Sunday, June 21, 2009

87/365 Recovery in New Orleans

Early in the morning on Wednesday, we met in the lobby of our hotel, dressed in crummy clothes, closed-toe shoes, and gobs of sunblock, and headed out for a day working with the New Orleans affiliate of Habitat for Humanity.

In the main urban portion of the city, which includes the French Quarter, if you didn't know Hurricane Katrina had happened, you wouldn't know.

But as soon as you cross the interstate into the neighborhoods of the city, the story changes. It's been nearly four years since the storm wreaked havoc on New Orleans and the gulf coast, but even now there are bare foundations and deserted houses that are barely standing.

Habitat is working to increase the standard of living by eradicating sub-standard housing in the area. The homes they're building now are up to Florida's hurricane building codes, and the house we worked on was elevated several feet on cinder-block pillars.

We mainly worked on the outside of the house, putting siding on and starting to paint it.

Oh, and the chosen paint color? Purple.

The homeowner gets to choose the paint color, carpet color, and countertop color inside. Habitat builds a small home valued at approximately $75,000. This one had three small bedrooms and one bath.
The siding is a wood composite siding. They can't use vinyl siding in the area, like we can in Indiana, because it can't withstand the heat and wind.

The high temperature on the day we worked surpassed 95 degrees, with heat indexes in the 110-120 degree range. Wow.

Recovery is a slow process in a low-income area where many residents haven't returned. The two houses next to the one we worked on were destroyed and abandoned, and the blue spray-painted X signals used by search and rescue still remain on the front doors and windows.

We finished working around 3:00 p.m. and headed back to the hotel for a much-needed shower. The team went for dinner at Deanie's Restaurant in the French Quarter, near Bourbon Street.

After dinner we took a stroll through town, venturing briefly onto Bourbon Street itself. And therein lies all the seedy, risque, Mardi Gras-esque party attitude most people attribute to New Orleans. Every other doorway led to a topless bar, with women in lingerie standing as live advertisements on the sidewalk, and people wandered up and down the street from one pulsing music joint to the next.

And I thought Broad Ripple was noisy.

We walked through the street for a couple blocks then decided we'd seen enough. Instead of taking a walk back through the streets of the French Quarter to the hotel, we ventured to the river and enjoyed the riverwalk.

I fell into bed afterward and was asleep so fast I don't even remember my head hitting the pillow.

Camera: First four photos Canon PowerShot SD1000, between 1:00 and 3:00 p.m.. Last photo Canon 40D, 1/60s, f/4 at ISO 1000 at about 9:00 p.m.

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