We divided into four groups today. Our group started out at St Bernard Parish Community Center where we did a mix of things including cleaning bathrooms and computer lab, doing inventory in food warehouse, and breaking ground for a garden.
We had a couple of really amazing encounters - a guy who stopped to chat while we were cutting sod for a garden who told us about his experiences during Katrina working to save his family pets when the water was more than chest deep. He told us he was on top of his roof with a couple dogs and two cats after breaking a window to rescue two cats floating on one mattress and a dog floating on another. He said a boat came up to him with a camera crew from CNN but they would only take him and not the animals so he passed. We never did find out if he was able to save the animals although he was walking a dog when he stopped to chat. He was a veteran who had served in two wars and who had lost everything he owned in the hurricane.
The second encounter was far lengthier with one of the guys running the community center. His name is Steve Gonzalez and he’s a guy that Charis, a Greenhills student who came on the first New Orleans trip in 2006 had interviewed extensively. I didn’t realize at first that that was who he was but as he told us his story I realized I had heard it before from Charis.
Steve and his wife of 42 years were caught in the hurricane. She was disabled and used a wheelchair. They had been rescued by boat, during which he had badly cut his leg. He was so focused on his wife that he hadn’t paid it any attention and was very lucky that it healed given the fifth in the water. He told us about driving back in with his wife afterwards and seeing nothing alive for blocks and blocks - no insects, birds, dogs or cats but the smell of death all around. When they saw another couple driving the other way both cars stopped and he and the other couple jumped out and embraced. The others said they thought they were the last people on earth. Then they ran over to his wife and hugged her. When Steve and his wife drove on she said “turn on the radio as loud as you can - the silence is frightening!” His wife had died a few months later after a series of strokes brought on by the stress of the whole experience. I can say with assurance that there wasn’t a dry eye in the group as he recounted this story. He’s an amazing guy - was running the kitchen, helping everyone. He told me that he’s there 7 days a week and that being there, meeting people and experiencing so many connections with people coming to help was all that kept him going.
9th Ward -warehouse we worked in - will be used for Rebuild Green-New Orleans