Sunday, May 07, 2006

Report from St. Bernard's Parish

This story is obviously not local fare as Stonehill News tends to be, but it is an inspiring tale of civic responsibility and commitment. My wonderful, beautiful, twenty-something cousin, Amata, filed this report yesterday from New Orleans:

Hey Everyone!

I'm writing from St. Bernards Parish - 20 minutes outside of New Orleans. I have spent the last two months living here at a FEMA camp called Camp Premier. We leave here on Monday and are very sad to be moving on as this has been two of the most amazing months.

St. Bernard was the most completely destroyed region in the gulf. 67,000 plus residents all had their homes destroyed. There was only one structure in the Parish not ruined. The area was hit not only by Katrina, but a total of 4 catastrophes. Hurricane Katrina hit August 29 th, 2005, which caused not only severe wind and rain damage, but also the second disaster, a flood from the levees breaking. The 5 to 28 feet of floodwater that remained in the Parish for roughly 14 days receded only days before hurricane Rita brought about a second flood.

This flood left water in the Parish for seven days as well as lifted the Murphy's Oil tank to rise above its guard walls and spill into the surrounding residential area. This last disaster occurred due to the irresponsibility of Murphy Oil to follow hurricane procedures to fill all tanks, leaving it only one third full. We have spent the last two months living in the area, gutting (mucking) out houses, supervising/leading numerous other teams of volunteers (mostly Habitat for Humanity). Americorps runs the operations of the camp so we have team members running tool distribution, registration and reception, operations, logistics, and leading the other volunteers, most of whom are only here for 1 week.

We live in a tent city, sleeping on cots, using Porto Potties and shower trailers, all meals are provided by the camp and served in a large tent, the mess hall. The absolute best thing about the whole experience is the people that we have met. We get a chance to meet, live with and work with Americorps NCCC members from ours and other campuses, a large number of Habitat volunteers from all over the country, as well as some displaced persons from the area. We also work closely with the St. Bernards Fire Department - who are absolutely amazing. All residents of the Parish, they stayed through the storm and continue to live and work here. They are some incredible guys and we have had the chance to get to know them and hear their stories and experiences.

While working we also frequently have the opportunity to meet the homeowners whose houses we are working on, as well as other residents. It is one of the most illuminating things to meet and talk to the person that you are helping. They have all been wonderful, sharing stories, histories, lives. Some have brought us lunch, or snacks just to show their gratitude, but all have expressed a heartfelt appreciation for our work which just completes the experience.

But all work and no play make jack a dull boy, so trust me we have plenty of fun. Sticking to the motto work hard, play hard. Our days are filled with work, PT (physical training), team meetings and activities, but when we are not working we spend time hanging out with the other Americorps and Habitat volunteers with whom we have become very close. We are also 20 minutes form downtown New Orleans, so we spend many of our weekends exploring the French Quarter and downtown areas.

Our camp has a strict 12 am curfew (which I have only gotten out of a few times because we were out with the guards we have also befriended) so most of the time we will all get a hotel room and just stuff as many of us in there as possible. The most being 17, this makes it affordable of course. The most recent one, however had hard wood floors, who would put hard wood floors in their hotel? I, of course, was stuck sleeping on this floor, missing my cot. So we have our last weekend, which also happens to be the first weekend of Jazz Fest. So we are downtown the whole weekend to go out with a bang. Then we very sadly depart Monday morning for our next adventure.

We will travel to Pensacola, FL for one week to debrief from this project and get briefed on our next project. Then we will return to the great state of LA and spend the next 6 weeks in Thibodaux, about an hour form New Orleans in the SE corner of the state. We don't know much about the project, but we will be building houses with HFH. We will be living in one of the houses they have already built, not finished, but still a step up from tent city.

Anyways, we are excited about the next step, but sad to be leaving this place I have come to call home. I would love to hear from all of you. I miss everyone and want to know how you all are doing.

Lots of love!

Amata Small

1 comment:

  1. I have just read this account by Amata Small 09/22/06 so I hope this will get to the correct person. My wife and I did not stay behind but evacuated for Hurricane Katrina. I just want to from the bottom of my heart to first thank you for all your work and second to thank you for sharing your experience. May God continue to bless you and all. George Osborne