An Update From New Orleans From Former MCCC Dean, Harrison Morson
February 26, 2008
Sufficiently recovered from my February 18 - 22 Katrina "clean up" mission to open accumulated e-mails and forward stuff.
I must say that New Orleans is still a happening place - our group arrived during the weekend of the NBA All Star fiasco and it appeared that many from the Mardi Gras crowd were still on board. The Garden District, where our group was housed at a former bed and breakfast owned the the Episcopal Diocese of New Orleans, was virtually unscathed by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Not the case in the Upper Ninth Ward where our group worked on a private residence - two family duplex (shot-gun house, as such dwellings are commonly known by some) with husband and wife on one side and daughter with her family on the other. Their temporary FEMA trailer (hardly large enough for two persons) stood adjacent to their former home. Our work assignment was to pick up where the previous volunteers had left off - dry walling, installing ceramic floor tiles, hanging doors, cutting/installing molding, painting, varnishing and installing kitchen cabinets and some other clean up tasks. We had no major framing or exterior tasks. We worked diligently for four straight days and probably added significantly to the renovation progress, but I left with the sense of underachievement - could not identify any finished product. Just not enough time on a single task and not because we took an abundance of coffee breaks. Perhaps this is an emotional fate of short-term work groups.
Many homes in the Upper Ninth Ward have been attractively renovated and others remain partially destroyed, gutted and/or burned out. We were told by our Urban Ministry Organization on-site leader that within the year immediately following the storms, residents were able to have their homes razed FREE if they wanted to begin reconstruction. All new construction is presently subject to a code requiring the first floor of any residential home in the Ninth Ward to be a minimum of 6 feet above ground level. We observed some who have added a cinder block or two as they rebuilt. However, former homes were grand fathered and most renovations are going forward without code consideration.
The landscape in the Lower Ninth Ward was much different. Large sectors are still replete with homes in a state of partial or complete destruction. In general, the area appears desolate. We viewed the water mark (@ 7' with a coding of 'TFW'=Tidal Flood Waters) on an abandoned church. It appeared that most of the previous home owners have vacated with no intent to return. In one section of the Ward there were two blocks for brand new, attractive single family duplex homes, initially constructed on barges, floated down the Mississippi and trucked to their present site. We were told that this construction had been completed through the efforts of several Habitat groups.
What I found most interesting, at least within the limited contacts our group had, was that a majority of the front line reconstruction leadership was being undertaken by recent college graduates and/or graduate students working through an internship. Our base construction forewoman was twenty-five, a recent graduate of a small college in Ohio and she was building some experience as an applicant for the Peace Corps. And several of the workers at the warehouse where donated supplies were maintained for distribution to work sites had a similar profile. If any one out there is interested in offering reconstruction support/assistance dollars, I can provide the name and address of a secure channel for such contributions.
Of course the other immeasurable gratification that flows from this experience is a direct result of the pride and appreciation expressed by homeowners and even neighborhood residents who observe your work efforts.
Would I sign on for another tour of duty. Most definitely, BUT not during May through August. GUESS WHY.....................