We Arrive and Devestation Stuns Us
We met at church at 6:15 am. Excited and bleary-eyed we said farewell to our families. We made all of our flights today without much incident. In Baltimore we were delayed because the airline didn't have a flight crew for the plane. (They were still playing catch-up from last week's storm.) We made up time in the air and arrived in New Orleans shortly after 1 pm CST. From the air it y was clear that there was much damage to nature and buildings. The first thing we noticed were burned out homes and businesses and trees that are snapped like twigs. Then it occurred to us that there were very few road signs and traffic lights. Many stores and whole malls are still empty. Traffic was heavy because Mardi Gras is this Tuesday and thousands of people are pouring into town. We drove downtown past the Superdome and into the devastated Ninth Ward.
No words can explain the destruction – we gasped and were stunned to silence. We stopped our minivans and walked around in a couple places. Seventy-five percent of it is gone. Perhaps one in a hundred is occupied - and only then by a FEMA trailer in the driveway. One home rests upon the foundation of another. Russ Campbells Jr. & Sr. tell us that the area looks much better since they were here working the same week last year. So much debris has been removed. Homes are marked with spray paint as having been searched. One church was marked with a skull and crossbones where someone had died. Also, the levy has been repaired. A large barge that once crashed into the bank and rested upon a school bus was removed recently. At the foot of the bridge entering the Ninth Ward is a memorial consisting of the frame of a house and kitchen chairs with encouragement for New Orleans to return home. We drove another 100 miles east to Biloxi to Yankie Stadium, a property purchased by the Salvation Army for the purpose of building a neighborhood center. But just days after the purchase, Katrina hit. Habitat for Humanity has it on lease for 4-5 years. We had orientation and there are 250 volunteers this week from churches, families, colleges, RV groups, and AmeriCorps. The facility is nice, clean and well-organized – basic and Spartan, but lovingly cared for. Our bunk houses are solid, roofed structures with bathrooms and showers – each holds about 20 people. We will wake up at 6 am tomorrow and be here for devotions at 6:45 am. People are busy getting to work. Habitat for Humanity's efforts are mushrooming and result in the rebuilding of thousands of homes, but more on that later. We went out for southern fish dinners and are now settling in for the evening. We are eager to get to work.
Grace & peace,
The Rev. David Reed-Brown