I woke up this morning at 7:00am for breakfast and to get ready for my fun-filled day of work. I was assigned to the mold crew. If that sounds unapetizing now, just you wait. We headed out to the work site in a couple of vans. I can't even begin to describe what I saw as we were driving. As soon as we got off the highway, there was a giant strip mall with every store abandoned, and the entire parking lot was filled with debris and fallen lights. Once we drove into the more residential areas, I could see the line where the water had come up to on the houses. It was a good 4-6 feet off the ground. There was no one in sight. None of the houses are liveable; every one is covered in mold and severely water damaged. It was a complete ghost town. The house we were working at belonged to the police deputy who is living in a FEMA trailor on his front lawn while his family stays in Baton Rouge.
Before I could even walk into the house, I had to gear up in a Tycor suit, goggles, and a respirator. Let me tell you, I have never looked so good. Ever see the movie outbreak? Kind of like that only not as fancy and definitely sweatier. The house had already been gutted, and all that was left of it were the bare studs. We first had to scrape every bit of wood surface with wire brushes to get the mold off. Spores were flying everywhere, and I quickly developed an appreciation for that protective get up. We took a break for lunch to let all of the dust settle before we went to town on it with three shop vacs and barely enough generator power to run them. By the way, there really isn't such thing as electricity or clean running water in a large portion of the city. After we vacuumed, we had to wipe down every bit of wood surface with a disinfectant to get the last of the mold off. This is a really important process because if you don't do it then the people who live there will end up with all sorts of nasty health problems. To clue you in to the rest of the process, we'll have to let the wood dry out for the next day or so, and then we'll finish by painting it with a chemical sealant. Then the house will be ready for new insulation and drywall. It's basically like starting from scratch.
After the day was over, our team leader took us over to the lower 9th ward, the area most affected by the flooding fromt he broken levies. I was horrified at what I saw. There weren't even water lines because the flood was higher than most houses. There were literally houses stacked on top of each other. Others had come up off of their foundations and landed on top of roads and are still sitting there. It was utter and total destruction like I have never seen before. Cars were tangled up in trees along with clothing and baby swings. Everywere you look houses are spray painted with dates of inspection and the number of bodies found inside. Around the corner from where we're staying, there is a house with the number 5 painted somberly on the front door. It is the most tragic thing I have ever seen.
I'm realizing now how impossible it is to describe all of this. It's overwhelming to try. There is a lingering sense of desperation in the air, and you can feel it like a thick fog. Before coming here, I was really critical of the government and FEMA's response to the hurricanes, but now that I have seen the worst of it first hand, I realize how much time it is going to take to rebuild this place. The worst part is, this is only one city. I can't believe how much work it is going to take. It's truly discouraging to look around. The damage just doesn't seem to end. It is going to take a lot of perseverence and even more manpower to bring the Big Easy back to what it once was, but the truth is, it will never be the same.
Despite the depressing nature of this trip, I really am enjoying it. I feel lucky to be here and to be able to help out. I have met some incredible people who are trying to make a difference in this world, and that encourages me. The positive energy of this group is unreal, and I am so privileged to be a part of it. I'm looking forward to sharing the rest of my experience with you throughout the week.
If you are interested in volunteering, Hands On is a great organization, and they are taking very good care of me. Feel free to contact me about logistics at email@example.com or contact Hands On at volunteerinquiry- firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for your support,