Hurricane Katrina Trip Overview

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Author: Sonia

I’ve been wanting to start the blog on our site for some time, and I could think of no better than time than now with the new year.

Brett and I went on a Hurricane Katrina disaster relief trip last week, and many people have been asking us what is like “down there.” I thought I’d take this opportunity to tell what I saw in New Orleans and Long Beach/Biloxi, MS.

First of all, I don’t think anyone can comprehend how widespread the damage is from pictures or TV. You drive and drive and drive and drive–and all you is deserted houses, restaurants, grocery stores. They all have a spray-painted X symbol from the people who searched the houses for survivors after the storm, telling the date they were searched and the number of bodies found. Fortunately, all the houses we saw had a “0.”

I was surprised because I thought that the streets would be busy with people rebuilding. Instead, it looks like the hurricane just hit last week.

The first day we worked at a large church in New Orleans that probably had about 5,000 members. It had been flooded with about 4 or 5 feet of water. After the church is fixed, it will serve as the Service International HQ in New Orleans, providing a much closer sending station to all the flooded areas. For this trip, we commuted about 1.5 hrs each way from Longbeach, MS.

Our mission was to remove the damaged drywall from a hallway and several rooms. This church was well-built with double layers of drywall and tons of screws holding it all together. I spent most of the day removing hundreds of screws from the metal studs. Since I had never used a power tool before, I found the experience empowering. (Although those screws about an inch from the floor were tough!)

The next day we were sent to a home in Chalmette in the St. Bernard Parish of New Orleans. As we drove around the neighborhood, we saw cars flipped on their sides, balanced on fences, refrigerators on roofs, and a plane on a driveway between two houses. (Click here to see our photos)

The house was under 12 feet of water for more than a month. It had a car in the front entry way and about a foot of mud on the floor. Another Service International team had done the difficult work the day before: they had shoveled out the mud in the living room, kitchen, and dining room. We had only the three bedrooms and two baths to shovel out. The mud was a thick, black stinky mass that we called muck. It was so heavy, that I could only handle smaller chunks of it. Once all the mud was removed, wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow, we started knocking out the walls.

Since the walls were still damp, they came out a lot easier than the church. In fact, Brett and I agreed that this was our favorite part. If you tapped on the walls just right, you could get entire sections to fall off at once. This was fulfilling because you could really begin to see progress with every mold-encrusted wall that was removed. (By the way, SI provided respirators and hazmat suits, so we are feeling and breathing just fine.)

All in all, during the two days we were at the house, we were able to completely gut it. All walls, carpets, toilets, sinks, and bathtubs were removed, as well as the ceiling (what was left of it), insulation, wood trim, and door frames. We were able to powerwash about half the house–and it was glorious to see water wash clean areas that water had destroyed.

More tomorrow on my Katrina observations…

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