Been a long time since there was an update from the Katrina Relief zone, so I’m going to take a whack at it. But where to begin?
First, the weather. Cold, rain, is this Seattle or what? We had a tough day a week or so ago, when our long suffering dome cover final split down the middle and sloughed off, in a rain storm. Louie and the crew hurriedly covered our stock, and a few days later we rigged a temp cover until a new one could arrive. But if we think we’ve got it rough, all we have to do is literally look out the back door: this man lost his wife in May, and his job and home to Katrina, and is now living in a leaky tent in his front yard. We cleared out his yard, and removed the tree that landed on his house, but he can’t get back in yet because of a typical conflict with his insurance company; they’ve told thousands that since the waters rose first and THEN the storm hit, it was uncovered flood damage and not covered hurricane damage. While the lawyers argue, he and thousands more slowly loose hope.
Work and needs-wise, things are definitely shifting, at least in the Biloxi area. The immediate, hand out food/water/shelter/clothes part of the effort is winding down–in fact, for the time being we’ve closed the donation dome in Biloxi, so we can instead move our work crews inside where they can stay at least a little warmer, as the cold fog of winter slides across the gulf coast.
Instead, we’ve been focusing all our efforts on finding those who’ve been overlooked, like sending teams into Placemines Parish south of New Orleans. Some parts of PP were under 30+ feet of water for WEEKS, so you can imagine what the place looks like.
The Temple crew and the burners with HANDS ON USA in Biloxi have instead been tearing into the hard, dirty work of clearing people’s destroyed homes. In some cases, it’s so they can rebuild. In others, it’s just to clear enough clean space so FEMA has a spot to part the trailer they’ll be loaned for a year.
The absolute best news we’ve had lately came rumbling down the street, when the _wonderful_ people at Doosan Daewoo ( a multinational manufacturing company), who had heard about what we were doing and liked it, delivered to us “to use as long as you’ve got use for em” a BRAND NEW, still-plastic-on-the-seats articulating front end loader and excavator. OK, big whup you might think–till you’ve see what these things can do to a pile of rubble.
And yes, orange “DPW” stickers are already on their way down there, so we can slap em on our new machines.
Our new toys, however, are raising the hackles of the contractors who’re being paid to do similar work, and some politicians are siding with them–what, you don’t want it done for FREE? Politics is intruding all along the gulf coast, from still-locked-down parts of New Orleans ( where we saw the Counter Current group and their mobile media bus at the very laid back New Orleans Decompression and BBQ, and hooked up again with the Third Line Circus folks, both of whom are working in some _tough_ hoods doing crucial work with forgotten communities ), to Waveland where the Rainbow Family is encountering some troubles with their _amazing_ “New Waveland Cafe,” to Biloxi and the no so subtle attempts to push out the poor of East Biloxi, to make way for new developments that are sure to follow last month’s decision to allow casinos on land again.
No matter–there’s an almost limitless amount of need for help to just clean things up so people can get back to work and on with their lives…which is exactly what we’ve been doing. And when it gets dark at around 5pm, we come home for a big group dinner, sit around what appears to be the only allowed burn barrel in the whole city (somehow the police seem to sense we’ve got fire handled ), play guitar, race wheelchairs, and tell stories–the people who have volunteered and showed up in Biloxi are without a doubt some of the most interesting, amusing, funny, well-traveled, most open minded and biggest hearted people I’ve ever had the chance to meet. Lemme tip my cap here to (apologies for whom i’m forgetting): Juan, Max, Richard, Phil, Austin, Chaos, Mischka, George, Brett, Chris, Jeff, Cab, Louie, Cowboy, Gregory, Linda, Andy, Corry, Monte, Doctor, Teresa, Peter, Angel, Erik and all the others– bless you, all
Work rebuilding the Buddhist Temple is nearing completion–which is also why we’re moving our rather large tent city seen here into the dome in the back.
So, what’s next? More of the same, more clean up, more helping people as best we can until…well, we don’t know when. Some of us are jokingly calling ourselves “BEMA” ( Burning Emergency Management Agency, as opposed to the much reviled FEMA), and starting to wonder what we could do at next year’s event to collect resources to help in other emergencies. Meanwhile, volunteers are signed up through Christmas it seems, and some are planning on coming in January. We’ve been having a blast explaining exactly who we are ( we’re the only non-organize, non-non-profit, non-for-profit, non-church group working along the area, except perhaps the Rainbow Family in Waveland) and how we all know each other. Yea, the days are long, and nerves are getting rubbed raw, and some days cleaning yet another pile of rubble gets a little old. And yet somehow we get up, have another cup of Cowboy’s brazilian coffee, another Louie omelet, another morning taping up ankles and knees, and grab our tools, and head out again.
For questions/volunteering in Biloxi, please contact Richard Scott at xxx-xxx-xxxx.