Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Last week I went with a group of teens and adults from two NJ churches to muck houses for four days in Chalmette, LA.

I'm trying to think how to describe my visit.

I'll try this: imagine driving through the town you live in, and seeing all its restaurants and shops. Then imagine that nearly all of them are empty. Windows are busted out, signs are crumbling, and nailed to every telephone pole are a dozen advertisements for house-gutting or mold treatment or remodeling. Walgreens and Home Depot run a steady trade, but everything else is shut down, waiting for the populace to return before attempting to open again for business. There's a rumor that McDonald's and Wendy's will reopen this fall.

On residential roads, a few people live in trailers on their front lawns, while the rest of the houses are abandoned or for sale "as is." Some haven't been touched since the storm. A random 20-foot boat sits where it came to rest on someone's front lawn. One guy has spray-painted in large letters on his garage door, "You loot, I shoot." Presumably this is left over from right after the storm, but if not for the fact that everything in all these houses was ruined, you might wonder if he's still in there with his 20-guage.

It's been an entire year now, and that's what it still looks like.

It may sound odd that houses remain untouched after an entire year, but life sometimes gets complicated. Having even a small house gutted by a contractor (leaving only the frame, walls, roof, and plumbing) might cost $2000, and many of those still in need of help are elderly and working-class. Both of the families we worked for had multiple homes belonging to multiple generations that were destroyed in the storm. I don't even know how poorer families are managing.

Even after the homes are mucked out, they still have to be treated for mold. And then an inspector will visit and tell each family whether their house may be restored or whether they must demolish completely and rebuild.

Feel free to comment with stories or facts about the storm; I'm sure there are plenty in the news this week for the anniversary. I'll post more on this soon.