Katrina 2006

on Monday, February 16, 2009

I spent two of my high school spring breaks in the little ol' town of New Orleans, Louisiana, helping out Katrina victims gut out their houses all over the city. Okay, so it’s not a little ol' town, but it was extremely devastated by that intense hurricane.

During my first trip down to New Orleans, it was April 2006--only 8 months after Katrina had hit the Bahamas, Southern Florida, Cuba, and Louisiana, especially the Greater New Orleans area. It was an extreme shock to me that after so much time had gone by, citizens of New Orleans would head back to their homes and try and move on with their lives--either in the city or not. In this respect, I was absolutely shocked by the amount of houses that were not returned to and just rotting, inside and out, due to water damage and neglect meeting.

From home to home, you can see more and more devastation and the lives that people built together lost. Nothing is the same there and you can feel that in the air. It is hard to stomach the loss felt at times, and there are certain sights and smells that can take me back to my experience there in a moment.

There are three separate stages that encompass the process of what we were doing to help these residents. The people that we are helping are survivors that have come back and contacted the church we were staying at for help. They were able to escape the harsh winds and floods and then decided to return to where they once called home.

The first step in the gutting process is to clear out all of the personal belongings of these individuals out of the house. Even after only 8 months, our entire team was required to wear rubber boots, long sleeves, goggles, and respirators to protect any type of mold from touching our bodies or entering our lungs or eyes. We went into the houses with full knowledge that we would most likely run into several different types of rodents, bugs, or some other type of animal. With wheel barrows and a team of 20 per house, we were able to gut out an entire house in a single day.

Our team, after entering each room, filled with belongings thrown everywhere and furniture collapsing from the extensive water damage, we would search for any items that could be dried out, sterilized, and returned to the owner as to restore any bit of the life that they had worked years and years for. If photos were firmly pressed together when the water hit, saving those were our best bet. Any sort of memorabilia was icing on the cake to the owners of the houses.

The second step in gutting is to tear down all of the drywall from the interior of the house and then strip the walls and posts of all the nails that held it up. Also being done at this time would be the taking down of all electrical wiring that had been stapled within the walls. This process is daunting due to the fact that every time I would turn around, I would find another 50 nails in the wall and begin ripping them out, one by one.

The final step is to power wash every last part of that house, trying to get out as much of the stench and mold as possible, to make the house even close to livable. This part of the day was definitely surreal for me, in every last house, because we would be looking at the skeleton of this house that was once being built and now we were trying to repair and save it at all costs in our respirators and boots—just like the construction crew that had been there years ago.


bella said...

It must have been a really eye opening experience to spend not only one, but two summers among the wreckage in New Orleans. I can only imagine how devastating it can be. The pictures and videos I have seen on the news and online must be only a taste of the true destruction. It is really cool that you took the time to do this!!

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