This week I'm staying at a very rustic (emphasis on the "very rustic" part) camp in Kiln, Mississippi, just north of Bay St. Louis and Waveland. The house that was the main office of campu was flooded to about the 5 foot mark. I have no cell phone reception there and rare email access.
The devastation is so much more than one might imagine so long after the hurricane. Not only are the houses boarded up or undergoing gutting or rehab, but so many of the businesses are closed and it doesn't appear that they're going to reopen anytime soon. Everything seems to be for sale.
Our students are working on houses in Chalmette, Louisiana in St. Bernard Parish right outside of New Orleans. They're gutting houses, sorting out the valuables to save for the homeowners and pulling out appliances, drywall, floor tiles, carpeting, and whatever else is between them and the frame of the house. If the homeowners decide to rebuild, it's there for them, if not, the houses are leveled to the ground. I haven't seen it, but they say that takes about 30 minutes to go from a standing house to the bare concrete foundation.
Today they heard from Colonel David Dysart, the person in charge of recovery efforts for St. Bernard Parish. According to him, FEMA has basically abandoned the parish and its people. The houses aren't even close to being ready, but FEMA is already asking for their trailers back. Because the hospital there was private and FEMA won't fund private enterprise, they have been unable to rebuild the hospital. The process to get a Right of Entry to start gutting a house is a long and complicated one and that's compounded by the fact that the parish doesn't have the information they need to communicate with the property owners. FEMA has it but won't share it because of privacy concerns. He also told us that the budget for the parish comes from two primary sources, sales tax and real estate tax. There is very, very little real estate tax income coming in, and since so many business are still closed and unlikely to reopne, not so much sales tax either.
I've been out at the work sites with the students yesterday and today. They're really working hard. I've been running the kitchen, which means telling the students what to do to set up breakfast, supervise the students making dinner, and get the lunch-making students set up at night so I can finally go to sleep.
I've seen some really, really big bugs here. I think that they might be considered a new species if anyone bothered to come study them. And I've spent a lot of time at Wal-Mart stocking up on supplied. The kitchen people from last week ordered way, way too much food, but unless we're going to eat bagels all week, I've got to do some shopping. The kitchen we're using to cook for 90 people is small, by the best comparisons. there's one small oven, 4 burners, but only 2 of which can be used at any time, and a scant amount of counter space. And there's no where to really put the pots and metal pans we've been using.
Did I mention the really big bugs?
We were supposed to be staying in Slidell, Louisiana. We went by there on Monday to pick up some of the things left behind when we moved to the Mississippi camp. The place there was formerly a furniture warehouse and the activity and food tents are in the parking lot. The dorms are in the warehouse and the lights are never turned off. And the security guard was wearing a holstered gun. We're not sure why. Rustic beats industrial any day.