After my fire, I thought I was fine. Then one day, when I wanted to buy a tool kit, I was walking around one of those home improvement stores... and they didn't have the tool kit I wanted. I sat on the floor in the middle of the store and cried. Sometimes it just hits you.


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