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April 28, 2006

New Orleans Katrina Clean Up Day Six

Friday. Our last day of work.

This was my favorite day of work so far.

We awoke and did the now typical morning routine: mess hall, team meeting, gear prep and check, get lunch, prep cooler, etc.

The bus let us off in our neighborhood and we started with the home which we left at about 90% completion yesterday. I think we spent about an hour, maybe 90 minutes here, finishing up. We had some drywall and insulation that still needed to come down, as well as a plywood ceiling in one room that hadn't collapsed on its own.

I'm not sure that I mentioned some of the extraction methodology for gutting houses. When you bring stuff out, you classify them into four piles:

  • White Pile: this is anything with a cord. Things like computers, TVs, small kitchen appliances, radios, clocks, etc...
  • Appliances Pile: these are the larger, and often filled with water or otherwise stink bomb appliances. Refrigerators, washers, dryers, etc...
  • Valuables Pile: this is, sadly, the smallest pile. It is where we put anything that looks to have any sentimental or intrinsic value that a home owner may like to see recovered. Partial or complete photographs, coins, money, guns (the fire department comes for those), family heirlooms. This pile tends to be mostly sentimental than intrinsic.
  • Trash Pile: this is the largest pile, where "everything else" goes. Debris, muck, clothes, drywall, wood, glass, insulation, trash - literally "everything else"

So, as we finished up at 2404 Paul street, we moved the Valuables pile back into the home. This is particularly sad, as I said, because there is so little left compared to everything else. In this pile there was a photo album of some sort, hand crafted, that had the word "Niece" on the cover, in some sort of puffy, crafts type glue. I'm not sure how much of what is in it is recoverable, but the neighbor had told me that the niece had bought the house to keep it in the family, so I was glad we found this for them.

So, we closed out house number two, grabbed up all our tools and hoofed it down the street to 2209, a large home, where we joined with another team that had already started there today.

In fact, as other teams wrapped up their houses this morning, they joined as well to assist with this larger home. We ended up with four teams of ten working here.

I enjoyed watching how the smaller teams interacted and behaved in a larger group setting. As someone from our team said, in I think a "Survivor" reference, it was like the "merging of the tribes".

For the most part, there was little discomfort or trouble with merging. A few squabbles here and there over gutting technique variance and some territorial issues (I'm gutting this room), but mostly things worked themselves out fine. This was a much larger home by square footage but still not a lot of space for 40 people to be gutting and removing debris.

All in all, I was impressed and it worked out fairly well.

This home was more like our first home. LOTS of river muck covering floors, extremely pungent and heavy. It takes a lot of scooping to clear a room. It takes some level of intestinal fortitude to do the scooping for any sustained amount of time and not toss your cookies.

I can't really describe the odor, but, I will always remember it. I'm sure I can speak for the entire team when I say that they will remember it too.

Refrigerators. I hadn't mentioned this yet either. Refrigerators are one of the first things that must be secured and removed. Think about it. A box full of food that has been partially or entirely submerged in water for an extended amount of time. Now, nearly eight months later we need to remove it. So, the trick is DO NOT OPEN THE FRIDGE. We've been told that teams that have had a fridge open on them while extracting have gotten "the big stink". The stench is so bad, the teams must abandon the home and no one goes back for two to three days!

The key is to secure the doors with duct tape, rope, extension cords, whatever you can find. Often the refrigerators have floated around the house, and landed in strange places and on different sides. This creates additional challenges for removal in may cases.

At our last house, the refrigerator was doors up in the hallway, blocking access to the back bedrooms. Dan Deneweth and I removed a freezer as well, that was loaded with now rotten food and river juice, from a laundry room where it was stacked oddly on top of the overturned dryer.

One of the three refrigerators that needed removed today was already partially open, on its face. We had to secure it, and as we pushed it upright, keep the doors from opening further. That stench is another that is overpowering and which I won't forget.

Blech! So, after that I needed a break.

I headed down the street to the "pot o gold" facilities. On my way back I stopped and spoke to the folks at the end of the street. Their house has the city water tower in its back yard. The city is Mereaux, LA, and no, this is not a hurricane induced situation, the tower is large, sturdy, and didn't float there. It has always been there.

The owners had signed up with Habitat for Humanity to have their home gutted, and had just arrived to check on their house.

Needless to say, they were beside themselves. The man, whose father was there with him, told me his story.

Fortunately he had sent his wife and two girls ahead of the storm to relatives in Indiana. He stayed behind, I guess thinking that the storm wouldn't be "that bad". He ended up trapped in his attic and on his roof for nine days.

He said his house was full of snakes (including the deadly water moccasins we have heard a lot about here). He gashed his leg and treated it himself with a first aid kit in his attic. He sat in his boat, moored to his home, for several hours as cars, trees, debris, and even bodies, floated into and past him.

Apparently he was interviewed on the Today show at some point as one of the "last men out" of the area.

Looking at his gutted home, you think he'd be sad and distraught, with the rebuild effort and financial hurdles ahead. Nope. He was amazed what the Habitat team had done, and so very thankful for the effort. He couldn't express what this meant to him and how difficult a task it would have been on his own. He gave me a hug and I wasn't even on the team who gutted his house!

He seemed concerned that the 2006 hurricane season is only four weeks away. It sounds as though he and other folks are waiting to see how that goes, along with continued levee repairs now and following this hurricane season, before making complete rebuild decisions.

I told him we'd be back in two or three years to see the finished rebuild, and he said we are all welcome anytime.

I imagine that many of us whenever we visit New Orleans in the future, will certainly think of and hopefully visit Paul St. I will.

Posted by gcrgcr at April 28, 2006 11:18 PM


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