Remembering Katrina

A few days ago, thousands of people were brought back to the day five years ago when Hurricane Katrina ripped through the Gulf Coast. Thousands and thousands of lives were turned upside down. I can't imagine how difficult it must still be for those people. All of the remembrance news specials bring back a lot of memories for me as well. {And so I was sucked in to watching most of them.}

Almost five years ago, during the spring break after Katrina, I boarded a bus for New Orleans along with hundreds of other UW students as part of John Edwards' program Opportunity Rocks. We didn't know what to expect when we reached New Orleans, but anything we could have ever imagines wouldn't even compare. As we drove across bridges and down long, straight roads, it was difficult to discern where water was supposed to be and where it hadn't receded yet.

We saw boats docked on front lawns, fridges laying on their sides in the middle of roads, swimming pools black with debris, deer antlers mounted on roofs and everything else. After finally finding out cots after a long day traveling {we had problems with FEMA locating our cots}, we found out our assignment. We were to remove debris and gut houses to their students inSt.Bernard Parish, just outside of New Orleans. Our training included lessons on how to spot and kill poisonous snakes and spiders. {Talk about intimidating.}

The block we worked on not only experienced the levee breach, which left 5-12 feet of standing water, but an oil tanker also spilled it's contents on doorsteps. So we pulled on head to toe white jumpsuits, laced up our steel toed work boots, slipped on our gloves, covered our faces with goggles and face masks and got to work. We drudged through about 1-2 feet of oil sludge as we worked to empty the house.

I had never moved anyone from a home, so this as a first experience was definitely odd. There were mice hiding beneath furniture, black mold covering walls and a fridge toppled over spilling water and food remains. It took us about a week just to clean out the one house, but with the rest of the Opportunity Rocks volunteers, we cleaned up most of the block. I wish I could have done so much more.

During the nights, we were able to visit downtown New Orleans and the French Quarter. Most of the French Quarter seemed alive and doing fine, but there were still areas with boarded up windows.

It was an experience that I will never forget.

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