Thursday, March 31, 2011

Katrina Voices Retold

There exists no word that single-handedly describes the sights we have seen, the stories we have heard and most of all the people we have met. Hurricane Katrina was a devastation that claimed the lives and houses of many of the citizens in the Ninth Ward. The trip started off with cleaning up previously owned and presently destroyed property in the Ninth Ward. Although once the location of a house, this land presently looks like a deserted and trashed field. Our first discovery was a dog skeleton covered by dirt and weeds. Next, we found a picture of a young girl that was ripped and hidden under a tree. Even almost 6 years later, the land was still covered in shells from the flooding and looked as though it had not been touched. As we walked further, we uncovered scattered dolls, teddy bears, baby’s shoes, bandanas, cooking spray, food, and shattered plates. These discoveries triggered the reality of the magnitude of Hurricane Katrina

Throughout the week, we worked on a home for Elaine Butler, elderly woman with health problems. Elaine’s life before the storm was beautiful and pleasant, yet Hurricane Katrina ripped this apart when her beloved home was ravaged by more than twenty feet of water taking with it her brothers, her home, and all of her belongings. Elaine evacuated to Atlanta when Katrina hit but her two brothers decided to wait out the storm and were unable to survive. Her younger brother drowned and was found down a block from her house. Her older brother went to the Convention Center and supposedly drowned there, yet this seems conspicuous to Elaine because the Convention Center had no water. Elaine lived in her residence with her brothers which brought them closer. She could not bring herself to return to New Orleans for almost three years. Eventually, Elaine followed her family back to St. Bernard because it holds the roots, history and memories of her family. Unfortunately, Elaine’s journey back to New Orleans didn’t go smoothly. When she applied for the Road Home Program to receive money to rebuild, she was turned down after someone else claimed the address of the house that she legally owned. For years Elaine has been forced to wander around ever since her return to New Orleans. She has lived in a trailer in a parking lot and then was quickly forced out. She was then placed in an apartment that is difficult for her to get upstairs to bed or to shower due to her numerous health problems. She suffers from arthritis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and two knees which have both been operated on causing her to not be able to walk upstairs. These health problems prevent Elaine from working and Social Security and Disability income don’t provide her with enough money to create a livable home. She credits us, the volunteers, for saving her life.

The most amazing part of the trip was hearing the personal stories, the people that make up this amazing city. We had the pleasure of hearing James’ story, a worker at the Annunciation Church. Listening first hand to someone who had lived through the horror of the hurricane and now still lives in New Orleans with a smile on his face everyday was truly incredible. He lost five of his seven best friends from thirteen feet of flooding in his house. He went out to rescue survivors and tried to save babies floating in the water. The stories that he told sounded more like horror movies than reality, but this was his living reality. He explained that we, the volunteers, keep him going and alive. Everyday, he comes to work with a smile on his face because of us. He waits up for volunteer groups to come home because he knows that we bring not only physical help to New Orleans, but we represent hope. His words brought tears to our eyes and he really brought us to understand the meaning of this trip. We are here to do more than just build houses, we are here to rebuild lives. This experience has been unforgettable and we hope to return here in the future to continue rebuilding lives.

--Sarah and Aliza

Today was the most memorable experience of my life. Although we only met a simple and down to earth woman, she changed my outlook on life drastically. While Elizabeth wasn’t directly affected by Hurricane Katrina she was in fact affected by the crime and poverty that came due to the harsh flooding. Elizabeth openly shared her tragic life story with us. Just a few years ago, her 18 year old daughter was shot and murdered and she was shot in the face. Worst of all, her husband was the murderer. She came to Saint Bernard Project for mental help. Even though she was in this horrible slump in her life, she described that “they held her hand until she was back on her feet and in a stable position.” Volunteers were sent to help her physically rebuild her home but they also had an effect on her mental well being. Not only was she so open about her experiences, but she was the most welcoming, cheery, and outgoing woman I have ever met. She brought southern hospitality to another level. She invited us into her home and showed us pictures and memories of her beloved daughter. She spoke of the volunteers she’d met so highly, as if they were truly her closest family. She told us a short story about how this one volunteer worked for two straight days repairing the bullet whole in the wall. This volunteer has and will stay in her heart for the rest of her life because every morning she walks by and touches the place where the bullet pierced the wall. This just showed me how amazing and important our actions are. We bring hope and life to these people. We brighten their souls and keep them living. The most amazing thing about Elizabeth was her personality. Despite this horrific experience, she was able to bounce back and be the most joyful person. She appreciates everything in life and couldn’t stop exclaiming her love for us. I will never forget her story and her inspiring words. She is my hero.


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