Well, I’ve arrived back unscathed from my time in Mississippi, and with only a blister to show for it! (For those of you that know me, I’m pretty klutzy so that’s pretty amazing).
I can’t BELIEVE how much damage there still is after a year and a half. Hurricane Katrina happened August 29, 2005, and I would have thought it was more recent by the looks of things. I guess I don’t know how long it “usually takes” to clean up after a disaster of that magnitude, but it was pretty shocking to me. There are still so many buildings/resorts/houses that haven’t even been touched since the storm. You can tell that people haven’t even set foot inside, or on the lot for that matter. I saw a huge hotel standing at sort of a slant with the side ripped off, so you could see inside the rooms. There was still furniture in there: beds, tables, and chairs overturned by the winds. That was not an odd occurrence. There were also so many damaged signs and billboards that are still standing, for things like “The Waffle House”, “McDonalds”, beach resorts, etc…but with an empty lot behind it. The beach was beautiful, of course, long, with white sand. But the boardwalk was ripped apart. This was the way it looked along the whole coast that we drove, probably 20 miles at least. Some communities were hit harder than others, but for the most part, they were all still in shambles.
After seeing this on my first day there, I prepared myself mentally to do some pretty hard, disgusting work. I was thinking I’d be gutting out destroyed houses, picking up debris, and things like that. However, that wasn’t the case. I was able to work on 4 different job sites while I was there, and none of them were actually that bad. I guess there is A LOT of red tape involved with this. Our disaster relief group needs to do assessments on certain homes before they can send us there. I think they also need to see which individuals qualify for our help (I don’t know the criteria). They are only able to send us to job sites that they have approved for work.
Much to my dismay, the first house my group of 6 was sent to was almost finished. The home was really nice; new furniture, all the floors were installed, already painted, etc… I was thinking “Why am I here?” Our assignments were to install some baseboards, doors, and window trim. I was pretty shocked that we actually were working on something like that when so many people are still living in F.E.M.A. trailers and don’t even have a start on rebuilding. That night, I spoke to the leader of the camp about it. She said “So many organizations start a project and leave the homeowner at 75% finished; we take it 100%”. Ok, so I do understand. And after having lunch with the homeowner of the first house, we got to talk to him and find out his story (listening to their stories was the best part of the trip! He and his wife lost everything, because their house flooded with 3.5 feet of water. They also did not have flood insurance; the insurance company denied them coverage because they technically were not in a flood plain/basin. The man did most of the work thus far all by himself, and he shared that he had lost his momentum and stopped a couple of months ago because it was so overwhelming. He shared that having us there working on stuff rejuvenated him, and sort of reenergized him to continue working. So even though we thought we weren’t really helping much, it helped him mentally to have us there. The other homeowners throughout the week had different stories, but all were equally touching and devastating. I helped build a deck at a house another day. The homeowner there was up in a tree for 8 hours with her dogs to escape the flooding! We heard stories like that all week.
Anyway, I'm really glad I did this. I would recommend it to anyone. I worked with cool people, got to meet and speak to homeowners who lived through this tragedy, and felt pretty good about myself after I got done helping. The hard thing about it is that if you have a traditional job, with 2 weeks of vacation a year, it's almost impossible to do something like this. You'd need a vacation to recover after it! But if you ever get the chance (even when you retire, as there were lots of retirees there), do it!
Here are some pics of the devastation...also a picture of my workgroup with a homeowner.