This is a 53-minute video produced by Robyn Hendrix ’05 and Jason Lord ’06 about the 2005 gulf coast service trip.
Robyn Hendrix ‘05 and Jason Lord ‘06 produced this 3-minute video of the stories of Carleton volunteers on the 2005 Gulf Coast service trip
I would like to give a short update about the followup that has happened after returning from Biloxi in December. The video footage taken while down there, as well as interview footage taken of student participants after returning to campus, has been used by Lewis Weinberg to make two short length movies, shown to Carleton Trustees during the winter term and as an opener for the Confronting Katrina symposium at Carleton on March 31st. There is also an hour long film called “Voices from the Storm” edited by myself (Robyn Hendrix), that was also shown at the Katrina symposium and has been shown to alumni in Minneapolis. Soon there will be copies sent to alumni club chairs around the country as well as to other alums and Carleton volunteers who requested copies. The rebuilding efforts continue this summer and I hope that our experiences and videos inspire many others to travel down to the gulf coast and serve, or to support the relief effort in whatever manner they feel comfortable with. For more information about “voices from the storm” please email email@example.com.
Looking back at everything that we’ve done, the experience, to me, was amazing. All the people we talked to and the stories we heard served as an awakening as to how vulnerable we are in this world. All the work, while refeshing for a week and a half, served as a reminder, at least to me, of why I’m going to college. However I call into question how much good we really did down there. Sure, its good to know that our presence and work was a comfort to the volunteers and the victims, but our primary purpose, seemed, at least to me, unfulfilled.
In the week and a half, these are the cleanup projects I participated in:
- Norman’s House (Condemned by FEMA)
- House by the Mall (Condemned by FEMA, I think)
- House in Waveland (will most likely be bulldozed because of termites)
- Lisa’s House
- Yard in Gulfport (could easily have been done by owners)
Any house that has been condemned by FEMA has a fair chance of being bulldozed and purchased by the government or casinos. Three of the Casinos in the area alreadly have plans for Golf Courses within the next two years and I assure you there isn’t any room on the peninsula with the houses where they are.
I do not blame any specific group but the organization of the clean-up effort is in serious need of restructuring. We’ve been told by several groups of how its a normal occurence to go check out a job, only to find the job has been done by another group. When a coordination center is established and advertised, several groups choose not to participate, believing they can do better on their ownl. Different groups along the coast are using different methods to treat mold with little intercommunication on which method might be best. The red cross has recieved $1.5 billion in aid, yet the only presence they seem to have is serving meals to a limited part of the population. I wont even get started on FEMA, I feel other people have covered that sufficiently.
I feel that it times like these when the government needs to take action. What else is it there for.
-Jake Q. ’08
Now that I’ve had a chance to shower a few times, do laundry, and decompress, it’s time to think about what happened. In my few conversations since returning to Northfield, I suddenly realize how much we really did learn in those two weeks. Even the most educated folks, in tune to the events down south really have no idea what is going on – they’re not hearing about the casinos moving inland, the piles of trash still blocking the streets, and the thousands and thousands of low-income people struggling to make tough decisions. It certainly helps me understand our responsibility now that we’re back. The only way we’re going to get good leaders emerging down there is if they have the support of the rest of the country. Like Pete alluded to earlier, good managers and construction foremen are vital to making sure there is some sanity and coordination in the recovery process. Coupled with political leaders who have legitimacy in the area and are willing to make the tough decisions, it’s a very complex web of people needed on the Gulf Coast – and we’re the ones who have to make sure that the rest of the country gives them the support they need. We’re the ones who have seen the devastation, and who have seen what is required for the area to make a full recovery.
-C.J. Griffiths ’06
Back in the throws of my normal life (if you can call my life normal, that might be a stretch) I find myself at a loss. In a bizarre way, I miss clapping before every meal, sharing a queen sized foam mattress, sharing a room with five pampered ladies, getting up at 7 am, wearing thick soled work boots and work gloves, carrying a crowbar, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with way too much jelly, arguing over the radio and trying to choose between country, Jesus radio (as we affectionately called it in some vans) and gangster rap, using the shower key as per Bobâ€™s request and above all, the constant 70 degree weather. Some of us joked about trying to demolish our houses; I would love nothing more than to start stripping dry wall or move a brick wall from the side of the house to the front lawn. Maybe I could find a half broken chainsaw and cut some limbs away from the roof of the house. Iâ€™m not bored per say, just restless. In Biloxi, I had purpose (well at least overall we had purpose, maybe it didnâ€™t feel like it every moment).
Home, I get to sleep late in my own room in my own bed, eat whatever I want sans clapping and, most gloriously, wear clean clothing on a daily basis. But I go to the mall and think about all the presents we bought for Ashley, her little brother and their parents. I see upright houses and think about houses not standing and the families that have to live in tents and sleep in sleeping bags. But itâ€™s already leaving my consciousness. I got so used to everything in Biloxi, but it didnâ€™t take long for everything to go relatively back to normal. Being prone to guilt (I am Catholic after all) I wonder what more I could be doing all the way up here in Wellesley. Maybe Iâ€™ll go back, maybe I wonâ€™t. But all any of us can do is not take anything we have for granted and remember the people we met down there in Biloxi and have hope for the future. Hopeâ€”itâ€™s not going to rebuild to coast, but has kept it from completely falling apart; and that is inspiring.
~Liz Crowley â€˜08
Charming Carls? As I noted previously, there are significant cultural differences between life on a college campus and the rest of the world. As this service trip draws to a close, I wanted to note another aspect of life on a college campus that I too often take for granted: the pleasure of working closely with undergraduates, especially the types that end up at Carleton.
I must, however, start with a disclaimer: I am no Pollyanna. Undergraduates in general and Carls in particular can be an infuriating lot at times. Every faculty member and staff person surely has stories about students who make them want to scream. Iâ€™ll save mine for another venue. But what makes these stories so memorable is that these incidents are the exception. The joys of working with curious, smart, idealistic, hardworking undergraduates is what makes my job such a pleasure and what continues to draw others to work at college and universities. Not everyone has this pleasure on a regular basis, as I was reminded often over the past couple weeks by the sheer joy that the many volunteers we met took in interacting with the students.
We regularly had other volunteers seeking out our students to join their work crews because they worked so hard and efficiently. We had volunteers asking to join our work crews, even when the work was rather yucky. In a way we got to be the â€œcool group,â€ not normally a term you would associate with Carls!
At meals, I would observe animated conversations between students and other volunteers, who were amazed to learn that the students werenâ€™t doing this for a class but were taking time out of their winter break.
One of our group, observing how taken the other volunteers were with them, said, â€œWe remind them of their grandchildren.â€ I am sure that was part of it, the novelty of youth in a largely older volunteer corps. But it was something more than that: the students represented something about the future, especially powerful in a crisis that will not be resolved in the short run. I must have had a dozen different people thank me for bringing this group of students to help with relief efforts. They all seemed to be especially touched that young people felt a responsibility to help. They said seeing the Carleton students in Biloxi made them feel good about the future of the country and the world.
The students were exceptional ambassadors for Carleton and for their generation. It was a pleasure to bask in the reflected glow of these charming Carls.
Well, I’m safe at home now in exciting central Pennsylvania and seem to be the only one who still hasn’t blogged, so I’m feeling a little guilty. I would use the excuse that I was too overwhelmed by everything at the time to put it into words, but the real reason is that, after a day of hacking at drywall with a crowbar, or repeatedly carrying armfuls of foul-smelling water- and mold-soaked garbage to the side of the road, or chainsawing through massive tree trunks that had fallen across a backyard (yes, I got to use a chainsaw! And I was pretty good at it, too, as Jason P. can attest…), all I felt like doing at night was lying down and exerting no effort whatsoever. So now that I have slept in past 7:00 AM for the first time in two weeks and have clocked a solid day of lounging around the house, I feel that I am sufficiently rested to finally post a blog…
I’m not really sure what to say about this trip that hasn’t already been said, nor can I say anything very profound, but I can say that it was a good trip and time well spent, not only because I got to meet some very cool classmates and one exceedingly cool professor, but also because I learned some stuff and helped some people.
Here’s what I learned:
- that there’s still a lot of work to be done (years of work)
- that people have incredible amounts of hope even when they’ve lost everything
- that people have incredible amounts of bitterness towards the insurance companies (and rightly so)
- that I can be beastly when taking down ceiling tile with a shovel
- that respirator masks are probably very good things, even though they make your face sweaty and gross
- that it feels great to be told “thank you” by someone whose house you have just cleaned out
- that it feels horrible to spend half the day looking for work when there is so much obvious work to be done
- that those who need help the most do not necessarily receive it before others, if at all
- that $18 work boots from Wal-Mart do the job just fine, even though they’re from Wal-Mart, which is evil
- that 80,000 people have requested FEMA trailors in New Orleans, and 8,000 people have received them
- that FEMA can grant up to $26,000 to a household, but that means that if, say, 3 independent adults are living under the same roof, they cannot each get money. And if each adult fills out a form and they all use the same phone number, they get cancelled out and no one gets money. FEMA has not advertised this fact very well, so most people don’t know this and don’t understand why FEMA hasn’t given them any money. My bro told us that in New Orleans. Thanks, bro.
- that the face of God can be seen in things like cockroaches and mousepoop
- that you can do a lot of work and feel like you’ve really accomplished something
- that you can do a lot of work and still feel that you were not fully utilized and could have done more
- that the Interstate BBQ in Memphis has really good pork sandwiches
- that our efforts in Biloxi and the surrounding areas truly were appreciated and more volunteers are needed constantly!
Those are just a few things I learned down South. It really was a worthwhile trip, and although we may not have always felt that our skills were put to the best use, we did do some good work in the end, and I think our mere presence was an encouragement to the locals, who saw that other people are thinking about them and trying to help. The process is about to get harder, though, because the reconstruction phase is beginning. Anyone can tear down dry wall and pull out nails, but you need people with certain skills to build houses. And we’re liberal arts students, so naturally we have no practical skills….just kidding. But it is true that a group of students like us may not be that much help in the future because we simply don’t have the know-how concerning construction and plumbing and all the things that go into re-building a house. Which isn’t to say that people like us shouldn’t look into volunteering down there in the future; I’m sure there are still many outlets where we would be useful. But I’m interested to see how the relief efforts continue, now that things are moving into the ‘repair’ stage.
I’ve put a bit of whimsy into this blog, but the experience really was moving and eye-opening. We had fun, too, of course, but I hope our blogs here have helped people understand a little more about the situation. It’s still pretty grim down there and we all need to realize that it will not just go away.
-Ali Reingold ’08
A few days ago Mike wrote about how smoothly we began to see the constant destruction in Biloxi as normal. This realization hit me as we began driving north on Thursday. As I gazed out the window I noticed less trees bent at awkward angles, smaller and fewer piles of debris along the roads, less businesses with letters missing from their signs. I thought about how anywhere else in the country I might laugh when seeing one of the lights of a JC Penny’s sign missing, or a letter fallen off of a movie listing board. But down along the gulf coast, practically every singe business sign was damaged in one way or another. As we drove, things began to look more “normal,” which at the time seemed to my eyes very abnormal and eerie. The rest of the country is physically untouched by this storm; how can we possibly keep people interested and informed about the hurricane destruction that still fills the everyday environment of everyone living in Biloxi, in Waveland, in Pass Christian, in Ocean Springs, in New Orleans? It was a hard place to leave, and it’s even harder to figure out how to deal with that urge to scream out loud, trying to get our friends and family back home and at Carleton to understand what we’ve seen. I don’t know how to make people listen, and understand. But I already had a nice conversation with Alison Kettering of the Art History department at the grocery store last night. She couldn’t find the fennel she was looking for, and I couldn’t find passionfruit juice, so we stood and talked about Mississippi, about the work we did and how people are living in Biloxi. I hope to have many more conversations like that one, and I hope people will listen to us, and think about some small way that they could help too. Even just being aware that the problem isn’t over, that people are still stranded and homeless without a livelihood and with over half their neighbors gone…just being aware is so important.
Health Report. In many ways, the Gulf Coast trip resembled an off-campus program, a Carleton experience that I am familiar and comfortable with. There was one big difference: much of our activity would involve enthusiastic, energetic novices wielding large blunt objects for the purposes of destruction. (I won’t even get into the chainsaws.) This prospect made me (and I am sure some parents and college lawyers) nervous. Amazingly the final injury report consisted of one split open eyebrow (which required only a butterfly bandage administered by a nurse at the church clinic which made the injured party look like a street brawler from Brainerd), one nail through a boot and into a foot (which required my ancient Boy Scout first aid and a nurse’s consultation at the church clinic) and one nail through a boot and between two toes (which some believed to be an act of God). And the first two injuries both occurred on the very first day. Sometimes you just get lucky.
Today (yes it is Day 14, for its 12:40am;) is the day we drive to St. Louis (via Graceland) on our way back home to Northfield, Minnesota. All of us have amazing experiences and many stories to share. We have interviews and great footage from New Orleans to show. We will continue to share our thoughts and add content to this blog in the days after we return home. It will take many of us some time to find the right words to describe our experiences down here. I know that it will take me a while to comprehend what Iâ€™ve experienced down here.
So check back often for updates — make sure to look at past days for new videos and pictures!
For now its time to head up north! (I was getting a bit tired of the 70 degree sunny weather anyways
-Jason Lord â€™06 (Team B.A. / Team Moldbusters)
I really canâ€™t formulate my thoughts right now. I mean, itâ€™s the last day, weâ€™re done with all of our work; I should have some insight into the situation, right? Itâ€™s kind of sad that I donâ€™t have any answers right now. Ever since Iâ€™ve been down here, I keep coming up with more and more questions. I think itâ€™s just that I havenâ€™t seen my family since August, and all the stress of college and the constant emotion of being down here has sort of gotten to me and everything I come up with is bitter and not at all objective. I mean, weâ€™ve done a lot of good here, and I would come back again in a second. However, I have a lot of problems with all of the relief agencies and churches down here, and the whole experience has been pretty frustrating. Hopefully, after a week of sleep, Christmas shopping, and bad movies, I can sort out my thoughts and write something that actually means something. Right now, Iâ€™m glad I came, Iâ€™m glad we helped people, but Iâ€™m more than ready to get away from the inefficiency of relief organizations and just take a break for a while.
-Justin Smith, â€˜09
Since day one, I’ve been pressured to write a blog, and everynight I’ve been promising to do so but never followed through. Upon realizing that today is the last day and that I am one of the only two students in my group who haven’t made an entry, a feeling of shame has finally convinced me to write.
New Orleans.- Of all the cities that I’ve visited in the United States, only two, so far, have captured my heart, New Orleans being one of the two. From the moment I entered the city, I instantly fell in love with it. Something about New Orleans made me think about the Caribbean, where I was raised. I tend to greatly appreciate the things that remind me of my old home, and I consider New Orleans to be one of them. From its warm climate, its proximity to the ocean, to its narrow streets and beautiful French colonial architecture, New Orleans is somewhat a replica of a French West Indian city. Having grown up in Haiti, I greatly appreciate these resemblances.
During the first two hours of our arrival in New Orleans, we wandered around in the French quarter and had authentic Cajun food for lunch. Later during the day, the group split up, with some students choosing to continue touring the city on foot while I along with a couple of others went with Mike on a car tour. We first went through the affluent part of town. Aside from the one or two houses hat I saw that suffer from mild roof damages, there was very little indication of a recent major hurricane. There were no debris in the streets and all the houses seemed fully occupied. I saw young couples strolling on the sidewalks, parents playing with their children at the local park, and workers readying the local universities for the upcoming semester; in short, everything seemed normal.
We then headed to the hardest-hit and poorer areas of New Orleans, and because the lower ninth yard was closed to the public, we could only view it from afar. For miles on we saw abandoned houses and buildings; it was a sad scene to contemplate. It was also hard for me to think about the numerous communities that were destroyed and the families separated as a result of the hurricane. The abandoned communities were mainly inhabited by African-Americans; as a result of new policies they could not return to their homes.
I later learn, from talking to a current FEMA worker that in another severely damaged neighborhood, predominantly white, residents were allowed to come back, which is clearly unfair. I also picked up other disturbing information from the worker. Out of the 80,000 people who requested a FEMA trailer, only 1000 actually received one. Many poor families are also not receiving FEMA money as a result of small technicalities that they were not informed about before applying for aid. Apparently, there are many lower income homes in which live cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, all of whom have legitimate claim to home ownership. According to FEMA policies, only one member per household can be awarded financial aid, but the organization omits this crucial information when it encourages all adults to apply for assistance. Many individuals have been blocked from receiving aids because the FEMA system does not recognize multiple applications listing the same address. The FEMA worker that I talked to was frustrated by the lack of training provided by FEMA to new workers. Many employees don?t know enough about the application process to pass on accurate information to the victims. Many people are being promised money only to find out later that they were not qualified.
Later in the evening, I went to a local bar to listen to some jazz, and as I sat by the piano listening to an old man sing and play famous tunes I felt a pang of sadness. Here I was, in a beautiful city, renown for its rich cultural heritage which in large part is a product of the cultural contribution of African-Americans, and yet as plans to restore the city to its greatness are being made, the blacks seem to be left out of the picture. It’s a recurring theme in American History. It is thanks to the hard labor of black slaves that this country is prosperous, but their descendants enjoy very little of America’s wealth. It is in great part thanks to the rich contribution of African Americans that New Orleans is the interesting city that it is today, and yet while many want to preserve their culture, they do not feel the same way about the black communities. “Nothing about us, without us if for us”, reads a poster with the picture of a brown skin woman in the background, and I agree with the message.
Ketsia T., ’07
â€œEverybody has a story.â€ Mike and Doug told us that before we embarked on this trip, and weâ€™ve heard it often since. Thereâ€™s no doubt that itâ€™s true. As I went around to a number of different places today with Pete, we heard more of them â€“ everyone either lives in a FEMA trailer or with relatives, and has lost a great many of their possessions. Most of their homes have to be completely gutted, or rebuilt from the ground up. Virtually none of them have received money from their insurance companies, and those that have clearly havenâ€™t gotten enough. Pete and I went to a weekly meeting of the Interfaith Disaster Task Force (IDTF), which is a widely varied group of local churches who are working together to help the rebuilding process. The meeting was an interesting event â€“ after spending a large amount of time discussing the language of the mission statement and bill of rights, they talked about some of their future projects. While it didnâ€™t seem completely unified and organized today, it does seem that this is one of the vitally necessary organizations to rebuilding. Because they are members of the community, theyâ€™re here for the long-run (unlike others â€“ the Red Cross we found out is going to be leaving at the start of the new year) and they have a vested interest in making sure that the rebuilding process is done right the first time. Letâ€™s hope that IDTF can get their administrative growing pains out of the way in time to make some serious progress in all the work that needs to be done on the Gulf.
-C.J. Griffiths â€™06 (Team Awesome/Team Blue Van)
Today I joined up with another group from Minnesota (as Bethel is a Lutheran church it is not surprising that many of the volunteers that pass through here hail from the upper Midwest). These men were not young; I believe they were mostly retired, and the oldest was well into his eighties (though still spry), but they knew what they were about: this was no mucking jobâ€”it was a bona-fide reconstruction. The house had already been gutted, the flooded drywall removed and the structure sprayed for mold, now came the time for new walls to be nailed in place with insulation inside them.
It would seem facile to me to point out the symbolism here. Rebuilding on my last day here after tearing things down for a weekâ€”such are the things we English majors usually point out in a text, but this is real life, so I donâ€™t think thatâ€™s enough exactly. â€“Joe
Driving along the coast highway today on the way to a job site I found myself behind a tourist. The people inside the car were looking both directions, obviously gawking at the destruction, and most irritatingly, driving well below the speed limit on a nearly empty highway. I caught myself feeling the same feeling that I had noticed when we visited New Orleans: ho hum, another stretch of destroyed homes and businesses, been there, done that.
Others in much more traumatic situations than that of a volunteer on the Gulf Coast have observed how easily one comes to find the unusual, the tragic, the horrific, simply normal. We have been here just over a week and already I am finding the destruction around me normal. I suppose that the extent of the destruction makes that psychological response even more normal since the sensory overload of trying to take each small bit of the tragedy in would be overwhelming. It is also not like a tornado, for example, where in one block you see the damage but in the next all is normal. The familiarity of the normal reminds you of destruction. Here the destruction is the norm and an unblemished house catches your eye.
So the challenge is to remind yourself, to concentrate, that each home or business is part of several lives which are now utterly changed for years and maybe forever. To not let things here be normal, even as you must go on with your own life.
We arrived at Hamiltonâ€™s house in Waveland a little after ten. Weâ€™d gotten the work order from Tim but had not had a chance to check out the job since Waveland was 25 miles away so we were not sure what to expect. The brick house looked solid from the outside and amazingly there was not a single shingle missing from the roof. But, as we have often discovered, appearances are deceiving. The storm surge had flooded the house to within an inch, literally, of the ceiling. Hamilton and his wife had been forced into the crawlspace/attic for many hours as the water rose and then slowly fell.
In the weeks after the flood, Hamilton and others had taken all the destroyed belongings, furniture, clothes, appliances, etc., out of the house. When we arrived the house was bare, but the drywall remained. Every bit had to go, as well as the wet insulation behind. After some brief conversation about Hamiltonâ€™s work as an artist and a tour of his FEMA trailer, we set to work. Using the techniques of delicate destruction that we had honed over previous days, we started bashing holes in the walls. The only difference in this job was that we were to try and save the ceiling, which had somehow escaped water damage. So when the drywall was taken from near the ceiling, special delicacy was needed to not damage the ceiling. We worked steadily taken out the pieces of drywall and removing the insulation, loading it all into wheelbarrows and moving it to the edge of the driveway. We took a break for lunch, during which we learned that Hamilton was a consummate storyteller with fascinating, horrific and amusing stories to relate.
We then returned to our task, working steadily. The house was a modest ranch, but it was bigger than most of the houses we had worked on. At one point in the afternoon, Hamilton, who had been helping us, stepped out for about an hour to run some errands. By the time he returned, we had made significant progress and were nearly done stripping his home of the damaged materials. As he walked in the door, from which he could literally now look through the whole house, from front to back, peering through the remaining studs, he said quietly to himself, â€œAmazing.â€ It was mid-afternoon and the light was fading, but if one looked at the structure with the right eyes, it was not a flood damaged house, but a construction site ready for new walls and occupants. It was amazing.
- Mike H.
In last few days, I worked with people who belonged to other volunteer organizations like Hands On USA, Salvation Army etc. Though they had a variety of backgrounds they had a common objective: to rebuild Biloxi. All of them looked so energetic and also so cool because they really enjoyed this difficult task. To be honest, I thought that this town would be filled with sadness because of the unbelievable natural disaster until I arrived at Biloxi. However, I would never guess from faces of volunteers that a horrible hurricane attacked this town. I can also note that local people never lose hope that they can rebuilt their town, Biloxi. When I worked in the distribution center, I met some local people who came to get some necessity goods like food. Many local people smiled and gave me some kind words. It seems that it would take a long time for the town to recover, but the energy of the local people and volunteers would definitely make it possible.
- Teruaki Fujii (exchange student)
I have definitely seen a lot of strange things while clearing out houses in Biloxi. Today at Nettie Whighamâ€™s house I found a faded picture of Nixonâ€™s face; written on the back in pencil, â€œShould President Nixon be impeached?â€; A newspaper clipping from October 18th 1973; a plaque inscribed with the following, â€œMarriage has a lot of rings; an engagement ring, a wedding ring, and suffering.â€; a huge framed picture of a barn owl; a plaque proclaiming Nettie â€œWorlds Best Grandmaâ€ and another stating â€œWorldâ€™s Best Mother.â€ Ali found a newspaper from July of 2004 with the headline, â€œTime Traveler Nettie Whigham turns 108.â€ The owner of the house we cleared today is now 109, living in a nursing home, and according to her granddaughter who we got to meet, still talks and remembers things from a long way back. There are probably five generations in their family; I canâ€™t even begin to imagine all the stories Nettie must share with her grandchildren, great-grandchildren and maybe even great-great-grandchildren. I wish I could know them too.
~Liz Crowley â€˜08
East Biloxi is very poor and has a large African American population. Bethel does not have a strong presence in this area so we have found a lot of our own â€˜jobsâ€™ in this area. My first team spent time walking around the neighborhood talking to people and seeing if there is anything that we can do for them.
Some people had already had their houses gutted and the yards cleared so there was not much we could do for them. Unfortunately, there were many people we talked to who couldnâ€™t accept our offers of help. From our conversations with individuals, we noticed that quite a few people rent their homes. In many cases, their landlords havenâ€™t begun clean up on these houses and the residents are not able to authorize people like us to help. I donâ€™t know what can be done to help these individuals or if the landlords can be forced to clean these houses. For the landlord, this is a source of income that may not be worth the investment, but for the individuals living there, it is a home, filled with memories. In the case of Billy Ray, a man we talked to, this is the home where his children grew up but he canâ€™t do anything to stop the spread of mold.
Another issue we must consider when we help the residents of East Biloxi is whether or not many of these homes are worth saving. Obviously, there some homes that are too damaged to be worth saving but there are many houses that may be structurally sound that may end up being torn down. With the change of laws, casinos are now allowed to build on land. Many people have speculated that East Biloxi will be turned into casino resorts in a few years. With this in mind, I wonder how much our efforts in this area may just be torn down in a few years.
-Maria Bruun, â€˜06 (Team Awesome/The Team)
Sitting in a cafÃ© in the French Quarter and eating a crawfish po-boy, youâ€™d never know that a hurricane had blasted through the area. Tourists abounded, virtually all the shops were open, and the mood was one of traditional New Orleans frivolity. In that area, you had to look a little closer to realize that yes, this place felt the effects of Katrina as much as any other. Mold growing on the underside of balconies, a broken window here and thereâ€¦but they were lucky. A few of us drove to the outskirts of the lower ninth ward and saw the emptiness that has overtaken the place. We were told that the area is more dangerous than ever, and it certainly seemed to hold true â€“ the building are abandoned (and those that arenâ€™t, should be) and many look as though theyâ€™ll collapse at any moment, there is little or no electricity and running water, and debris is still scattered everywhere. Itâ€™s hard to believe that the ninth ward will ever be what it once was, judging by
-C.J. Griffiths â€™06 (Team Awesome/Team Blue Van)
New Orleans: a tale of two cities. Tourism in New Orleans is about the only force breathing life into the city today. On our trip yesterday, when we saw the French Quarter and caught glimpses into the Downtown area, the city was regaining its pre-Katrina vibrancy. Bars and restaurants have reopened in those areas to chase the tourist dollar as they had before. However, outside the tourist areas in middle, working, and lower class residential areas, New Orleans is a ghost town. Due to the harshness of the mold and other health concerns, our group saw no one except hazardous materials teams in biohazard suits in those areas. The Garden District, the most affluent homes in New Orleans, is now returning to the normal pace of life, however those with less money than that are long gone and possibly will never return again.
Last night, we went to see the sights on Bourbon Street, one of the longest strips of bars and clubs in America. It was a fun time, although it was hard not to think of the hundreds of other streets in New Orleans the exact same length that were completely destroyed and mostly untouched since August.
-Jason P. â€™08
Even the most energetic of college kids can only go for so long without taking a break, and our limit seemed to be one week. After working from Sunday to Saturday, we were ready for a trip to New Orleans. The devastation in New Orleans is just as visible in some areas as in Biloxi, but in other areas you can see that life is going on as before Katrina. At dinner there were local jazz musicians in the restaurant we ate at, and in the evening we found a bar with an excellent pianist playing all sorts of music. Bourbon Street, of course, is already filling again with drunken tourists buying hurricanes and hand grenades. It looks like New Orleans will return to itâ€™s tourist filled splendor eventually.
-Andrew Rausch (Team Invisible Hand/The Team)
New Orleans contrasts with Biloxi because of its city atmosphere and its proximity to Katrinaâ€™s eye. In Biloxi, the devastation has affected a closed beach community, effectively crippling houses and families. Living at a church provides us an opportunity to examine the effects of the hurricane on a specific group of people. Every night we hear countless sob stories about how locals have lost their homes, and how these areas will never recover. Our understanding of Katrinaâ€™s damage to Biloxi is as much psychological as it is physical. Sure, houses are destroyed and the shores are barely recognizable, but it is the people who permanently vacate these shores that will ultimately devastate Biloxi.
Our one-day New Orleans trip developed our understanding of how a natural disaster affects a region economically and commercially. Since we were only able to spend one day in the city, we could never catalogue the personal devastation of the New Orleanian. We were essentially demoted from honorable service workers to annoying tourists. As tourists we require accessibility to satisfy our childish curiosities. Some of us found refuge in the art galleries, the voodoo subculture and historical landmarks, while others experienced the restaurants, cheesy t-shirt stores, half-naked locals and the infamous nightlife. As we chatted it up with the locals we found the devastation to the city was more profound than we could have ever imagined. It has been three months since the hurricane, and many signature restaurants only re-opened last Tuesday. Indeed, many attractions in our â€œAugust 2005 New Orleans Guideâ€ are still closed and are not targeted to re-open until next summer. The result is a sharp blow to New Orleansâ€™ considerable tourist appeal. Bourbon Street may still be up and running, but its going to take a lot more than cheap beer and loose women to rebuild New Orleans economy.
-Kartik Sampath 06â€™ and Yotaro Komatsu 08â€™
So the last few days Iâ€™ve been expending my labor over at the salvation army warehouse making little bags of hygene products to be distributed to people who drop by the distribution center. This is far more direct relief than some of the work weâ€™ve been doing recently, but make no mistakeâ€¦ it is damn tedious. This assembly line work is exactly the kind of mind draining work I endeavored to escape from through a college education so believe me when I say that you could not pay me to do this stuff. Oh, sure Iâ€™ll do it for free, donâ€™t even try to flash a double-digit salary at me hoping to pull me into this mental bludgeoning machine.
On a related note, I have to question some of the items that some of these companies have donated to the relief effort. Do homeless hurricane victims really need after tan lotion to help hold that golden shine? Do they really need to be working on their tan at all? Oh, and what is the most plentiful object in the whole warehouse fragrance? All of Mississippi is going to smell like de:fi in a few weeks, mark my words. â€“Nick ’09
Two things about the hurricane and relief have come to mind recently during the work day. First, some volunteers have complained about the monotony and boredom imposed upon them by the jobs weâ€™ve been working on so far this week. Two days ago, Mike, Andrew, and I worked on unloading and loading trailers of food and dry goods at the Good Shepard Church down Pass Rd. from Bethel Lutheran. Yesterday, a group of us worked on the â€˜assembly lineâ€™ of hygiene packages at the Salvation Army warehouse. Both of these things, however boring or â€˜mindlessâ€™ as they may be, are extremely necessary to the relief effort and Iâ€™m happy to help in any way possible. They may not give the same satisfaction as seeing the before/after photos of a house youâ€™ve â€˜muckedâ€™, but nevertheless, the work must be done for the process of rebuilding to go on, which is what we came here to do.
Secondly, the most awe-inspiring aspect of this natural disaster is the scope of destruction. Reading the NY Times online or watching Anderson Cooper get blown around by hurricane force winds may tell you that a major storm has hit the coast, but seeing the breadth of devastation in person is the only thing that will make you realize the scope of the problem. While itâ€™s not necessarily exciting for news outlets to keep publicizing the rebuilding process in LA/MS/AL, the process will be going on for years and years to come. Iâ€™m glad that we had the chance to see the true nature of the problem on the Gulf Coast because although everyone should be informed through the media, this kind of disaster can only be truly understood through a personal visit to the disaster area. As Pete, our work crew chief of the past week, said the second day, â€œPictures are nice to show to people, but they just donâ€™t capture whatâ€™s really going on.â€
On Sunday, weâ€™re going to New Orleans, which should be interesting. Iâ€™m intrigued by all the things Iâ€™ve read/heard about the situation there, and I would like to look past the pictures for myself.
-Jason P. â€˜08
Iâ€™ll be honest. Itâ€™s a little strange to be mucking out a house in eighty degree weather with clear blue skies and listening to Christmas songs blaring out of the van. That was today, after our group had spent the morning at the Humane Society of Southern Mississippi. A few days ago, we had a unique experience. While cleaning out a front yard of a young womanâ€™s home, Maria suddenly shouted, â€œItâ€™s Oprah!â€ We all turned around, a little surprised, and saw that she was holding up a photo of the woman on the Oprah Winfrey Show. After being duly impressed (and rescuing it from the trash heap) we continued with our dirty work, only to be stopped by a similar exclamation moments later. By the time we were finished, we had a stack of photos of the woman with various figures, including Bill Clinton, a U.S. Senator, Oprah, and two with Colin Powell. It was only a shame that we werenâ€™t able to meet her.
-C.J. Griffiths â€™06 (Team Awesome/Team Blue Van)
Who is doing the work down here?
My dad sent me an e-mail the other day asking how could he help, should he donate money to the red cross? Many corporations and people have donated a lot of money to major relief organizations. However, if you ask people down here they will say that the churches and smaller organizations are the ones giving them hope; the major aid organizations are providing basic needs. All I have seen the Red Cross do down here is drive around in a truck, honking the horn and handing out hot meals. The Salvation Army has a stronger presence, running a distribution line handing out lots of goods, but it is the churches and organizations like handsonusa.org that are mucking houses and repairing roofs. (Take this with a grain of salt, and I have only seen a small part of all the relief down here). In my option, one of the best donations you could make would be to â€œShingles for Biloxi.â€ Robert Guidry, a retired professional roofer started this drive, and in my option, you can be assured that every dollar donated will by shingles and people like us and other church volunteers will put them up on roofs as soon as they come in â€“ this is the relief that is giving people hope for the future. I hope to post an interview with Robert sometime later in the week.
Make checks payable to:Bethel Lutheran Church
2521 Pass Road
Biloxi, MS 39531
And write â€œShingles for Biloxiâ€ on the memo line.
To find out more about Mississippi relief efforts:
Washington Post Story
Today my group, the Invisible Hand, changed pace: Instead of driving around pseudo-aimlessly looking for houses that had yet to be fully gutted and power-washed (a process I have been told is of dubious merit, as it heavily involves water and mold grows on moisture), we offered our services at a warehouse, loading and unloading various supplies. It was hard work at times (through proudly unscientific methods I have determined that frozen lasagna has roughly the same density as lead, and none of the charm), but I really felt we were doing something of immediate valueâ€”helping to get food and water to people who may not know where their next meal is coming from; and clothes to those who are dressed for summer when winter is coming (obviously the temperatures in this area are generally mild by Minnesotan standards, but I am told last night saw a man pass away from hypothermia; he was sleeping in a tent and a blanketâ€”like the dozens passing through the warehouseâ€”could have saved him).
So I should be sleeping right now, but we canâ€™t figure out how to turn off the lights in the sanctuary, our sleeping area, thus the mood doesnâ€™t feel right so I will share a few thoughts on past days. One thing that has stood out to me is segregation, or at least separation, of races is far more prevalent. I first noticed this when we stopped for lunch on the drive down and the only white person working at a particular fast food joint was the manager. Every single other worker was black. Iâ€™ve also heard that all the bars in the Biloxi area are black and white, with very little mix. Finally, during a radio show a few days back, the DJâ€™s were talking about the increased Hispanic population and it went something like this: â€œdid you know that they had an all Spanish commercial at the Super Bowl last year, what is this country coming to. And then during the Thanksgiving parade, they cut one of our guys who was broadcasting short so this Mexican guy could say something in Spanish, it was like [insert something that isnâ€™t Spanish but people who donâ€™t know it would probably think it was]. Welcome to your country folks, welcome to your country.â€ Iâ€™m quite sure something like this wouldnâ€™t fly back home.
Last night’s dinner menu:
- tuna casserole
- chicken and rice casserole
- chicken and broccoli casserole
- sweet potato casserole
- green bean casserole
Yay hot dishes!
Did you know that Biloxi was the home of Barqes Root Beer? Well…it is! And I saw their old headquarters today. Of course they sold out to Coke a while back but the Barq building is still there in East Biloxi, and I was told that they saved about 30 people in their upstairs during the storm.
Videos are out for the night due to the Carleton ITS server change but will be back up tomorrow, so keep checking in on us. Sunday we are going to New Orleans and getting a little tour from Allie’s brother who works for FEMA there, so that’s something to look forward to.
-Robyn Hendrix, ’05
Note: 74mb video file
I still donâ€™t know how exactly I should process everything that we have seen since coming to Biloxi. Though there is barely an area of this small town not eroded from Hurricane Katrina, driving through Waveland, I could barely breathe. Everything fell silent in the van as we passed by the waterfront. An entire street of houses just ceased to exist. Nothing but the broken frames of the houses that once overlooked the Gulf still stood standing; no debris, no trees, no molding dry wallâ€¦nothing. I feel inadequate even attempting to offer a description because the scene was indescribable. How do you describe emptiness?
As I have been this entire trip, in Waveland I tried to imagine the people who once lived along the shore. But all the evidence of their lives had washed away. In Ocean Springs, we cleaned up the yard of Joselyn Anderson. Her entire street was eerily deserted and quiet; the only voices we heard were our own. While we cleaned we found shoes, dresses, obnoxiously loud blazers, make up, books, toys, and trophies; to pass the time, we tried to piece together a picture of Joselyn and her family. We got to meet Joselyn after our first clean up day and she gave me a Mississippi license plate that we found.
I have met a lot of people since being here; all of them have given me something. I spent the day with one of Bethelâ€™s case workers yesterday. Sam was a handsome older gentleman with a deeply intoxicating southern accent and warm smile. He sat at his lawn chair table, his hands behind his head telling us his story. â€œI told my wife after we left, â€˜Oh, weâ€™ll be fine, insurance will take care of usâ€™.â€ But like so many other people, Samâ€™s insurance is not paying one cent for the damages.
As an English major I love words, but the insurance companies seem to twist and mangle the language of their responsibilities so badly that it seems becomes unrecognizable. Insurance companies claim that the damage sustained by many of these houses is flood rather than hurricane. So even though homeowners may have insurance covering hurricane damage, only the federal government offers flood insurance making it an extra cost that many citizens of Biloxi cannot afford. To me, it seems appallingly unfair that men like Sam suffer so that insurance companies can squeeze a little more juice out of the orange.
Towards the end of our trip, we met a family of 9 living in two tiny FEMA trailers behind their house. In all honesty, their house seemed beyond repair at first glance. The ceilings and walls are completely covered in mold and even though the frame is still standing, everything on the inside is waterlogged and threatening to collapse. The parents of the family energetically greeted us, but even though they had lived here for twenty-seven years, they knew only enough English to ask for help with tears in their eyes. The couple had a few kids one who translated for his parents but he could not have been more than eleven. My little sister is eleven and though she is quite the capable young lady, it broke my heart to imagine her assuming so much responsibility at such an age. Everything must be so scary for the little boy, but he smiled and laughed as he stood with us and then as he grew restless, he ran out to ride bikes with his friends. The mother of the household gave me a hug as I left. And as I stood with her, I hoped I would see her again.
Itâ€™s frustrating walking down the streets of Biloxi. At every turn something needs doing. Yet we drive around for a few hours trying to find a starting point. We donâ€™t do anything that monumentally alters the landscape, but we help make the dents along the way. And that is all that anyone can hope to accomplish.
~Liz Crowley â€™08 (Team Invisible Hand)
Waveland, MS. Well, the name pretty much says it all. This area was 3mi east from the eye of Katrina. We traveled (20mi form Biloxi) here to muck out a house (that will probably be bulldozed in a month. We arrived with 22 people, not wanting to repeat the inefficiency of yesterday, 16 of us stayed.
Yesterday was a case study on the theory of diminishing returns to labor. For nearly the entire day, we were working inefficiently, we could have gotten more done if we had more space. We were working in Normanâ€™s house. He was still living in the first 2/3 of his house while we were trying to muck out the back third. It is much faster when we can do each stage of mucking on the entire house at once.
However, what I leaned yesterday, was more then a lesson in efficiency. The real lesion was that Norman and his family were trying to LIVE in their moldy, ruined house. I was really heartbreaking to see all his belongings piled in the front rooms, and his children playing in the yard — he had nowhere else to put his life.
Normanâ€™s house was also different from the typical mucking job, he was trying to salvage all that he could and rebuild his house himself. Every five-dollar towel rack that Norman could take down was five dollars less he would have to spend. Yesterday was our 2nd day at Normanâ€™s house and we are far from finished. When I was working, I kept in my mind the fact that his family was living there, and the faster we could get the mold out of his house, the safer his family would be.
Norman is one of the most optimistic and patent people I have met. His family stayed in their home during the hurricane. He told us the story of how the water rose in his house and he had to kick a lot of his belongings out of the door to keep them from blocking their only exit. In the aftermath, his found his neighborhood decimated, some of his neighbors killed and his job washed way. Ever optimistic, he started to rebuild his life and home after the hurricane. Now the tool manager of Lowes, he has big plans for his house — a new kitchen, bathroom and solar panels on the roof. He hopes that his neighborhood will be nicer after the hurricane — I hope heâ€™s right. (But, my gut tells me that it will be flattened for a new casino, golf course or retirement community). -Jason
Culture clash. 6:45 a.m.
For those of us who live and breathe the ways of college students, it can be easy to forget that the rest of the world operates in a slightly different way than a college campus.
We are based at a Lutheran church and are working with volunteers who are typically significantly older than college students, often retirees. So there a number of dimensions in which we are learning to adjust, and simply because of our shear numbers, those around us are learning to adjust to us too.
The most obvious cultural difference for most of our students is the overt role that religion plays in this faith based relief initiative. The vast majority of the volunteers are Lutherans coming in small groups of 3-6 from Lutheran churches around the country. As you might imagine, Minnesota and Wisconsin are well represented. While this church based ethos would be quite familiar to Oles across the river, it is a bit new and strange for many of our students. But one thing that they cannot fail to miss about the other volunteers is the deeply generous spirit that these individuals have. We are witnessing first hand how religion can be a force for good in the world.
One important Lutheran (and Minnesota) tradition is the hot dish. Most dinners consist of a hot dish prepared by the lovely ladies in the kitchen or sent to the church from other churches as far away as Georgia. Most students are happy to heap huge piles on their plates, but for the vegetarians in the group the cuisine is not ideal since ground beef or chicken are often essential ingredients. So the church ladies have tried to accommodate us by having peanut butter and jelly available for every meal, though they still are a little amazed that anyone would pass up hot dish for PB&J. While there is genuine understanding about our vegetarian preferences, I think we still have a ways to go in explaining the hows and whys of our vegans. â€œYou donâ€™t eat cheese?!â€ One step at a time.
Body clocks are our biggest challenge. We eat breakfast at 7:00 and try to get to work by 8:00. As you can imagine there are some bleary faces at breakfast but with long workdays, no one is skipping. We have slowly shifted schedules from night to days, a bit like adjusting to jet lag. We have moved about an hour closer to normal bed times and waking times. We should be completely adjusted by the time we return home, so parents can expect bright smiling faces for breakfast over the holidays. Or not.
Time to go wake up some students.
An experiment: letâ€™s drop a cluster of college kids in a nearly abandoned neighborhood, on their own, to finish mucking out and power washing a house, with limited knowledge and tools, and see what happens!
Yesterday my team finished working on Lisaâ€™s house, but with a lot of obstacles along the way. The first thing we did when we arrived was to finish ripping out the bathroom. The cast iron bathtub was quite a challenge to waddle out the door. The imprint underneath the tub said it was made in America in 1925, the year this house was built. Even though we were unable to turn off the water for the house at first, we managed to take out the tub without any big spills. Pete had some people start power washing the house while Jason Lord and I started clearing out the remaining debris in the bathroom. Suddenly Jason stepped on the mesh hole where the bathtub pipe went under the house, and he found his leg under the house as well! Not only did he have a few stinging scrapes, but his fall broke a water pipe and water began gushing out onto the ground under the house. As if this foundation hadnâ€™t had enough water damage! And of course the leak took away the water pressure, making power washing the rest of the house impossible. After calling Pete twice we ended up waiting around for help to arrive for over an hour. But since there are a limited number of knowledgeable supervisor-type people working at the church, Pete was tied up in other places. Finally, we decided to take things into our own hands. Fortunately, Lisaâ€™s mother Grace was staying with us and talking to us while her daughter was at work, and she gave us a ride to the hardware store to buy a cap to fix the broken pipe. With that fixed, power washing continued and then we sprayed a soapy treatment that kills the mold and prevents it from forming again. We finally finished mid-afternoon, several hours later than we had anticipated, but probably much better for it. I think next time we have a major problem like that we will be more independent and take initiative to fix the problem ourselves. Our leader Pete is going home for a few days tomorrow, so we are trying to become more familiar with the area and the process so that we can more or less fend for ourselves.
-Robyn Hendrix, â€˜05
P.S. When I tried to view the videos we have up from the churchâ€™s PC today it didnâ€™t work; they should be viewable with Quicktime Player though so if you have trouble, try that. We had a great video interview today that should be up soon!
I am not much of a blog-writer, but because I had a comparatively interesting and productive day, I shall succumb to peer pressure and write an entry.
We worked on Normanâ€™s house again today. We ripped down the walls and floors of several rooms, swept away the rubble, and Jason took down a ceiling. We had plenty of work to do, and we ended up accomplishing much throughout the day. A man currently living in Normanâ€™s house named Javier talked about his experience during the hurricane. His whole house was washed away. He was a very kind man- he got us two pizzas in appreciation for the work we were doing for the house.
One of the rooms that we destroyed was the bathroom, so we used Normanâ€™s trailerâ€™s bathroom when we needed to. One time that I needed to use it, I knocked on the trailerâ€™s door. I thought I heard a noise (a come in?) and I glanced in, seeing his son relaxing on a couch watching TV. I went in, only to be screamed at by Normanâ€™s wife in Spanish. I immediately ran away from the van, as I was scared. Nick was outside, and supposedly he heard her shout â€œDonâ€™t run away!â€ I certainly didnâ€™t hear this, and continued running. I later talked to Norman, and I found out that she had just come out of her bathroom and was zipping up her pants, and that she was not mad but was only surprised. Either way, I apologized.
Another interesting episode with Normanâ€™s wife occurred earlier in the day. Me and Nick were sitting on the porch taking a break, sipping Gatorade and discussing profound political trends when Normanâ€™s wife came running by. She suddenly stopped, pointed a finger at me, and shouted at me, â€œAre you Chinese?!?!â€ I answered no, as it was not so. She quietly said â€œOh,â€ and ran off in the direction which she had been running. Both of us felt that it was quite a random occurrence. Nick later noted that she had been running very fast.
Lastly, after me and Nick had taken our 15-minute break on the porch, we felt that we had slacked off enough and that we should get back to work, since Jason was indeed working very hard alone in the bathroom. I went to join him, when I immediately stepped on a nail on a board that he had pulled out. I immediately felt it, but it wasnâ€™t painful, because it went in between two of my toes! As you can see, I was very lucky. After our church dinner, the pastor always asks the diners â€œWho saw the hands of God today?â€ I am not religiously affiliated, but I felt that it was a worthwhile circumstance to note. I raised my hand and said, â€œI saw God today when I stepped on a nail but it went in between my toes.â€
-Steven Landkamer (â€™09), â€œTeam Badassâ€
Today was another fine day of mucking and Christmas music bizarrely juxtaposed against the ruined Mississippi landscape. Although I canâ€™t claim to have experienced the same level of zany hijinks Steven achieved today, Robyn and I did manage to find some material for this humble weblog, which Iâ€™m sure will be put up here soon. Javier was an interesting guy and his hurricane story helped put some of the real experience into my head. It must have taken a lot of some desirable human trait to be able to stay alive while pushing through that surge current, fighting off snakes, keeping the wife out of trouble and saving your 400 pound neighborsâ€™ butt. I all sounds a bit embellished, but I get the idea that it really isnâ€™t in the way he talks about his friends and neighbors that didnâ€™t make it. I hope that someday rainstorms will stop giving him nightmaresâ€¦ itâ€™s a rather lousy thing to have to take pills for.
I wonder where he gets those pills. Insurance doesnâ€™t seem to have helped him out much. It only covers 12 inches of flooding apparentlyâ€¦ 12 inches doesnâ€™t seem like much of a flood if you ask me. 12 inches from the roof? Thatâ€™s the coverage the guy needs.
After completely gutting out a house in three hours yesterday, Team Awesome was sitting outside and basking in the sun. While hanging out, I noticed a woman cleaning the yard of her devastated house, taking box after box out onto the curb to be picked up by the garbage crew. She brought one final, soggy cardboard box out, which I assumed to be trash, when she walked over and sat down beside her FEMA issued trailer. She started decorating her trailer for Christmas with a bunch of red bows, and the whole thing was just really nice. It was great to see someone who had obviously been greatly affected by the hurricane, but got back on her feet and is finally returning to some state of normality. Among all the destruction, things are starting to stabilize.
-Justin Smith, â€™09 (Team Awesome)
Resources. Economists love to talk about scarce resources. In fact scarcity is the reason our discipline exists. In an event like Katrina, issues of scarcity become immediate and even painful for those suffering the effects of the hurricane. One of the most pressing issues is how to organize and deliver the resources quickly and efficiently to those in need. Broadly speaking there are two models: command or the market.
FEMA is roughly speaking an example of command. A large government agency can literally command the resources to meet various needs. Of course they do have to pay for them but for all practical purposes they can treat the resources as free in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. The biggest challenge they face is delivery and the organizational challenges that entails. This problem is very hard to solve, especially with a large, slow moving bureaucracy which does not have enough information about what is happening on the ground, in the local areas where the disaster is taking different forms and resulting in different needs. We all saw the challenges FEMA faced in the immediate aftermath of Katrina. So command is good at gathering resources but maybe less good at delivering them in an efficient fashion due, in part, to information difficulties.
The grassroots organizations, like Bethel Lutheran Church which is hosting our group, might be most accurately described as a â€œmarketâ€ type of organization, in the dichotomy I am suggesting. (I am well aware that for some the term market is pejorative, but for my purposes these grassroots organizations are part of a certain type of market, a market for relief services if you will, even if that term may not make them comfortable.) Grassroots organizations have the benefit of being close to the problem. They know the communities and sometimes even the specific individuals they are trying to help. This knowledge is quite helpful in delivering the right kinds of services: food or clothing or medical or re-building assistance. So there is a way that the local groups can work better than a larger, command-style organization. But there is a trade-off (isnâ€™t there always). The grassroots organizations typically cannot command resources. They do not have the large budgets governments do and in many cases they have no budgets at allâ€”they simply rely on the kindness of strangers. Strangers like Carleton students who show up at their door and donors who give various in kind donations. (There are also, of course, cash donations, but these tend to be relatively small for local organizations, at least relative to needs.) So grassroots organizations are forced to deliver services for needs they may understand very well (and often much better than larger organizations), with resources that have a certain random element to them. Sometimes the match is perfect: the medical team from the Mayo Clinic shows up at just the right time to deliver medical care for those who have been without regular care in the weeks after Katrina. Sometimes the match is less than perfect: half a semi of frozen Italian food shows up after the most pressing food needs are met.
Or more to the point, twenty bodies show up from Northfield, Minnesota with a certain set of skills and energy at a time when the demand for those skills may be waning, or at least the current list of projects may not be able to use them fully. Of course when a grassroots agency is called and asked if they want 20 able bodies, they would be considered crazy to say no. There is no cost to the organization and to turn down willing volunteers might suggest there are no longer problems to be solved. Yet with this â€œmarketâ€ based, grassroots model, there may be an imperfect fit between resources needed and those available at a given point in time.
So what does this academic discourse have to do with our day? Two of three work crews had full and productive days, as other posts in this blog will report. Some even claimed to have learned some new skills. The third crew felt a little underemployed, having worked half a day to finish a yard clean-up and then being unable to find a second project to occupy them, hence the reflections on underemployment in the disaster relief business. The need is so great that we feel badly to not be able to help in some small way simply because we could not find someone who could use our, admittedly limited, skills today. Tomorrow is another day. â€“ Mike H.
Having just taken the intro to video editing and advanced editing classes in the Carleton Media Studies department, I find myself every night when we return from a hard dayâ€™s work pouring over video clips and trying to find a way to bring this experience back to members and friends of the Carleton community. As Iâ€™m sure my peers have expressed in their entries, being here and seeing the miles and miles of debris that was once peopleâ€™s homes and businesses is pretty overwhelming. Hopefully we will be able to post photos and video here very soon. The morning after we arrived we were taken on a guided tour along Ocean Road, the main road that runs along the shore. Everything on that road was wiped out, and I found myself aiming the camera out the window, trying to keep the picture steady while we drove 45 mph. In some ways viewing something through the lens of a video camera makes one feel more disconnected with the devastation-things donâ€™t â€œhit youâ€ quite as quickly. So I have been trying to balance that while filming here. Looking out the car window didnâ€™t quite make things real to me, but when we pulled over and got out it really started to hit home. Some of the most impressive sights are the huge casino barges, probably about as big as Titanic I suppose, that were pulled inland with the storm surge and hit land-and the hotels and other buildings along the shore. They are like giant, rotting beached whales lying useless and helpless on the land, and were clearly transformed into giant battering devices during the hurricane.
Jason Lord and I hope to post at least one video per day, and hope to do some interviews of both some of the other volunteers here at Bethel Lutheran Church as well as the homeowners who we are helping out during the day. If you are reading this from afar and have questions or ideas about what you would like to see on video or hear about from us, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
â€“Robyn Hendrix, â€™05, Carleton Educational Associate in Art
A lesson in magnitude: FEMA has rented one of Biloxiâ€™s larger hotels for use as a headquarters. Their rent agreement is for five years. Thatâ€™s how long they estimate theyâ€™ll be needed. Lutheran Disaster Relief is planning on being here for eight years. In another sort of lesson in magnitude, last night a few of us met a contractor who claimed he was being paid $50,000 for two weeksâ€™ worth of painting at the Air Force Base here.
Evening, after dinner.
A volunteer I do not recognize approaches me.
â€œAre you with the students from Carleton?â€
Thinking, â€œUh oh. What have they done?â€
â€œA group of your students were with me today on a work site, and they were terrific. We had a big job to do mucking out a house, and they just tore into it. I thought weâ€™d be at the house all day but by 10:30 it was clear I had to go find some other projects to keep them busy.â€
The church is called Bethel Lutheran, and it has become quite a system in the weeks and months since the hurricane blew through. As volunteers arrive, they go through a quick orientation with Bob, the stern leader of the groups. We learned quickly how to fit into the rules and regulations of the Lutherans in charge, adjusting to 7am breakfast, shifting our belongings for church services (the men are sleeping in the sanctuary, among the pews), and signing up for twenty-minute shower times. The facilities are nice, and while it takes a bit of adjustment to shower in a U-Haul, the showers themselves are quite comfortable. While it seemed as though some of the leaders werenâ€™t eager to have their church filled with college students, weâ€™ve managed to win most of them over during the days as we work. Our team has managed to muck out houses at record speeds and clean up the messes that Katrina left behind. Granted, we canâ€™t fix everything that has happened, but weâ€™ve made a good impact on the individuals who weâ€™ve visited. Hopefully our relations with the members of the church and volunteer leaders will continue to strengthen by the time we leave next week.
-C.J. Griffiths â€™06 (Team Awesome)
We spent much of today working with Father Dominic Phan at the local Vietnamese church, painting a warehouse on the grounds that will eventually be used to house building materials for the community. For a long while we wondered how important our task really was â€“ being one of the few structures in the area still standing, its roof repaired, it seemed like there was more we could be doing for others. Yet as a community center, it serves as a symbolic representation of the rebuilding process. Having a place that is rebuilt and functioning, as well as being a spiritual place, allows people to come together with some small sense of normalcy. We’re proud of the work we did, both there as well as across the street, mucking out their garage. We’re looking forward to helping in Waveland tomorrow â€“ neighborhoods that are apparently the worst of them all.
–C.J. Griffiths ’06 (Team Awesome)
I have three brief items to share today. 1) A good part of relief work is just figuring out where and when who needs what. My group spent half the day searching out sites on our list that were not already being dealt with. 2) I havenâ€™t seen anything about it in the papers, but Iâ€™ve been told that the oil spillage from damaged platforms on the Gulf Coast is the second worst in history (the first being the Exxon Valdez). 3) Our campus drivers deserve special thanks for going above and beyond by spending hours behind the wheels while the rest of us sit back in the vans and read, sleep, or gab.
– Joe Glasrud ’07 (Team Invisible Hand)
Drywall and Carpet? Today we went to muck (clear to the studs) a house. The house belonged to a young lady Liza. Her home been flooded by several hurricanes in the past 10 years, and every time she rebuilt. Her defiance was inspiring, but by the middle of the day and the 30th wheelbarrow I couldnâ€™t understand why houses down here are built with carpet and drywall. We spent the morning ripping up layer and layer of flooring to get back down to the original and beautiful, hardwood floor of the house. Sanding down the original hardwood floor would be the cheapest, cleanest and safest way to floor a house down here, yet Liza was already thinking of the carpet she was going to put in. The same goes for the drywall; as soon as it gets wet, it grows mold and weakens, harming those living in the house â€“ canâ€™t there be a better way to finish a house? — Jason Lord â€™06 (Team Bad Ass)
When we were working in a house, a young man suddenly came in. He was a neighbor of the owner of the house we worked on. He talked with us about the hurricane and what had happened around here. Though I couldnâ€™t fully understand what he said, the damage was more than Iâ€™ve expected. Unlike just watching a news program like CNN, hearing his story in person was incredibly shocking. I will never forget the sad look on his face as he told us his story.
–Teruaki Fujiiâ€™ exchange student (Team Bad Ass)
Today I saw the destruction … and the mercy … that a hurricane brings. I came to Biloxi expecting a wasteland. Much of Biloxi is destroyed, yet there are many houses that look fine from the outside. What surprised me was that there seemed to be no logic or reason for what was left and what was gone. Yes, the general trend was that newer and better built homes fared best, but there were plenty of nice new homes that were destroyed next to small old homes fully in tact. After talking to Norman, his house a block form the beach, I found out that debris would pile up behind trees and houses to create a wind block, those houses behind large debris blocks were saved, those exposed were destroyed. â€“Jason Lord ’06 (Team Bad Ass)
Driving along on the Gulf Road toward East Biloxi, one question kept popping into my head: was the hurricane yesterday? A week ago? Surely not three months ago. Garbage was literally everywhere. The boardwalk was missing nearly half its boards and most houses still intact were torn down to its foundation on the first floor. I soon realized that the impact we can have on this place is next to nothing in the grand scheme of things, and while it is always great to help someone in need, the experiences we will take may be more fulfilling in the end. -Jake Qian, 08 (Double agent, Team Bad Ass and Team Invisible Hand)
It seems that in any situation, there is a silver lining. Today while talking to the man who owned the house we were working on I found some proof of this. This is a guy who has his house ruined, his stuff blown away, and his neighborhood inundated by the flood of an era. Still in the middle of his story, just after the bit where his neighborâ€™s roof was blown away, he starts talking about how much nicer the block will be once everything is rebuilt because all the shady drunks and drug addicts will have been swept away. UP SIDES ARE POSITIVE!
-Nicholas Netland (Team Bad Ass)
Breakfast at Bethel Lutheran is served at 7am. This is not in agreement with many of our schedules, but we drag ourselves to the fellowship hall where a nice assortment of rolls and buns await us. So far the food has been both tasty and plentiful.
We take a driving tour of the shoreline at 8:30, passing a couple of military checkpoints along the way. Pete, our work coordinator explains that they are there to discourage tourists from crowding the area and making cleanup harder. We pass through unhindered; our magnetic door signs identify us as part of the relief effort.
The beach would be beautiful if not for the rubble strewn across it. Some structures are harder hit than others, but thereâ€™s debris everywhere we look. This is conjecture on my part, but it looks like some smaller buildings were completely destroyed, their wreckage swept forward and combined. Plenty of big trees have been uprooted and those that havenâ€™t are tilted conspicuously inland.
Some hotels look to be in decent shape except for their blasted out first and second floors. Many of these were the lodgings for Pre-Katrina casino-goersâ€”actual gambling was required by law to happen offshore. The massive yachts that once met this need were washed ashore in the storm. Glance quickly and youâ€™ll mistake them for ruined apartment buildings. About a month ago, gambling interests threatened to pull up stakes, but Mississippi rushed to allow casinos onlandâ€”albeit within 150 yards of shore. â€“Joe, â€˜07
Sometimes I wonder what our purpose is here. I mean, itâ€™s obvious that weâ€™re here to help people affected by Katrina. But how much can college students who are more or less inexperienced with construction really do? Are we really helping mend the physical damage, or are we just taking part in something else?
Today, my team (Team Awesome) mucked out a garage. Of course itâ€™s necessary to do. But how necessary is it, exactly? We werenâ€™t exactly saving someoneâ€™s life. The houses that we fix up arenâ€™t going to be very comfortable, at least not for a long time, and a lot of the people who own them will have a hard time affording the rebuilding efforts. It feels like the entire reason weâ€™re here is just to sort of provide a lattice, to show that the human race does care about each other. And the people that weâ€™re helping are of course grateful for our help, I mean, it obviously helps them, but that doesnâ€™t seem like itâ€™s as important to them as our presence. Even though weâ€™re helping them with their homes, I think itâ€™s much more important to them that weâ€™re helping. I guess what Iâ€™m trying to say is that they donâ€™t care as much about the work that we provide as they do about the fact that we care enough to help them.
But yeah. Good day. Did good work. Et al.
-Justin Smith, â€˜09 (Team Awesome)
A mere week after finals I have been able to release that pent up stress by hammering through walls, tearing down cabinets and the typical throwing tree limbs and exercise bikes into a pile. We put in a good day of work today and Normanâ€™s house looks not quite better but closer to being stripped to the frame. But today, along with the frustration of fighting my filtering mask to fit over my large cheeks, I am confused, angered and horrified. I am not going to repeat what we saw because a lot of the other blogs did a better job explaining than I could but through all of this, one thing that always came to mind was what was appropriate. After hearing the Vietnamese priest tell us about him and his family surviving the 140 mile winds on a boat with the engine full throttle against the current or the young family who tried to fight the hurricane inside their house with water rising to 6-7 feet with the fear of not only drowning with the height of the water but the fear that large pieces of furniture could trap them under the water or the lady who told us about the â€œlovely elderly coupleâ€ two houses down who would walk their dog around the block who didnâ€™t make it through, what is the appropriate response? The natural response for me was to tear-up but is it appropriate to bring the attention away from their horrifying and amazing story to me? Should I be the one comforted just because I really donâ€™t know how to handle such a situation being raised with no more disasters than a flat tire or a bad grade? So I guess I can safely say it has been challenging but I know this will be good for me.
-Erin Alward, â€™08 (Team Invisible Hand)
Driving along the Biloxi coastline felt so lonely. There was a Dennyâ€™s sign with no restaurant to advertise; a casino without a bottom floor; a three story staircase without an apartment building. I saw â€œCaesarâ€™sâ€ sugar packets lying on the ground soggy from the rain the night before. But I didnâ€™t see a Caesarâ€™s casino anywhere.
A few kids rode by on their bikes as I stood looking at the collapsed houses that were now merely piles of rotting debris and realized that there are people who have lived with this for three months. They look at the ocean and miss all the buildings that used to grace the skyline. Now all that is left is emptiness.
Deeper into Biloxi, things donâ€™t seem so barren. Across the street from Normanâ€™s house, a store owner had spray painted on the wall, â€œWe are still hereâ€¦we will rebuild the Gulf Coast.â€ After meeting Norman, and knowing how hard he works and how hard he will have to work, I know that Biloxi will become full and whole again. And if I have anything, I have hope for this town and the hundreds more that will work as long as it takes.
-Liz Crowley, â€˜08 (Team Invisible Hand)
The Group left a snowy Northfield, Minnesota at 8:00 Friday morning, and arrived safely at Cape Girdeau, Missouri, our destination for tonight. The snow lasted up until the Iowa border. The group stopped in Iowa City for an excellent lunch provided by Erin’s parents, and continued on its way down past St. Louis today. We expect to arrive in Biloxi, Mississippi early tomorrow evening.
A group of 19 hardy Carleton students and one fearless economics professor are traveling down to the coast of Mississippi on November 25th, 2005 to lead a hand in cleaning up and rebuilding. This blog is their story being told in real time.