Thursday, October 23, 2008

Day Two: Pass Christian, Mississippi

As expected, I was up before the rest of the group by 5:30 a.m. I went for a walk up the beach with temperatures around 60+ degrees. It was still dark at that time of morning and the amount of stars in the sky was incredible. Dana Rush would have loved it. No city lights over the Gulf make for a spectacular star gazing experience.

At 6:10 I flicked on the room light to gently wake up the rest of the crew and all of us headed down for breakfast at 6:30. With so many volunteers here (120 is the count now) we have to eat in 4 shifts for breakfast.

Greg Nitchman met up with us around 7:00 and gave us our assignments. Two of my students who came last spring, volunteered to help finish putting siding on a project about two miles up the road. The remainder of us loaded up our tools and headed out to the remodel site.

It is quite a different project than last spring. We are adding on about 320 square feet to a home that survived the wave surge, but just barely. The home owner is currently living in her second FEMA trailer as the first one was condemned due to formaldehyde gases from the underlayment. Ironically her current home was also condemned due to flood damage from Hurricane Gustav this past August. The surge wave was 10 feet high and her home has insulation in the floor, which has created a mold crisis.

How much more can the people here in the Pass - who are still living in FEMA homes - take is beyond me. Every one of the homes have been condemned and most families haven’t’ even started to rebuild their homes. I admire their determination, but just when they start to get ahead, it seems like they have to take two steps back.

Time is running out for these families with FEMA money tightening up more and less and less volunteers coming in to help. The stories of atrocities by contractors are on the increase as well. My heart goes out to this community and I’m glad that we can at least play a small part in helping it out.

I was very happy to hear that my best friend Larry (the tractor guy from our first trip) was running the job we are working on. Some of you may remember my tales from last year. What an awesome southern gentleman. He met us at the job around 8:00 and we got right to work marking out the hole locations for the pilings (only 6 this time), drilling holes for rebar, and cutting rebar. Within an hour we had all 6 holes drilled (no septic tanks or large trees thank goodness) and were setting our first post by 10. All the poles were in and braced by noon. Larry was really impressed and called the inspector to see if he could make it out right away. The inspector passed us off by 1:00 p.m.

I was very impressed with my students, especially the new ones. Each jumped right in, caught on quick to what had to be done, and really out-did themselves. The best part is they got to meet and work with Larry, and they became his best friends as well.

After lunch, we began to remove the siding on the house. Pretty challenging considering we worked off the deck which is not the strongest it could be. We then decided to move inside the house and pound off the siding using sledges, posts and just plain muscles. Probably got about half of it off and then decided to call it a day around 3:30.
After cleaning up we drove down to Shannon’s house and the new students were in awe at the amount of damage and desolation Katrina left in her wake. Just like us last spring, it is hard to put into words their feelings.

When we got to Shannon’s house, unfortunately she wasn’t there and there still is a bit of work to do on the inside, but most everything is done on the exterior. Some of you may recall that we signed the post when we finished last spring. I wish you could see them now. There is hardly a space left on any of the post from all the signatures of the volunteers who worked on her house after us. Again, hard to put into words the feeling I got seeing all those names.

Her house looks pretty good, but all of my students were quick to point out that the craftsmanship of the handrails and stairs were certainly not up to Green River standards, but I reminded them that most volunteers who work here have very limited carpentry skills if none at all. I am certain Shannon is very happy to have her home just about complete.

We then drove around the area to let the new students see the “ghost-town” like conditions around Shannon’s home. A few new homes are being built, but just a handful. We even found some places we didn’t’ know existed and it was amazing how much debris was left. It was obvious to all of us that these families just couldn’t take the destruction and just walked away.

We headed back to the camp around 4:30. Showered and rested around the hall, talked to many of the volunteers, ate dinner and most headed back to the room. We seemed to have brought a little bit of bad “voodoo” with us. It was raining fairly hard outside and you can imagine the comments we got from the other volunteers about brining the rain with us. It should clear out by tonight and clear once again tomorrow.

All in all a great first day although at the same time I feel even more compassion for the community of Pass Christian and the Gulf Coast. This is the beginning of year 4 since Katrina and instead of forging ahead, I get the feeling they are falling behind and being ignored by the rest of the country. Still many opportunities to help down here and I am sure they would welcome as many of you that could come down and help. It truly is and has been a blessing for me and my students.

More tomorrow…Glen

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