Gulf Coast 10/13/10

10/5/10 – 5:25 p.m.
    Driving home from work in the city for the second time. This commute is going to suck. I’m very seriously thinking about dropping $150 on some noise canceling headphones to block out the sound of commercial radio and arguing.
    We’re working with the St. Bernard Project for a couple weeks while The Episcopal Church Initiative gets their funding.
    We found the St. Bernard Project office yesterday morning, and had a brief orientation. After that, the lady who’d been talking with us gave us directions to the three houses we’d be working at, and after that we were pretty much on our own. All she knew was we’d be doing some framing, and the project manager would be by sometime during the day to check in on us.
    The first two houses were renovations, and we figured out where the framing needed to be fixed. Jim, Kris, Doug, and I took the last house. It’s in the nicest part of town of the three of them – still a bad neighborhood, but just a few blocks from the garden district, and close to some nice shops and restaurants. We’re right near the river, so this house didn’t actually get any flooding (highest ground is near the river bank). It’s a new build, and the homeowner got hit with contractor fraud as happened so many hundreds of times after the storm. The contractor stopped work on the house and walked away with the homeowner’s  money, and that’s when the St. Bernard Project took over.
    We didn’t get to the house till around 11:30, and couldn’t find the key-box so we took an early lunch until the project manager got there. As we’d guessed all there really was to be done at that point was porch railings, and the manager basically said “I see some well used tool belts, you guys look like you know what you’re doing, just copy the ones in the back”  Then he went to get us a generator but told us that all six drill batteries were charged so we’d be fine till he got back. Well no, actually, none of them were charged. Never start a job that needs drill/drivers all day with dead batteries, you spend all day waiting on them. Plus we didn’t have all the materials we needed, but we still pretty much got it down today. Norm stayed to work with us, and so did Pat Fogarty who’s been down here sense Friday. The two of them took on the grunt work of hand excavating for a sidewalk. Hopefully we’ll get to pour it tomorrow if we ever get a source of water.

Same day – 8: 03 p.m.
    Driving back from Pass Christian. After we dropped most of the group off at Stanislaus for dinner, Norm, Jake, Nick, and I went to make mittens for veterans with the Americorps group. That was fun, I find sewing by hand relaxing. Now I need food and a shower.

10/7/10 – 4:40 p.m.
    If you’d asked me this morning, I would have said that I wouldn’t be writing a post today because I didn’t have anything positive to say, but that was this morning. After we dealt with pour communication, lack of materials and tools, and sat around for half an hour waiting for a ride to the next house, things started to improve.
    Paul (one of the St. Bernard Project supervisors) drove us over to the next house, and actually walked us through everything that needed to be done. Before we just got a written list or brief description. There’s a lot to be done in this house, and it’s pretty straight forward. Mostly, it’s replacing termite damage. Most of Western NY is technically a termite zone, but I’ve never seen them up there. Down here it’s a real issue. These houses have all had mold remediation (sand blasting and painting all the framing), and termite extermination, but left unchecked those little guys could take a house down. I would have thought the worst of it would be near the ground, but it’s mostly in the top-plates of the outside walls. Most of two walls need all the top-plates and some of the studs replaced, and that’s what Jim, Doug, and I were working on this morning. It’s really cool to step back and see new lumber were before was all rot. I like progress.
    Around lunch time, a lady who works for the St. Bernard Project came to talk to us. She’s lived in St. Bernard Parish all her life, and she was one of many homeowners who lost everything when her house got hit with 14’ of water, and insurance gave her nothing. She turned to the government Road Home program. That program gave you a percentage of the value of your house, but that money went to paying off your mortgage first. So now her mortgage is paid off, great, but she only has a few thousand left to rehab her house. She couldn’t even get a FEMA trailer because she’d been in the process of selling her house to a family member, so she couldn’t prove she owned it. So here she is, the single mother of two girls, living in a camper their paster gave them for two years. That’s when TheProject took over and fixed up her house in just a few weeks. Now she works for St. Bernard Project in their Mental Health Center. She was in the NY Times recently for her story, and what she’s been doing now to provide mental health assistance to victims of the BP oil spill. She teared up when she told us about a woman she was counseling recently, who lost everything in Katrina. St. Bernard Project rebuilt her house, but she wont move into it, when asked why not, this old lady said “it’s not my house any more” All the things that made it her home – like the picture of her mother, or her father’s furniture – were all gone, and those are the things you can’t replace. The lady who was talking to us did say, though, that it’s when she sees someone smile for the first time since the storm, that that’s what she lives for. “I might only make $10 an hour” she said “ but seeing that smile makes it all worth it”
     I was really grateful that the Project sent her out to talk to us. I’d been feeling kind of taken advantage of – she was even surprised that we’d been left to work on our own, but she made it clear how grateful they are for our help. Every time I hear someone’s gratitude down here, it makes me want to work that much harder. We’ve met homeowners who didn’t act grateful at all, and that has the opposite effect.

10/13/10 – 4:07
    Today, I spent more time under a FEMA trailer then I ever wanted to. The trailer is owned by a family The St. Bernard Project is helping. It’s actually a trailer home unlike most the FEMA trailers which are basically just campers. These trailer homes are meant to be lived in full time, but they’re still terribly built. This one was leaking from where the roof meets the wall in one spot, and part of the floor was rotting out. So that was the least fun thing we’ve done here so far. Meanwhile, Evan, Nate, Brandon, and Nick have been working on reframing a historic house owned by a guy who’s been bringing them homemade hot lunches. But I’m not jealous. Not at all… Anyway, we had a site supervisor to work with this time, and she took three of us to a mexican lunch shop called Munchies where I had a giant burrito for $7.50 and the guy there gave us free fountain drinks for being volunteers.

One of the houses in St. Bernard Parish that I worked on.


We built this wall over an existing brick wall. Wish I had a good before picture.


Most of the lots on this street still just have slabs


The X on the second story means it was drawn from a boat.


This was a fun project. Here's most of the rotted framing we pulled out. No women ever showed up to rebuild, though.


For those who care, this is the roof temporarily jacked up while we replace the rotted top plate.


All the wood that isn't white is what we put in. Everything that is white was painted that way after mold remediation

Cabinate blocking


We're nothing if not safety conscience down here.


Here's Bill at "Cruise'n The Coast", an annual car show and festival held in the towns along the MS Coast.


This is a neat house that some of the guys were working in. It was the only historic house any of us were at, and there was a lot of work to do. The pretty much redid all the interior framing. The project manager said this and two other houses had been sitting around for months waiting for a group like us to show up.


As the mature young adults we are, some of the group took up coloring in their spare time.


This is the site I was at most recently. It's a FEMA trailer with the Murphy Oil refinery in its back yard


Do to carless building techniques, the floor was rotting out. I spent too many hours under this trailer and got bit by a spider.


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