Life is filled with diverting roads...

and I usually take the one less traveled.

gmgaston

gmgaston
Location
Augusta, Georgia, USA
Birthday
January 21
Bio
A chef by trade, but a human by birth. __________I am also a political junkie. I watch all the “talking head” cable programs religiously. Agreeing & disagreeing with the comments by the various pundits. Not shy about emailing my comments to them, either. I am a huge fan of Joan Walsh. She is one of the few that will stand her ground and discuss the issues, not just the 30 second sound bites. I am formerly from Ridgefield, CT

MY RECENT POSTS

AUGUST 28, 2009 5:27PM

Katrina Relief - October 2006

Rate: 16 Flag

 

After reading trig palin’s post: My New Orleans, it was four years ago......  today, I thought I would give my account of Katrina 2005.

One year later, in October 2006, with a group of 11 people from my church - Christ Church on Quaker Hill - in Pawling, NY; I had the privilege of traveling to St. Bernard Parish outside New Orleans to aid in the relief efforts following Hurricane Katrina. We would be working with Habitat for Humanity, an organization known for building, not tearing down. Habitat had arrived just weeks after Katrina in October 2005 and set-up in the W. Smith Elementary School to stage their relief efforts and called it Camp Hope. Working with the U.S. government, AmeriCorps, organization; Habitat’s first mission was to help families gut their homes of all debris, so the homes could be inspected for safety and structure soundness.

W. Smith School
 

The facilities at the school were barren at best. Habitat had stripped the entire school down to the cement slab and metal stubs. Imagine walking into your first grade school and walking through the halls with no walls. And imagine going to your classroom with no walls… this is how the interior was; just support and load bearing walls. Some of the windows were there and others broken out. This was Camp Hope…. our home for the weeks we were there. 

AmeriCorps was the agency that was in charge of feeding us, providing a cot to sleep on and a very rustic make-shift bathroom, so we could shower. All of the supplies were donated by various corporations – food, water & equipment. While all the work was done by volunteers from around the world as far away as New Zealand & Iceland and in between; some were cooks, some were drivers, some were organizers.

first dinner
 

St. Bernard Parish about 20 miles outside of New Orleans was an area that survived Katrina, but when the levees were breached in the Ninth Ward area… a huge surge effect cause levees throughout the canal system to overflow.

St. Bernard was a community of about 79,000 people made up of neighborhoods with mostly ‘ranch style’ single family homes. The way the immediate destruction was explained to me – the water level was up to the ridge of the roof line of every home in Saint Bernard; with the contaminated water standing for over six weeks before receding out of the area.
 

The method Habitat used to clean up (or gut, as we called it) was teams of 10 to 12 people going out to homes in the area of St. Bernard Parish neighborhood by neighborhood. A bright yellow school bus would pick up the teams – we were Black 6 - and take us out to our assigned home. There we would gut the house completely down to cement slab & wooden studs.

 

yellow school bus
The name Black 6 came from the AmeriCorps representatives assigned to each team, who wore a full black jumpsuit. On a usual work day, 12 to 15 teams were out working. We were team 6, so all our equipment, food/drink packs and sleeping area was marked with that designation. We thought Black 6 had a sexier name sound!

Here let me tell you a little about Black 6… we were 11 friends from our church who wanted to go down and help in the relief effort. The youngest was 26 and the oldest was 80 – 7 women and 4 men, plus Mike from Habitat & Phil from AmeriCorps. That put our average age at 68½!

I remember that first day getting on the bus with excitement and anxiety - not really knowing what lay ahead. I was shocked by the destruction everywhere you looked. Shopping centers and whole neighbors, churches and gas stations – all empty; much like the old west ghost towns. Our first house was 3605 Dauterive Drive. Every possession that that family had worked for and cared about was now debris, which I moved to a front yard to be carried to a landfill. As I moved through the debris, you could smell the foul stench of rot.

3605
 

The mission of the team was to make 5 piles in the front yard – one for junk (carpet, drywall), one for metal (any garage doors, appliances, curtain rods), one for old furniture (sofas, chairs, beds, china cabinets), one for toxic materials (paint, bleach, cleaning products) and the last one was possible keepsakes. A course the ‘keepsake’ pile was the smallest, but we were able to salvage a family picture, bible, china cup, a doll… but not much was worth saving. From start to finish, it would usually take us two days to completely gut the house.

debris
 

After the water receded, the different government agencies when into all the homes, business, schools, churches… all structures to look for any possible dead… human or animal. Here is how they marked a structure after they had inspected it.

 

X
  

Looking at the mark (X) – the top of the X – date inspected, left side of X – any hazardous material, right side of X – mics notes (dead animals) and the bottom of the X – any deaths in house. Luckily where I was working no deaths, but in our travels I did see one mark with 9 deaths. That was down in the Ninth Ward were the breach started.

The craziest thing that happened on the first day and every week day after… the mailman can down the street delivering the mail. No one had lived in this area since Katrina, but Mr. Philpot (the mailman) delivered any mail addressed to that given home. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” - even after a catastrophic storm of total destruction. Unbelievable!

mail
 

Oh, another thing happened – the temperature even in October was 90 degrees plus and the interior heat while wearing the required dress of long pants, long sleeve shirts, hard-hat, musk, gloves and heavy steel toed boots was over 100 degrees – during a break someone say they heard an ice cream truck… you know the music/bells they make… we all said you must be crazy… but we looked anyway and there driving down Dauterive Drive was an ice cream truck. Let me tell you, that ice cream never tasted better!

ice cream truck
 

This is definitely an experience I will never forget and I hope that a catastrophic disaster like this never occurs again.

 

 

 


Be sure to read marytkelly's Humbled By A Katrina Victim. She tells of an incredible encounter while she was volunteering with The Red Cross in her hometown.

 

Also, read: Hurricane Katrina: After the Flood (pictures and memories) by mjwycha - awesome photographs!

 

 

Your tags:

TIP:

Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:

Comments

Type your comment below:
George, you are right to say that it was a privilege to volunteer to help. I can't imagine living there or being a witness to the devastation. It was difficult enough to hear about it from victims themselves. Like you, I hope and we should all INSIST that something like this never happen again. Thank you for this important post and the pictures that accompanied it.
George, that was a great deed that you and the group from Christ Church in Pawling performed in New Orleans in the aftermath of the hurricane's destruction. To arrive in a scene where destruction is everywhere is an experience I have never had. To work under such hot and humid conditions is very tough and exhausting all by itself. I applaud you and your group for traveling so far from home to help others in that time of need!
George, it was so wonderful for you to do this from the kindness of your heart and I'm sure you were all very much appreciated. That's what makes the world go round; thoughtful, caring people such as yourself helping out your fellow man!

I can't imagine all the devastation after Katrina but, know what it is like after a tornado. It takes a lot of muscle and hard work and the help of good people like yourself!

Funny with the ice cream truck! Bet you made a beeline for that! Great, caring post and I enjoyed reading it.

Kudos to you, George!
This was a great post, and i've also read four post, and this article from Mother Earth, and was wondering did you observe some of these things. The link is:
http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2009/08/secret-history-hurricane-katrina
What an experience you had down there. Yes one you will never forget. Incredible story and thank you for sharing it with us.
That was interesting to me, George. Obviously, I know about Katrina, but I've never actually read anything about any of the relief efforts. That pretty amazing.

I have a deep admiration for you and your friends and the others who volunteered to help out. And I'm sure it is an experience you will never forget, and hope never to have to repeat.

ps--changed your avatar the same day I did. What a coincidence!

Rated.
It's good to see that the story of Katrina is being kept alive. Rated.
Right on George... and once again my eyes become moist. You're a good man. So many like you I saw down there: people who care about other people. Who needs the slack ass government?
Thanks Man
Mary, thanks… your post is very moving and I admire your dedication to volunteer, as well.

John… many thanks for you kind comments. You know this little church and most likely some of the great members.

Pam… Thanks - it was something else for sure.

JK… thanks, all of our group are truly amazing people. And I was proud to be down there with them.

Scanner… I did not, but we heard stories from locals about things like that. Many felt that some force was working against them and wanting to change the make-up of the race equation in New Orleans. The first major construction was the rebuilding of the $@) million Superdome… even before residents had proper housing.

fireeyes… many thanks – it was unbelievable

Stephen… Thanks. I know that each team member took away something that will stay with us forever.

zuma… thanks. It should be told and not forgotten. It is a blackeye on the workings of this country than hopefully taught lasting lessons.
Trig… Thanks - it was amazing seeing people from all walks of life helping others, showing that the world care – when the residents felt forgotten. I am sure that we crossed paths down in the Quarter.
I admire you George. The whole country should have been helping, and what you did here was wonderful.I wish I had been able to go help.
Mission… Thanks!
You were there in spirit… it was the type disaster that just the good feelings & prayers from individuals like you were enough to get us through our experience and help the victims of Katrina & her aftermath. All the native New Orleans I met knew that the world was watching and concerned for their needs & safety.
Sorry I'm coming to this late... it's a very moving story, and you should be commended along with your church members for taking on that thankless task.

I saw a report on CNN the other day that says that, although the failed levees have been rebuilt and should be able to withstand a 100-year storm, the other sections of the levee that survived Katrina have not been augmented. Now there's where some stimulus money might have come in handy.

For the life of me, I'm not sure why people want to live in a city that averages three feet below sea level. I guess if it's home...
Thank you, George, for stepping up and helping. One of my daughters has traveled down with her church group for the past 3 summers. Even after all of this time she has similar horror stories to tell.
Again thanks for your service and for sharing your story.
Ken… thanks. The work was hard, but the rewards were memories for a lifetime. The levee system could withstand just so much. Hopefully stimulus money will be provided to fortify the rest of the levees, so this never happens again.

T_O_M…thanks. The area around New Orleans will take generations before it will be a community again. Pockets of completion are making progress, but some areas are near the same, 4 years after the flood. Your daughter should be commended for sticking with the necessary work needed to bring life again to a great city.
I really admire you for helping
thanks for this report
And where would that finger-pointing direction be, Zara? At FEMA? At the administration? Or maybe we should blame God almighty?
You can't blame God for everything what did God do to you? The thing is that things were messed up in New Orleans even before Katrina but I think Trig did a good thing to help out.