Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Miscellaneous Oddities of Disaster Recovery

When they gave us directions to get to the Missionary Baptist Church for lunch they said there would be a "tree in the middle of the road." We all assumed this was a tree, maybe a large one, that had fallen in the storm and not yet cleared off the road. It ended up being an old oak that was growing in the middle of the road. People just drove around it. So the team wanted our official photo, complete with matching t-shirts, made in front of the tree. It was kind of a symbol of Mississippi.

I spent my whole day yesterday trying to figure out how to include pictures in with the text but I still forgot an important picture. Here is the guys putting up wallboard onto the ceiling. We were all so proud of this gadget that I know they wouldn't forgive me if I didn't include the picture of it.


Ron, Beaven and Freddie

But the main thing I want to talk about today is our plastic corrugated tents. When we left in March we all predicted they would be falling apart in six months and we were right. But the reason for the desintegration wasn't what we expected.

I thought the many footsteps on the corrugated material would flatten it out and wear it away to nothingness. But it turned out the culprit was the sun. The ultraviolet rays of the sun dries the plastic, makes it brittle and it cracks at the slightest touch. You could literally turn over in your sleep and poke a hole in the wall with your elbow. In fact, Emily did this once.

It turned out there is a chemical that will protect the plastic from this but when PDA bought these tents they didn't come with the protective coating. The tent manufacturer sent replacement tents free but we still had to go through the effort of taking down the old ones and putting up the new ones. And, after helping with this work for a couple of hours, I can report that it isn't easy to put these suckers up.

Being the analytical folks Presbyterians tend to be, there was much conversation over this choice of housing. It turns out the congressional act that established FEMA in 1988 has certain requirements and people working on the recovery can only have Temporary Housing. That means not even plywood. I looked up the Stafford Act and found it but it has about 5,264 sections and no telling how many pages to it. When I thought of printing it out I remembered we live on a fixed income and I couldn't afford the paper. You would think our nimble congress could amend the act for a disaster that everyone predicts will take at least six years to recover from. But I guess they were all off on tropical vacation with lobbyists when the idea came up.

But it turns out the tents weren't the only thing the sun hates. I found a four inch square of one of the famous FEMA tarps and thought I'd bring it home as a souvenir. But when I looked for it in my bag back home it was only a small and pathetic pile of blue dust. This tells me these tarps are being stretched way beyond their lifespan. I kept seeing wavy ribbons of gauzy-looking stuff around the place. I discovered this is what duct tape looks like after a year in the sun. I gained a new respect for UV rays. Fortunately, Mississippi has a fairly friendly climate (except for hurricanes) and we were actually pretty snug in our humble little plastic tents.

As a matter of fact, because they are built of corrugated plastic you can heat and cool them. While we were there we experienced both heat and cold. I can testify the coolers kept us comfortable at night and when they switched over to heat the night we needed it, we were quite toasty.

Well, yes, the tents did leak like sieves. But the leaks weren't dropping water from the roof onto my head as I slept. The leaks were coming in from the floor and floating our sleeping bags. Aside from the squishy noise this made in the middle of the night I slept very comfortably. And I think Emily and I were the only ones to put our airmattress directly on the floor instead of on top of the cots provided. So we really have no right to complain.

And here's a picture of the famous Dallas. When we left she was still trying to sweet talk that old guy into letting a team gut his house and repair it. Over a year after the storm.


We took Sunday afternoon to go into New Orleans to "stimulate their economy," a nice way of saying we went out to eat. The town was busier than we saw it in March but still not pre-Katrina business. We did drive by the Ninth Ward and sure enough, the houses do have stuff spray painted on them. I couldn't tell if anyone is living in the houses but we saw people on the street in the neighborhood.

The exciting thing about walking around New Orleans in our bright blue PDA shirts is how many other hurricane relief workers we met. We were stopped seven times on the sidewalk by people who were either in another one of the PDA camps, who were maybe Presbyterians themselves, who were helping with the recovery as part of the Methodists or who just came on their own. As you might imagine, the Presbyterians aren't the only people in the gulf who are helping and we found an exciting comaraderie with like-minded people. It was kind of like what you would get if you combined Six Flags with church camp.

Goodbye New Orleans. I'll see you again in December. Save me a beignet.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hi jane!
i got an email via swoop about your needing some technology assistance?

please let me know what your particular difficulty may be. i did not see an email address for you in the email that i received, but feel free to drop me a note at nettap AT gmail DOT com (of course change the at to @ and the dot to . ;))

happy thoughts!
-jeannette