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Today we finished our second day of work on two homes in a development of thirty new houses. They did not exist at the beginning of November and will be finished at the end of February. Richard, Duke and I finished building three flights of stairs, including the stabilizing posts set in cement. Others have been working on installing roof soffits, wrapping houses in weather resistant plastic, installing windows, building more stairs, adding hurricane strapping and fine detail finishing work like installing spindles on porch railings. If it's any consolation to those of you suffering snow and ice, we worked in the rain today.
As I return for the first time in two years, I notice slow improvements. Street signs and street lights are now all up. There are new stores being built. New homes are scattered here and there. A good amount of foliage has returned. However, the improvements seem slow. It will, indeed, take at least ten years to recover. We have been graciously hosted by Art Sikes relatives, Alice and Gay Martin, who barely survived Hurricane Katrina by jumping from a small bit of their rooftop into a tree and riding out a thirty foot storm surge for a few hours. They have purchased a condominium and are grateful for life and the profound lesson that our possessions do not matter very much at all. They met us upon arrival, showed us the location of their former home and took our picture on the beach. Tonight they joined us for barbecue dinner at "The Shed."
On our way here Monday, we visited the Lower Ninth Ward where Russ Campbell and his dad worked just a few months after the disaster struck. Recovery there is especially slow but it is coming. More debris and delaptiated homes have been removed. A number of businesses have opened and some homes have been refurbished. Brad Pitt's project, Make It Right, has the first eight of 120+ committed homes built or almost built. The architecture is avant-garde but environmentally friendly and true to the character of New Orleans. They are also built on pilings.
Survivors carry the weight of their stories every day, but they get through it with faith, courage and humor. For example, here at Camp Victor, they have a mascot cat named FEMA. Here is the story of why they named her FEMA:
Camp Victor has been painted with beautiful murals outside depicting various scenes from the hurricane and God's presence in the midst of them – they are very inspiring and hopeful. We will report more on these later.
Grace & peace to all of you,
The Rev. David Reed-Brown