Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Dateline June 24, Chalmette, La.

Greetings from the hot, humid south. The Little Swatara Workgroup has made it through it's second, and so far hottest day of disaster relief at the Brethren Disaster Ministries rebuilding site in Chalmette, La.

This embedded photographer has been painting, trimming, sanding, and sweating with the rest of the crew. Other than a flat tire on route 59 in Mississippi, we have been unhindered by problems and spirits are high--although some youth may have been slower to wake up this a.m.

We have been working in conjuction with the Brethren Disaster Ministries’ St. Bernard project, and as a result have met folks from Sacramento, Calif., as well as volunteers from Americorp.

Having been in New Orleans last year, it's sad to see the effects of three years after Hurricane Katrina. Many houses have been demolished, indicating the low return rate. Daily we see the demolition teams moving through the neighborhoods as they demolish house after house. Equally impressive is the thoroughness of the removal. The concrete pad is left behind and in one day's time, it's hard to tell that a house was just removed.

Neighbors who return appear to have a bond that can only come from weathering through such a common disaster. Their spirit is undiminished, even if it has been tested. Spray-painted messages on make-shift signs and fences attest to the love of community and their neighbors.

As we traveled south down 59 (after the flat tire) we were witness to the visual spectacle of field after field, thousands upon thousands of FEMA trailers, parked in fairly even rows. Picture the largest camper dealership you can imagine and then multiply this view a hundred fold.

After a number of workgroup visits, we sadly also encountered a first, which pointedly expressed the worst of the disaster. The now infamous spray-painted house inspection cross that indicated date of inspection, who inspected, the number of bodies and pets found, has often been explained, but always illustrated with a sample that indicated no deaths. Today we witnessed one inspection cross that may have indicated a death.

Amid the almost mythical retelling of the event, the modest but proud stories of helping to rebuild, the final tally and tragedy of Hurricane Katrina is too easily pushed to the recesses of the imagination and the back page of news and history.

The most often expressed wish from locals as they discuss their situation and the event that so changed their lives, is the desire that their plight not be forgotten. Their request is that others not forget.

We're not even halfway through this work week, and yet the opportunity to connect as a broader community is evident. The youth, advisors, coordinators, and a Brethren Volunteer Service worker continue to enjoy the closeness of shared effort, sweat, and community. And we are eating and sleeping very comfortably in a home that was repaired by Brethren volunteers.

God didn't will the destruction and tragedy. However, He has blessed the response in support, and the tested will of those in the flood. God's love is here...holy ground.

--Glenn Riegel sent this report from the Brethren Disaster Ministries rebuilding site in Chalmette, La., where he was working with a group from Little Swatara Church of the Brethren, Bethel, Pa.

Source: 7/2/2008 Newsline

No comments: