Sunday, October 23, 2005

Come on and join our Convoy!


October 10, 2005
Pass Road, Biloxi Mississippi 6:08 AM

It is time to run. I have a psychologist runner friend who labels people. On one run he asked me to label myself. I said runner. I told him I probably did not want to know what that meant clinically. But I can tell you I do not feel comfortable in a city until I have run in it. It gives me a lay of the land. It gives me my bearings. It let's me sightsee. It let's me think.

The runner in me always trumps the sleeper in me, so at 5:45 AM I head out the door of the HandsonUSA headquarters and went for a run. Understand, that if I were to choose when or where to run, this would not be it. Not only was it way too early, but Pass Road is a major thoroughfare. That means sidewalks, which are hard on feet and legs.

Or I could run on side roads that all seem to dead-end before getting anywhere. But better than sidewalks. So I turn down side streets. I go past house after house with roofs damaged by Katrina. Trees lay by the sides of many of the homes and almost every house has piles of debris awaiting pickup piled in front. And every house had something else too. A yappy dog.

I had planned on just doing 45 minutes of loops around West and North streets. But by lap two, I was pretty sure every house not only had a yappy dog but that each yappy dog wanted to say hello when I went by its home. At 6:00 AM “hello” is too much, and besides their barks were decidedly not “morning voices”. So I gave up my idea of laps and decided to try the sidewalks along Pass Road.

This was not turning out like I had hoped. But as if to give credence to the "It's always darkest before the dawn" saying, things began to brighten. I turned left onto Pass Road at the detroyed gas station and almost immediately I am met by a convoy of utility trucks heading out for another day of fixing wires and making sure the region has power. One after another the trucks rolled by. A seemingly endless line of workers going out to speed the region’s recovery from the catastrophic damage of nearly six weeks ago.

Growing up we went over to my grandparents’ house almost every Sunday. They had an 8-track player that I loved to play with. One of the songs on it Convoy. I had no idea who sang it, but remembered one of the lines from the song: “come on and join our convoy,…ain’t she a beautiful sight.”

Maybe it was the time, maybe a serious lack of sleep, maybe it was that I had not thought of the word "convoy" for a very long time (unfortunately it does not come from Spanish which would make the story that much better). But whatever it was the song stuck in my head.

As I ran towards the areas of the worst destruction, areas where military personnel would eventually block my entrance, I could not get the song out of my head.

And it dawned on me, that that is what we were doing. That is what all of the volunteers were doing. Unknowingly, we had joined a convoy; a convoy of people from around the country. We had all come together to help people we did not even know.

The run progressed as I dwelled on the mental picture. It really was a convoy--a convoy of people helping others. People from Handson, people from every one of the scores of relief agencies across the area, and everyone at the utility companies, the National Guard, the Air Force, and of course the local people who set aside their troubles to help their neighbors had literally and figuratively joined a convoy.

After a few miles of being lost in thoughts of the convoy, I suddenly realized it was time to head back. But I also realized the sun was coming up and I lucky enough to be witnessing a beautiful sun rise. How appropriate. The sun was not the only thing making a comeback. The region itself was in the process of coming back, with the help of a great big convoy. A convoy that you can help.

"Come on an' join our convoy, ain't nothin' gonna git in our way"

Lyrics from Convoy by C.W. McCall.

“Cause we gotta great big convoy, rockin' through the night
Yeah we gotta great big convoy, ain't she a beautiful sight?
Come on an' join our convoy, ain't nothin' gonna git in our way
We're gonna roll this truckin' convoy, cross the
Convoy... Convoy..”

Sun-Herald: Aerials of Katrina damage

Richard Smith forwarded the following. The aerial pictures are really amazing. They are from the SunHerald. The destruction is simply horrific.

Monday, October 17, 2005

NPR : Hurricane Rebuilding Hinges on Costs

I think that those of you who have been to Biloxi (or are there now) will find htis interesting:

"All Things Considered, October 16, 2005 · This weekend, urban planners have been meeting in Biloxi, Miss. They're drafting design concepts to rebuild Gulf Coast communities that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. But they're encountering a big problem. Stricter hurricane codes could make rebuilding too expensive for many people who lost their homes."

Friday, October 14, 2005

Walls do fall

Monday 10/10/05 East Biloxi

“Hey Alex, do you want to be part of the biggest one yet? Check this out!” Alex was a large playful college-aged volunteer from Connecticut who just happened to have a “Mohawk”, was as strong as an ox, and liked to help people tear things down.

I showed him the wall that had been so carefully prepared for removal. As any "gutter" worth his/her salt knows, one does not just pound on walls with reckless abandon. No, all that does is to break the wall into small pieces that will take forever to pick up and remove. Rookies learn quickly the art of prying with just the right amount of leverage and force, of patting the back of the wall with the flat of a crow bar, or better yet--for the brave (and sometimes foolish)-- ones own hand.

Tearing down this wall, like virtually everything down here, had been a group effort. One person had taken off the molding around the wall, another removed the disco-era paneling, and yet another volunteer has loosened the nails on all sides of the wall. All for this moment—it was a gutters dream: we were behind the wall! By tapping around nails just hard enough to loosen the drywall, one group push could push over a large portion of the wall.

But this one was even better--it was a double layer. The drywall that we had been working on was still connected to the paneling (and wall paper) on the other side. If done correctly, a concerted effort might bring down both walls at once.

Of course obstacles remained. There was a vanity that had to be removed. Oh and the water had not been turned off. But hey, no guts, no glory.

“Alex, give me a hand here, would you?” We tried; we pushed. The wall gave. Not much but some. Then the vanity stopped our progress. Amateurs would continue to push, continue to pound their heads against the wall in vain, or simply give up. But by now we were professionals: we eased off knowing that strong persistent efforts would eventually win out. We temporarily handed the job off to Ben and Nate. They disconnected the plumbing. And sure enough, once the water had been shut down and the vanity moved away, a victory happened: the living room and bathroom wall both came down in one full swoop.

But victories can be fleeting and the road to success is rarely without roadblocks. Our initial elation was quickly squashed by the sight of not one, but two bedrooms on the other side of the bathroom. Magnifying our new found despair was the fact that the rooms were both full of personal items and were dark, dank, and full of mold.

At about this time the family that had lived (and likely will live) in the house showed up. At first they stood timidly watching this team of weirdly dressed people tear apart their home. However, after some exploratory “hellos” and “how are yous” they said they wanted to help. We outfitted them with gloves, masks, protective eye glasses and welcomed them to the “team”.

If our roles had been reversed, I am not sure how I would handle it. But I sure hope I would perform as well as they did.

Working side by side with total strangers, the family picked up their belongings, their treasured keepsakes and family heirlooms and then unceremoniously dumped them in a garbage pile in front of their house. Without batting an eye.

This would have been more than many people could handle, but they went further. This family, who had survived in their attic for seven hours as the water shook the house, helped gut the structure itself. The work was not fun, but the family did not complain. They yanked shelves off of walls, they thumped on moldy drywall until it came crashing to the ground, and they hauled an endless train of trash barrels to the curb.

Oh, and something else happened. Something that may have been more important than any of this. It wasn’t apparent at first. But gradually, as they carved away at their house, they began to talk with us. They even laughed a few times as their mood improved; their mental state had begun to heal. The world was no longer stacked quite so high against them. They saw that they were not alone, that others, complete strangers, were willing to work with them and aid in the recovery process.

Just like tearing down drywall, tearing down mental walls requires a concerted effort. It does not happen instantly. This family suffered terribly at the hands of Katrina. Their home and lives will never be the same. But maybe, just maybe, both will be better off in the end.

I hope so.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Ebb and Flow

East Biloxi MS

October 6, 2005 12:30

You've heard them. Cliches that have no meaning.

Things like "Life is a series of ebbs and flows", "Good follows bad", "It's always darkest before the dawn". Yada, Yada, Yada.

But we know better don't we, We know that they are just a bunch of sayings to keep people's spirits up. They are not true. Are they? Today's events may make you rethink that view!

We were on cloud nine, we had just finished a big job and were heading to lunch. But more importantly we were going to see Donnie Osmond. “Donnie, Donnie, Donnie” the chant rose from the back seat as I drove to Compassion Central for lunch. It was afterall the main reason we awke this morning, the main reason we were in Biloxi at all. Lunch with Donnie. It doesn't get any better than that. I hope I can get a seat.

As we got there, something was not right. The crowd was smaller expected and even smaller than it had been the day before.

“Mmm, I wonder why?”--I pondered the possible explanations:

a. Donnie Osmond is not the draw that some would like to think.
b. The weekend was over and people had gone back to work.
c. It was too late in the day for the big lunch rush.
d. They were serving hot dogs and beans
e. Donnie was not there.
f. All of the above

The correct answer is F. All of the above.

NO WAY! No one answered it correctly. I mean most people could understand the choices "b" through "e", but choice A is so ludicrous as to be just silly. Maybe I better go back and check the key.

But alas, we survived.

True our psyche was battered to the degree that not even MREs and the cute puppy who was playing by our table could lift our spirits. No Donnie. NOOOOOOOO!!!!

But as saying goes: "it is always darkest before the dawn." And today the saying was actually true.

Following the Donnie Debacle we rebounded with the best afternoon we have had there as the Handson volunteers (no longer just the interior team, but the entire organization came together in a way that could become a standard for synergy in many large corporations.

I will post more about the rest of the afternoon later (look for an essay on walls tumbling) but the short and so so sweet version what happened is that the team leaders led and all of the volunteers pulled together (with even some home owners) to get more done in a single afternoon than many organizations could pull off in a week.

I do not know the final count, but I know that we gutted a house (the initial job) and then by relying on communication across groups and by splitting the groups and recombining them, and much help from one of the family’s we were supposed to be helping, Handson got about 12 EXTRA people out of dangerous homes and into FEMA trailers in the next three days.


As Ben reported at the meeting later that night back at Handson “it was just an amazing afternoon.” Or to me about the Bona people: "today alone made your flight down. That was really something. They were great!"

But I cannot stress enough, he could have said the same to anyone that was out in the field today. The overall team was just that good.

And to think that it all came after the crushing events news that Donnie was not there.

Maybe it really is darkest before the dawn.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Go get a hose. Now!

Day Four-Biloxi

What a day! I am fairly certain that I could write a book about today. But given the time and the fact that we have an amazingly early flight and, as Rascal Flatts say, “those planes, they don’t wait”, I hope to keep this entry to be much shorter and use many of the other ideas for future essays.

I will continue my tradition of making you wait for the good stuff and just tell you the basics today. Yeah right. ;)

Once again the group from Bonaventure split up. However, unlike a normal essay, I am going to start off by writing about what I know the least and have no first hand stores to share with you. I am going to talk about the tree crew. Why? Because I have heard so much good about the work of Andy, Annie, and Bridget that I felt they deserved more credit than I have been giving them.

I have been hearing many good things from those who have worked with them, how even “the girls” were hauling huge logs and how Annie even got to drive a tractor.

But perhaps the best came from their group leaders, who independently came and “begged” us to stay an extra day because they felt that the Bona students were irreplaceable. This despite the fact that 40 members of the Air Force are were working with the Tree people tomorrow and probably at least ten of them on “Trees”.

So while I may not know much about the tree teams, I do know that the tree teams have been doing a wonderful job of cleaning up yards so that FEMA trailers can be brought in for those who are (or should be) still homeless. And from absolutely everything I have heard from the top down, Andy, Annie, and Bridget have played incredibly important roles over the last few days in this effort.

And now back to your regularly scheduled update on what the Interior team did today.

Wow. No Double WOW (uh WOWWOW?)

I keep myself pretty busy. Between teaching, doing research, blogging, working out, working at “the store”, renting out four apartments, and ordinary things around the home, I consider myself quite productive. But today was probably the most productive day of my life and I never opened a book, taught a class, did a grocery order, and only ran once.

Our first job was a duplex to be gutted. Ben and Jeff were again team leaders and allowed us to self-select into which side of the house we were going to concentrate on. The Bona contingent of Christine, Meghan, Sean, Mary, and I went left.

The job got off to a sort of slow start as our side of the building was still full of furniture, clothes, and other personal items that had to be cleared before the real gutting could begin. However, like most jobs—and all good stories, one thing led to another and before we could really empty the house, we had to clean the yard to allow for a path to the street.

Shortly enough however we got started at actual gutting and almost immediately after the first crow bar clang, I heard “S**t not again” echo out to the yard where I was still trying to clear the front yard. Any seriosu gutter need not even ask why the profanity. Yep, layered walls.

At first I made only occasional forays into the building as I was still not happy with the way the garbage was being piled. Yeah you read that correctly. Sure, you may think that any pile of garbage is just as good as any other pile, but now working on house #7, I had learned better. As Sean pointed out, there is a learning curve to almost everything in house gutting. It is suffice to say that I moved much of the early pile to make it “just so.”

Once correctly positioned, the pile grew with amazing alacrity. Trash buckets and people carrying furnitures, house fixtures, armful of mildowy clothes, and actual garbage made countless trips in and out of the small house as people began pounding walls on each sid eof them. Add to this mixture the fact that it was hot. Probably the hottest it had been since we came down. The sweat was pouring off of the workers.

You couldn’t pay people to work in conditions like this. No, you couldn't pay these people becasue they had all volunteered and traveled from a far to help people they did not even know.
Just were do these people come from? I made it a point today to ask just that question. Some of their answers? Arizona, Northern Virginia, Florida, Memphis, New York and Vermont (that is not a typo, she answered both!), New York, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Arizona. Ron, who hails from Arizona and hence knows a thing or two about heat, called a mandatory water break.

With everyone out of the building, I went back into see the progress and to take some pictures. The right side was largely cleared while the left side was progressing more slowly but nicely as some walls were now totally down.

Refreshed with the water break, the team went back at it with a vengeance. Quickly the dwelling was a cacophony of pounding hammers, walls boards hitting the ground, grunts, groans, jokes (“hey fatty”), comments on how excited each would be to really see Donny Osmond, comments on the heat, and requests to trade tools. It was a masterpiece.

And we flew. In almost no time, it was nearing completion. When we realized we had failed to empty the kitchen counter cupboards. How? I have no idea. But we had. So since I was doing nothing at the time but watching others work, I decided to empty the cupboards.

The next thing I heard was Sean’s raised voice almost yelling “you are leaking!” The race was on. It was a three way photo finish.

The results, when finally in, may make useful fodder for a study of human reaction times to various sensory shocks. I think the correct order of finish was: Hearing, Touch, Smell. Milliseconds after hearing Sean’s “almost scream”, I felt a liquid running down my leg, and a little bit later I smelled truly the worst smell I have ever smelled. I do not know what it was. I do not want to. But oh how it smelled. Worse than bad . Unbelievably bad. Worse than unbelievably bad. Unimaginably bad.

Even before the contestants could be called the line, the second feature of today’s race card was how fast everyone could race away from Jimmy.

I was left to wallow in the stink. As I took the remainder of the garbage from under the sink, the usually quiet Ben gave me a direct order “go find a hose. From anywhere. Knock on the door of a neighbor, just get the smell off you!”

As I walked up to the neighbor-with-a-hose’s house, two dogs started howling. I am not sure if it was that they were being protective of their home, or they were in severe pain. After all a dog’s nose is much more powerful than a human’s. Poor dogs.

The hose, plus some Lysol found under the sink, worked. I could go back to work.

It was almost lunch time. Donnie Osmond time. Ben said we had to finish. He was cutting us off in three minutes. The rooms, already busy, turned into a maelstrom of shoveling, throwing debris out windows to parked trash cans, wheel barrels, and waiting hands.

And like that, we were done with the duplex.

It was Donnie time!


Sorry, I really do have to get some sleep. I will try and write more tomorrow. However, it is a travel day and I am not sure how much time I will have.

But I will definitely write more when I get back to Bonaventure. I just counted, I have at least 25 more stories that I want to write up.


Monday, October 10, 2005

Day 3: So many things to write about, so little time

Day three: Biloxi

People say writing is hard. They generally claim there is nothing to write about. I agree writing is hard. But not for the standard reason. Rather writing is hard because there is too much to write about. How do you choose?

Take today for example. I began thinking about what to write about on my morning run. And I had a few really good ideas. Then several times on breaks I thought, oh what a cool idea. I even had fellow teammates suggest topics. It was really bugging me. I stalled, I procrastinated. I found reasons to not write (doing dishes, washing the floor, checking the kitchen as if it were the deli at one of my family’s grocery stores).

Finally I decided. I would write about two different things. Indeed, here was my opening paragraph:
“Today’s blog entry is really going to be two separate essays. One on the work we did, and one on the people we met. Since patience is a virtue, I think I will save the people essay (the better of the two for last).”
However, plans change and so at the end of the first essay I decided that enough is enough. If I make it too long no one will have time to read it. (And besides I need my beauty sleep!) But, in making that decision, I implicitly made a second decision as well: to continue these essays after we leave.

So whether you are reading these back at St.Bonanventure or here at HandsonUSA, don’t quit checking the blog once we leave. I quick mental list of topics from today alone gives me about six different things I could write about.

So I will save some of the better stories for later. Don’t worry, I couldn’t forget them if I tried! And trust me, once you read them, neither will you!

Today’s work:

As mentioned yesterday the Bonaventure group split up today. Andy and Bridget went on a tree team, while The rest of us (Christine, Meghan, Sean, Mary, and me) again tried our hands on what some call interior design, also known as house gutting. We had new team leaders as Rick had to return to his teaching duties. Ben and Jeff were in charge.

If you ever need an example of how differing managerial styles can each lead to the same end, I present Rick vs. the team of Jeff and Ben. Rick was much more vocal. Telling us what should and should not be done. Ben and Jeff were quiet. But by any standard, each was remarkably successful.

We began the day earlier today. Our first job was the completion of the apartment that we had worked on for so long the previous day. It was slow work. The ceilings had to come down, the insulation removed, the mega sized aquariums, which smelled much like one would imagine mega-sized aquariums with sea water that had sat for over five weeks smelling, had to be drained and removed. Oh, and then it turned out there was another apartment (separate from the rest, but part of the same job) out back.

Agonizingly slowly the job got done. And to a person, we were all so very glad to move on to the next job site. This happened to be directly across the street. It was a single family house with multiple closets still full of a lifetime of memories, books, and ironically, the same style of NFL sleeping bag that I grew up with (a definite “this could have been me” moment.)

This job went super-fast. It was the “team” clicking on all cylinders. It was amateurs working as if they were trained professionals, relying on effort and ingenuity to make of for a lack of training and experience. We flew: carrying out still wet clothes, laying personal items aside by the fence, knocking down walls, carrying drywall to the street, removing cabinets, and more. In what seemed like only minutes (but was probably more like two hours) we were done.

Lunch time. As a rule, I do not eat lunch. But since we had just finished one job and the next job was a ways away, I went to lunch. I am glad I did. It was at a special area set up to allow hurricane victims and volunteers to eat. I do not know who organizes it. I have no idea how long they have been here or if every day is as well organized as today was, but my hat is off to them today. For as refreshing as the food and drink were (I had at least 3 of the semi-frozen grape drinks) it was even more refreshing to see that people from various groups around the country are lending a helping hand. So from me (and I am sure the thousands and thousands who may not say it) thank you.

After lunch our forces were strategically split between two nearby houses. While each house was quite small, they had the annoyingly common problem of having multiple layers of walls. As one who can now think of himself as a gutter, I bet I will never touch a wall again without thinking “mmm, I wonder if there is dry wall behind this wood paneling?”. It is awful. It makes taking down walls exponentially more difficult.

While those of us at the main house suffered from this layering, Sean and the others that went to the second house had it worse. They had three layers! It was so bad there that the job was called off after one large room was conquered at the expense of several hours.

Save a minor mishap with a nail to the foot of a fellow gutter (from Philadelphia), our house went quite well. By now the team of amateurs was rounding into playoff shape as we continually came up with new, and faster ways. (For instance, if you lay down the garbage hauler, it loads in about half the time. And I would know. It was my turn to take out the garbage. Again and again and again.)

After finishing the job, Ben and Jeff gave us a choice: we could clean a lawn, or we could start another interior project. We chose the former.

The drive to the lawn project took us through some of the worst areas. This time were driving through what we had seen off of “90” yesterday. It was horrific all over again. I do not know how else to say it.

When we got to the street of the lawn project we could not find the correct home. So the runner up candidate: beginning the next interior project was elected. This too however was to be an incomplete job. Here, while there was work to be done (the mold was so bad in one room that even with masks it was unbreathable), shockingly, there were people sleeping in the house. So after speaking with the people and trying to arrange a later date for the work, we returned to HandsonUSA base camp.

All in all a very productive day.!

Assorted notes:

* Bridget and Andy each said that “treeing” went well and that it was hard to do.
* Meghan had an amazing interview with a survivor. I would love to include it in its entirety on an upcoming podcast.
* Andy got to walk down to the beach.
* Mary, Sean, and I did dishes following dinner. It is a good way to spend the time and faster than cooking.
* Mary, Christine, and Meghan all had great times destroying walls. They worked very hard. I do not think that it came out enough in the essay. But they did. (and for me to say my sister worked hard is really to say something!
* Sean is helping to cook dinner again tomorrow
* Work teams generally carry food and if they see dogs or cats, try to feed them. Dave “Biloxi or Bust” fed a dog today. Unfortunately we did see a very thin cat and had not food. Hopefully we will be able to find it again tomorrow.
* Great timing huh? One of the funnier things that happened today was near the end of the day. We were all absolutely filthy and had been working all day in some of the foulest smelling environs imagineable. In the last room what do we find on the ground but a spray bottle of odor neutralizer.
* I spoke with Larry Orsini. He is still outside of New Orleans. He sounded like he is doing a great deal of work! He reiterated that he and his wife will be coming down again and will also return for our March trip.
* My second run (40 minutes, 34 in AM) today was in a new direction. Both runs were pretty good, but my feet do have some blisters from wearing boots all day.
* It is amazing how nice everyone here is. I can see why people want to stay for as long as they possible can.


I am not sure what tomorrow’s team will look like. I think we will be gutting more houses. Stay tuned.


Sunday, October 09, 2005

Biloxi Day 2--This is amazing

Day 2: Gulfport/Biloxi HandsonUSA Headquarters

Hi again!

Our second day was really amazing.

I have been debating about how to write this one up all day. The problem is not what I want to say, but that the people I am writing about are also going to read it as well. And I have to live with them. But oh well, I’ll chance it. They deserve it!

But first you have to hear about our day.

Sure enough we arose early 5:45. I was out the door running by 6:10. The run was better than yesterday. About 50 minutes through the side streets off of Pass Road. The damage was definitely more severe the further south I went. Indeed, it was not too far before the roads were closed and I could only look towards the water at an absolutely beautiful sunrise (something I almost never see with my regular hours ;) )

Rick (a school teacher from Bucks County Pennsylvania) cajoled the Bona contingent to going with his interior crew that “guts” houses rather than the tree crew that we had originally planned. The drive to East Biloxi where we would be working would take us past military checkpoints and into the area down by Route 90 by the water.

As we entered the zone, hushed cries of “look at that” sounded from everyone in the car.
The destruction is shocking. Some buildings are just gone. Others are damaged beyond repair. The large beachfront hotels (presumably built to withstand strong storms) suffered major structural damage. What houses that do remain, are, and in most instances will remain, uninhabitable. It really is beyond description.

We then turned away from the water and drove past street after street of houses that while still standing, had suffered catastrophic damage. Most homes in this area were small one storied homes. We saw relatively few people and many that we did see were riding bikes on streets lined with the remnants of the homes and yards.

We parked and walked about three blocks to the first “job”. After Rick gave a brief description of what our work would entail, we got to work gutting the house.

Everything has to go. Everything. Absolutely everything. Furniture, clothes, shoes, aquariums, walls, ceilings, and floor coverings. Everything.

And, after a look at each other as if to say “no way”, we did it. I would again remind you that this was my first day in the field, so I can’t compare our “team” to other volunteer teams that have obviously worked under much more challenging conditions (we are after all more than five weeks post Katrina). That said, I have worked pretty much my entire life in my family’s grocery stores. I played basketball and baseball from second grade through high school. I ran cross country and track in college. I have worked with, studied with, ran with, biked with, and played with people who I would argue are the nicest anywhere. I have never seen a group of people come together and work so well together in such a short time.

And work it was. The drywall, the paneling, bathroom fixtures, the ceilings, the floor coverings, EVERYTHING. And not only does it have to be torn apart. It also has to be taken to the street. And in a seemingly unimaginably short time, it was done. Only the exterior walls, studs, and supporting beams remained.

My best description of what the job is like is that we tore down a house with a few hammers and crowbars. No power tools. No heavy equipment. Just a few basic tools, elbow grease, and a lot of heart.

And like that it was done. And on to house two.

This house called for extensive lawn clearing. Unlike the first home, the person who lived here stopped by as we cleaned. He rode out the storm on his roof. His roof stayed on his house. He was lucky: as he was telling us this, we cleaned his neighbors’ roof from his backyard.

After a break for lunch, the third job of the day. This was an apartment house. Actually I can not quite grasp what it looked like before. I did try. But it just seemed like a hodgepodge of rooms connected by a long hall.

Even without knowing much about architecture, it was readily apparent that this building had gone through many remodels and additions: cinder block in some rooms, dry wall, on top of 1970s era paneling in others. It was not fun. Pulling dry wall was fun. This was not. It was dirty, grimy, and sweaty. To say nothing of the crack, porn, and cockroaches. (yeah you read that right.)

I was told (and have not yet verified) that a resident had drowned in the building. Water through the area was about 12 feet high, so it is definitely possible, probably probable.

The apartment was larger than the other jobs we had today and slower as well so Rick called us off just before 5:00. A little more work remains to finish its gutting, but not much. We’ll finish it tomorrow.

I would love to mention everyone who worked on the team today by name. To individually give them the credit they deserve, but I can’t. With hats, safety goggles, and masks required equipment, I know many by only the color of their tee-shirt. I know some were college students from North Carolina State. I know some moved to Tennessee last year, I know some were from Massachusetts. I know Rick is from Pennsylvania. I doubt I will ever hear from many of them again. They were amazing today. All of them. The ones I mentioned and the ones I didn’t.

Fortunately, I do know the ones from SBU and can give them the credit they deserve.

To a person, Annie, Bridget, Christine, Meghan and Sean performed amazingly. I have tons of pictures to show of them working. But the pictures only partially tell the story of hauling load after load of garbage, of the cockroaches, of the smell.

I grew up in Olean and went to St. Bonaventure as an undergrad. So I have a long history with the school. I remember when I started my MBA with students whose undergraduate degrees were from prestigious Ivy League schools and realized that my education at SBU was just as good as theirs. I remember the basketball team taking Kentucky to double overtime in the NCAA tournament. But I had never been as proud of Bona students as today.

My hat is off to you all. “You done good.”


In unrelated news Andy Hartnett and my sister Mary made it down today. They arrived after we had already left for our jobs so they got stuck at headquarters. However, each made full use of their time here. They moved supplies and helped to build (and then stock) a “supply wall” for the provisions (masks, boots, gloves, cleaning supplies, etc) needed for HandsonUSA volunteers.


Tomorrow we currently plan on splitting up. Some want to try their hands on a tree crew, while the rest of us will return to the interior team.

But it is time to sleep now. This was much longer than I had planned.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Gulfport Day one

Hi from the HandsonUSA base camp in Biloxi MS. We made it in today with no real problems (One student missed his plane, but will be coming tomorrow).

If you can get a window seat on the plane in. You can see some of the destruction. We must have really looked like out-of-towners as we came in from the airport snapping pictures of signs and trees down etc. Dave picked us up from the airport and despite traffice, we had no trouble at all getting to the Volunteer shelter.

We got in too late to do much today (Sean helped cook and I did dishes, but that was about it as far as I know). The others got acclimatized and met our new neighbors.

Since there was little for us to do at the time, I ran for about 35 minutes. I did not get very far since I had no idea where I was going and did not want to get lost so I kept circling around Military housing and a local park, but will say that very few houses that I saw did not have damage. Many trees are missing large branches or are down all together and few trees escaped without some damage.

I stopped at one point to offer help to a lady who was putting a tarp over her damaged home. While she refused the help, she must have said thank you about a zillion times. Then 10 minutes later I came around the loop again and she again yelled out thanks.

The people here are very nice. Amazingly so. Almost too nice. After dinner there is a meeting where the new people introduce themselves and each group leader tells of what their group did that day. It was very impressive (and pretty funny with so many SBU people. A very good showing :) It became a joke, even those who were not frim SBU stared saying they were) Some of the stories those who have been here for a while tell are amazing. And heart warming.

If you plan on coming down (highly recommended) I would suggest not bringing as much as you fear you might need. Food, water etc. are plentiful in the camp and you don't have time to change clothes much anyways, so why bother carrying it? But bring a flashlight!

Tomorrow is an early day--6 AM run, 7 AM breakfast, 8 AM work. The Bona crew (Annie, Bridget, Christine, Meghan, Sean, and I) will be helping cut and haul trees and debris from homes. So I am sure it will be a full day.

My sister Mary and Andy will be arriving around noon to help as well.

Stay tuned for more updates, but it is now time to sleep-- (2 nights in a row of 3 hours of sleep make today a catch-up night)

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

"Operation Bring Animals Home" - a photoset on Flickr by DanaKay

I haev been emailing with Dana for a few weeks now about her rescue trips. Indeed many of the pictures used for the presentations have been from her. She just made her third trip down to the Gulf. This one to St. Bernard Parish.

3rd Animal Rescue Trip - New Orleans - "Operation Bring Animals Home" - a photoset on Flickr: ""

THe pictures tell a story of suffering. Her words tell one of hatred. I again ask, how can people behave like this.

I hope to have an interview with her on this blog. I can not do teh mental gymnastics necessary to have me put it on the FinanceProfessor blog, but hopefully, this will get the word out.

In my last email to her, I mentioned that I now have some understanding oh how the Holocaust happened. (as long time friends and readers of my websites know, this has been soething that has troubled me for years. How could the world not stop it.

From my email:
"Somewhere in the back of my mind I have been hoping
the the DallasNews video and the shooting stories
coming out of SB have been faked, that things were not
that bad.

I guess I now know how the holocaust happened. No one
wanted to believe it. And the killing continued as the
good people turned their heads not wanting to believe the stories they were hearing."

Check out Dana' pictures, and if you can spare a few buck (or more) why not give her a hand for gas for her next trip. (and tell her you want to hear an interview with her! ;) )

Monday, October 03, 2005

Pictures from Gulfport and vicinity

Many pictures from the Gulfport/Biloxi region where we will be going.
News : Photos/Multimedia --

Also Handson is posting new pictures on almost a continuous basis. Be sure to check their site out! They even have a set just of what their "headquarters" is like.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Alumni after race II

alumni after race  II
alumni after race II,
originally uploaded by FinanceProfessor.
I had never tried to link the Blog with my flckr account, now I have :) This is from the SBU Alumni Race on 9/24/05
For more pictures from the race check out the following link: