Thursday, April 06, 2006

Fun times

What trip to New Orleans is complete without wandering around the French Quarter? We knocked off a little early today from our cleaning and went downtown for a good meal and a chance to sightsee.

While the buildings and businesses appear functional for the most part, we were all struck by how quiet it was. roads were easily passable without tons of tourists walking around. Only a few Tarot card readers line Jackson Square. And many of the shops were closed at 9 p.m.

More proof there's a long way to go...

part of the club

Everyone I know that came down here during the initial wave of reporting came back talking about the smell.

Today, I got a whiff of it myself when we visited a house that volunteers started cleaning today. It's the smell of rotting meat and whatever else you would have left in your refrigerator that leaves a queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach and an appreciation for the usual unpleasant odors of New Orleans.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Making lemonade

We were driving around a neighborhood in Chalmette right next to the Murphy Oil refinery that was once covered in black slime. I was startled by the image of a statue of the Virgin Mary that still had black streaks across it.

While taking pictures the lady across the street came out and asked what we were doing. Her house looked like it made it through OK, which amazed me. She said it was just a good cleaning job and then explained that what I took for a small home was her garage.

"I had a 500 square foot garage and a 3000 square foot house. Now I have a 500 square foot house and a 3000 square foot garage."

Two double beds leave room for her, her husband and their two children. Next to them is a dining room table and a small kitchenette lines the opposite wall.

She was smiling and joking even though hers is the only family on the block. At least they're at home.

Signs of the times pt. 2

For the most part, people here are surprisingly upbeat. They're just doing the best they can. But their cynicism and frustration is revealed on the signs spray painted on their homes or on boards in front of them. The following came from neighborhoods in Meraux and Chalmette:

"Use this to fill MRGO (Mississippi River Gulf Outlet)"

"The only Bush here is Busch beer."

"Damaged by Katrina. Ruined by Murphy Oil Co."

"I Love St. Bernard"

"For sale as is. Dirt Cheap."

welcome to breakfast!

We're sharing the campus here with about a hundred high school students working on their sprng breaks. Showers and coffee have nothing on these kids for wake up power.

About six of them have taken breakfast duty. They greet each person that walks in the dining tent with a resounding "Welcome to breakfast!" and a mass of hugs. Then, if you ask, they'll read you a story during breakfast. Not a bad way to start the day...

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

No. Thank YOU.

Less than a week after Katrina, Broadmoor Baptist opened its gym as a shelter for 45 members of a Latino family who evacuated to Shreveport.

Six months later the family had a chance to repay the church by opening their home to the missionaries for a homemade meal.

"It's just a little way to say thank you," Elsa Murillo said. "They did so much. They fed us three meals a day. They were asking what we needed. We felt like family."

After a hard days work the group enjoyed the meal and were amazed at the hospitality shown to them -- virtual strangers.

The Murillo family stayed at the church for about five weeks before coming home to Kenner. Murillo found some roof damage and trees down, but everything else was OK. Three other families -- some of whom have nothing -- are still staying with them.

Slowly, things are getting back to normal for her. "I don't know how long its going to be."

new suppplies

Along with my stack of notebooks and pens, I apparently should have thrown in some Kleenex -- I've interviewed two people so far and already had someone cry on me. He said it was the first time he had really shared his story though -- in sevenmonths! I can't imagine holding all that in.

He came out to the relief center to get some food and diapers for his twin toddlers along with some emotional support. "When I come out here and meet people who shake your hand and hug on you, it lets me know that it's going to be OK."

Monday, April 03, 2006

We've hardly gotten into the city and the devastation is still obvious. A Subway proudly announced its open while half the sign is missing. Blue tarps cover a third of the buildings. And FEMA trailers are parked in front of normally clean, modest homes.

We're all set up at Celebration Church, which will be our headquarters for the next few days. The church itself had six feet of water in it and is certainly rustic housing - no sheetrock, lights in some rooms and the guys section is separated by tarps - but it could be much, much worse.

Signs of the times

Just before the Hammond/LaPlace exit we saw one giant billboard on the ground that we guessed had been there for seven months.

The next billboard advertised "mold fumigation" - a need I never thought needed a billboard...

Sunday, April 02, 2006

All packed

I've pulled everything together -- including my dust masks and safety goggles -- and I think I'm ready for this adventure.

This will be my first trip to New Orleans proper post-Katrina. I'm lucky because I get to see the good that's going on. I'll be following a group of folks from Broadmoor Baptist, who are giving up their Spring Break to help in the recovery effort. In a couple of weeks their story will appear in the pages of The Times. In the meantime this blog will give you some more immediate glaces at what's to come.

All I know right now is that we'll be based out of Celebration Church in Metairie. From there the group has a three-fold mission: to work in the distribution center operated by the church, to go into the community to help people clean up their homes and to help the church with its own repairs. Other than that, well, we'll just have to see what happens.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Shreveport in New Orleans

Several groups of volunteers from Shreveport have been helping in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina struck that city. The Times' religion reporter Diane Haag follows a group of volunteers from Broadmoor Baptist Church on a recent mission trip.