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Today was the first one here where there was a definite chill in the air in the morning. Of course I still wore shorts (but no one else did...) and soon it was comfortably warm. We can really see some significant progress after three days of effort. Many of us have paired off into working teams; I'm with the "Joel Team", consisting of me and Joel Poskus. Joel Poskus loves to eat, so I carefully label my lunch each day as "Old Joel" - knowing that the other Joel won't want to be saddled with that title and will thus not consume my lunch....
Many of the areas we pass through on the way to the site look fairly normal, as does most of the area immediately adjacent to our worksite. You almost lose sight of the extent of the devastation, until you come upon a reminder of how severe the damage really was. Today's reminder was particularly dramatic, as we drove back to Camp Victor by way of the shoreline for the first time. Our site is several miles inland, and was relatively unscathed. As we drove closer to the shore, we began to see more and more damaged trees and abandoned concrete slabs where houses once stood. Soon it seemed as if the scoured-clean house slabs were the norm, with a sprinkling of newly-rebuilt homes among them. It was very clear that the impact of the storm was extremely severe and devastating.
We are all very tired and sore by the end of each workday, however, seeing how great the needs are it is actually a very good feeling. Knowing that we are, in our own small way, making a difference and helping to restore a sense of normalcy is very gratifying. I thank God for the opportunity and am very happy that I was able to contribute and participate in this great adventure. One more day of work - I'm looking forward to it!
Blessings to all.....
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
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