Sunday, January 14, 2007

Day Six

Today we visited St. Bernard Parish for this group’s first day of house gutting at the home of Cindy and David Fernanavitch. Cindy is the daughter of our good friends Connie and Jerry LeRouge, whose house we cleared on our last day of gutting in January 2006. Click below to see The ONEders’ account of their day.

We awoke this morning to a delicious morning of French toast that was made from the leftover bread from last night’s tailgate cookout. We accidentally bought bread twice, which left us with a huge amount for Mannschaft to use in making a special breakfast. Having bread in camp is a rarity and having leftover bread is unbelievable. Also, the lack of actual eggs in our NOLA home is usually another obstacle to making French toast. Thus, the event was so special that we actually bothered to write a whole paragraph about it in this blog entry!

We headed out EARLY for once to get to our job for today. Violet, Louisiana, is in the far reaches of St. Bernard Parish, one of the areas hit hardest by Katrina. The group last year visited Violet on their first day of gutting; it was a very striking experience, as they had not yet seen acres and acres of land covered with rolled-over cars, landlocked boats, and displaced jet-skis. We are happy to report that almost all of the debris that littered the landscape back then is now gone; we are sorry to report that very few families have returned. Even our hosts for the day, Cindy and David, do not intend to return. They are not interested in returning to a neighborhood that has lost of its neighbors, so they have moved closer to the Louisiana/Mississippi border.

Their house was already cleared of much of the debris that it contained after holding 13 feet of water for a month or so. Perhaps the oddest item they found in their house after the storm was a live alligator. After removing the alligator (or at least we assume that they removed it; we didn’t see it), they removed the other normal household goods that had been swirled by the flood and dumped throughout the house. David actually drove a tractor into the front of the house and bulldozed part of the interior himself. Obviously the tractor did not reach all of the rooms, so our job was to use shovels and wheelbarrows to complete the clearing of the house. The drywall on the ceilings was still intact (though ruined), but the drywall on the walls had already been removed. Additionally, we were to clear the backyard and garage area and salvage the contents of the never-flooded attic.

We had borrowed a couple of wheelbarrows and lots of shovels, crowbars and flatbars from Catholic Charities, so everyone grabbed one tool or another and started loading out debris. Different groups took over different zones of the property, but no one necessarily stayed with their designated teams. Some people hit the tops of ladders and started ripping down ceilings, some pulled nails from the studs, some shoveled piles of insulation into wheelbarrows, some cleared an above-ground pool and deck from the backyard, some fought off cockroaches with their gloved hands, and Jed tried to kill a live rat with a shovel (the animal rights activists among us managed to stop him).

When the attic crew finally braved the stairs to check out the scene above, they were quite surprised to find the equivalent of another whole house upstairs. There was no furniture or appliances but there was lots of what David called “Cindy’s junk.” Cindy is a serious Mardi Gras celebrant and her attic provided lots of evidence of her impressive participation in parades over many years. She had beads, beads, and more beads, along with lots of costumes and other decorations. And then she had some beads. And some more beads. Lots of beads. Really. Lots.

Additionally, there were a few random containers that somehow had managed to hold water for (apparently) quite awhile. It wasn’t nearly as awful as the infamous “fridge tea” from last year, but it was still quite nasty, especially if it dropped through the ceiling onto your back unexpectedly. Like it did to Bryan Navarro. Ugh.

Even though readers might think that this all sounds really horrible (debris, rats, cockroaches, alligators, and stinky water), it was a wonderful day. We all worked together in ever-changing configurations and we got to talk to different people than our normal work groups. We learned about alligator hunting from David, who invited us out to their house to eat alligator before we leave at the end of the month. We completed the task we set out to do. We found pictures that were precious to Cindy. We got another surprise lunch of southern fried chicken (this time with Vault energy drink and actual ICE!) And we got to watch a Gulf Coast resident reconnect with parts of the life that she thought had washed away in a storm.

We’re happy we’re here. We’re happy we’re with each other. We’re proud to be part of all that New Orleans will eventually become. Thanks for your support and thanks for listening.

Tommy rests after pulling up the plastic liner of an above ground pool.

While surrounded by her destroyed belongings, Cindy shares with Linzy her children’s toys and pictures.

Juan and Tommy wrestle with dismantling a garage door.

Bree, Rachael, Yessenia, and Linzy were “encouraged” by the usual loading group of guys to pack up the trailer and truck.

Feke shows Cindy’s son’s childhood Mardi Gras costume.

Courtney hauls an overflowing wheelbarrow full of moldy, muddy insulation while Shawny pries nails out of the exposed studs.

Feke, Shane, and Jed scope out the deck that they are about to work on. After this shot they moved all of the garbage pile in the front.

Kate works diligently on the ceiling, a very difficult job to do. As you can see, she is making sure that each nail is removed. Before pulling the nails, Kate and Aaron worked on tearing the drywall from the ceiling. They did an amazing job.

As the sun goes down a beautiful shot is taken by Tommy. Although all the debris is sitting on the sidewalk, it is a great sight for the teams. All of the debris that you see used to be inside the Fernanavich’s home.

It’s amazing what articles are found among the rubble.

Kellie brings down the house…literally.

Shawny and Sherry, the Anderson sisters show us their stuff as they bring down a pesky closet rod.

Despite the homeowners bringing a small bulldozer into the house to clear out the sludge we managed to assemble this impressive pile of debris in front of the house. To recognize the rebirth of her house the home owner, Cindy hung the banner stating “The Party’s Here.”

As the day begins Janeva shares her expertise of taking down walls with Emily.

As we stripped the surface of the Fernanavitch’s walls we were able to see the layers of paint, drywall, insulation, styrofoam, and brick. Although Hurricane Katrina itself only lasted a short time, it took a whole day to clean up the damage created in this home.

Homeowner Cindy sorts through salvageable items found in her attic with Linzy. She was thrilled to find a snowman figurine made for her by her godmother who passed away just before the storm.

We unloaded all the debris from the Fernanovitch home onto the front lawn and sidewalk. The pile was over three feet high and extended the entire width of the house. It was filled with insulation, rotted wood, scrap metal, and all the various contents of the kitchen.

On the porch of the house we placed all the items untouched by the water that were in the attic. There were bags of Mardi Gras decorations, high school yearbooks, tons of children’s toys and books, as well as Christmas gifts Cindy intended to give for 2005.

Cindy poses with a banner found in her attic after the gutting is complete. She is happy that her house is now completed, as she told many stories of the parties she has hosted there.