Thursday, January 18, 2007

Day Ten

The Knucklebusters were in charge of the video camera today, so click below to see what happened on this chilly, drizzly day.

It wasn’t terribly cold today, but a spitting rain made it feel like things were freezing cold. We got up a little late because our plan for the day clearly wouldn’t hold, so we didn’t jump up right away since we didn’t know what we were going to do. Our plan was to finish painting Sarah’s trim and do some finish work at Don’s house. It was too cold and wet to paint, so we had to find an alternate plan. And we couldn’t have all of us in Don’s house, as there is no way to accommodate all of us inside there.

We called our reliable troubleshooter Lisa Trigo, who came up with a workable plan for us for the day. A small crew still went to Don’s house and sanded the floors some more. Justin and Shane kept doing other finish work, including getting ready to paint the interior of the house. Don came by and thanked the crew in his house again and again.

The rest of us returned to the scene of one of our most memorable jobs last January. Our very last gutting job last year was at the home of Connie and Jerry LeRouge (the parents of Cindy, whose house we worked on last Sunday). Connie figures significantly into the video documentary from our 2006 trip called “Blessed to Be a Witness.” We cleared the interior of their house and one of the storage spaces outside that had been used to store all of the printed materials for Connie’s travel agency. As we mentioned then, floodwater has an interested effect on piles of paper; it turns them into bricks. We ran out of daylight last year before we could finish the garage, the workshop, and the garden shed.

AS it turns out, no one else managed to get to those areas either in the last year, so Lisa took us back out there to tackle those tricky areas. We had to tear apart some metal siding that was littering the area so that we could clear a path to load out the debris. Jerry’s workshop primarily served as a studio for his stained glass work, but it also seemed to be the overall storage space for every form of light bulb needed in the house and for lots of other tools and gizmos that might not be related to his artistic pursuits.

The gardening shed was easier to clear so when the crew finished that space, they added themselves to the group that was tackling the still-cluttered garage space. The group also gutted that space and took it down to the studs pretty quickly. No matter how quickly the walls come down, the cleanup of the debris is very slow. It took lots of us to finish out the job.

We learned at Connie and Jerry’s that the neighborhood is starting to come back to life. Many trailers are occupied on the grounds of the demolished houses along the streets in Chalmette. Some people have even moved back into their restored houses already. Connie and Jerry’s immediate neighbor will have a new slab in four days and construction on their house will begin immediately thereafter. All of the trailer-dwellers have formulated a collective solution to their laundry problems: they have set up a washer and dryer in Connie and Jerry’s empty house and they all go in through the broken-out doors and wash things there. The interior of the house is almost exactly as we left it a year ago, with the only change being the removal of the wall coverings. Rubble and debris are still scattered on the floor, so we made the purposeful move of clearing a path between the two appliances (at opposite ends of the house, apparently to capitalize on different people’s electric supply for their trailers, carried in to Connie and Jerry’s house by extension cords).

As we gutted, a passerby named Brian approached us and asked if we worked for the government. He had been trying to get help for his elderly mother, whose house was substantially cleared, but not entirely. We offered to send a crew right over. Jed, Bryan, Rachel, and Yessenia walked around the block and finished the work that was needed. It turned out that Brian himself needed help as well, so when the “special ops” crew finished their first side job, they went to Brian’s house to do what they could before darkness fell. Brian’s house has not been cleared since the storm. In that area of Saint Bernard Parish, the water was over the roofs of houses, meaning that Brian’s house is a big mess (though at least now things are dry).

We didn’t have time to finish everything there, but as people finished their jobs at Connie and Jerry’s house they joined in at Brian’s. We cleared a room and a half and then offered to return later to clear the rest of the house. If our whole group were there really working at full capacity, we could finish the entire job in about three hours. Brian says that he can’t even guess how many hours it would take him to clear the house by himself. Hopefully, we can make it so he never needs to find out.

As we were cleaning up at Connie and Jerry’s house, we saw children come out of their house and play soccer in the vacant lot next door to Connie and Jerry’s. We couldn’t believe how odd it seemed to us to see children playing on the grass. Maybe things will return to normal there someday soon. Though we see much progress, the days when things will feel normal again seem very far away right now.

Update on our injuries: Kellie is fine. She has already thrown aside her sling. Kate, who felt very sick last night, feels better today. Sherry, Shawny’s sister, has returned home to Indiana and will Julie, unfortunately, has not improved yet. Happily for Julie, our beloved friend Lisa Trigo offered to host Julie at her house to spare her the bumpy rides in the bus and/or truck. Julie is going to a different doctor tomorrow so we expect a great solution to her difficulties to arise.

We have an early wakeup tomorrow, as we are returning to the Habitat for Humanity house where we worked on Saturday. We’ll let you know how that goes . . .

Bree works on Lisa’s uncle’s home. We spent most of the day working to get the last of the damaged contents out of his home, trying to salvage what we could of his personal property.

Stacks of filing cabinets, like this, were removed from Brian’s home today.

The many artifacts found in the Lerouge house were religious in nature. This picture of Jesus hung above a doorway survived the floodwaters.

The clock stopped. Connie and Jerry’s home was the last house cleared one year ago. When we visited today it was very similar to the way that we left it. Today, we finished the job. We cleared out all remaining rooms, dry wall, and instillation. Unfortunately we did not get to see Connie or Jerry. Lisa was there to greet and encourage us.

Matt is doing some target practice at some scrap drywall with a bow found among the wreckage, a Robin Hood of the bayou in the making.

Precious items, things, once and always will hold value. The Serenity Prayer was found among the remaining possessions left in the home, stained and dulled by the storm and floodwaters.

Found among the salvaged items from the Lerouge house a Hurricane Safety guide among prayer cards and pictures. Though damaged, it survived the storm. Information and flyers like this one helped to save countless lives in the days leading up to this cataclysmic event.

In the last house of the day a group found that parts of the home had remained untouched, including a refrigerator (which we are not looking forward to clearing out in the next days).

Go Saints! We are all looking forward to the game on Sunday. We will be watching!

Janeva, Linzy, Rachel, and Vince cuddle in the back of the truck while going to another home to help clear it out.

Here is a figure of Virgin Mary that was left undamaged after the storm.

Matt smiles, displaying the nail that moments before had pierced all the way through his shoe and into his foot. But don’t worry mom! He’s A-okay!

Lindsay creates a trash pile for chemical products while clearing out Connie and Jerry’s home.

Connie and Jerry’s neighbor, Mr. Glenn, has already completed restoring his home. He was kind enough to let us use his restroom and even interview his granddaughter and young son. As the afternoon was coming to a close, Vince and Mr. Glenn had a chat next to another neighbor’s FEMA trailer.

After we finished at Connie and Jerry’s, Aaron, Juan, and Tommy play soccer with Mr. Glenn’s son, Clade. He was an excellent player and they had a fun time relaxing after a hard day’s work.

Juan and Tommy clear the bathroom of the back house of all the leftover debris as well as a Katrina water-filled toilet. Even though this portion of the house only consisted of one room and a bathroom, it still took the entire afternoon to remove all of the insulation.

Government workers picked through our trash pile looking for flammable items. We were instructed to put anything toxic or flammable in a different pile so they could easily remove it.

All the homes in New Orleans were marked by both FEMA and the SPCA with spray paint in the weeks that followed the storm. Not only does this home near Connie and Jerry’s in Saint Bernard’s Parish have an SPCA note that reads “NO DOGS FOUND” a demolition order is on the exterior as well.