Katrina’s devastation is far from over
“Our greatest hurdle is the need to provide homes for our citizens and rebuild our neighborhoods.” – Louisiana Gov. Blanco in her March 27, 2006, State of the State address.March 29 marked the seven-month anniversary of Hurricane Katrina unleashing her fury onto Louisiana’s St. Bernard Parish.Most Americans have forgotten the unprecedented damage, somehow mistakenly thinking the devastation is over and things are back to normal.The reality is that two of the hardest hit areas, the Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish, look like the aftermath of a war zone in some godforsaken third-world country.But God has not forsaken the community of Arabi. Hundreds of young church people and sponsors have shown up here to spend their spring break helping Katrina victims get back on their feet.My daughter Amber and I are here with them.The scope of destruction is incomprehensible.Most of us can relate to leaving your home in a hurry during an emergency evacuation because in the West we live under the threat of forest fires. Those who left grabbed a few clothes and not much else thinking they would be back in a few days. In the case of the people of St. Bernard Parish, it was months before they could return.Of those who chose to stay in the Chalmette area of 40,000 to 60,000 people, 45 are still missing, and more than 100 perished.All the houses were totally submerged under 18 to 24 feet of water until levees were repaired.Some returned, took one look inside their homes, turned around and never came back.Everything they owned from their most treasured possession to all their clothes and every piece of furniture lay jumbled together in a thick gooey stew-like mixture of mud.The stench alone is enough to make you gag.Some houses were literally picked up and deposited in the middle of the street.In this community of 40,000 to 60,000 people about 6,000 FEMA trailers are currently set up, usually in front of people’s uninhabitable homes.Our team of 21 people wades into this mess pulling bigger items into the yard. The rest is shoveled into wheelbarrows and hauled outside.We carefully place personal items that can be salvaged into a separate pile next to the huge mound of house rubble. It usually takes two and a half days to “demo” a house, construction slang for demolition. Everything is torn out to the studs, the skeleton.It is heart-wrenching to think of the emotional toll on these fun-loving, hard-working people who welcome us in their neighborhood.Only four families have returned to the block we work on. They live in FEMA trailers in front of their uninhabitable homes. They visit while we work. Bring us coffee. Laugh. Each one says, “Somehow we will make it.”I believe them.Tears come to us all as they tell their harrowing stories.From the depths of my soul I now understand the human compassion within the Bible’s shortest verse, “Jesus wept.”Bill Kight writes his column every other Monday. This one comes from ground zero of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction in New Orleans.
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