Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Renters face tough road

While homeowners have received much of the coverage since the storm, renters are having a tough time as well.

Not only did renters lose their abode, but many are in dire financial straits even before the storm. For instance WLOX considers Brandi Moran.
"Before the hurricane, she rented a house for five years in East Biloxi. Her rent was $500 a month."
Now the cost of living and rent has gone up to much for her family to afford to buy or to rent:
"...the rest of them were $1,000 a month and say $1,000 deposit. People on a fixed income can't afford that."

Moran says she and her husband can't work, so their disability money is their only income. That's about $900 a month....but with food, medicine, utilities and other expenses, it takes everything they get just to live.

"Since the storm, everything has gone up and everything has gone crazy. The disability has stayed the same, but everything else has went up.""

This is the type of person that Dr. Bob and others on the "street teams" deal with every day and why their work is so important. Without them, many of these people would fall through the cracks.

Enhanced archeology the hard way!

From the department of some good came from Katrina....we learned today that there was an ancient village near the Rt. 90 Bridge near Bay St. Louis. How ancient? Estimates have it going back to about the time of Christ!

From the Sun Herald:
" Archaeologists believe they have uncovered evidence of an ancient village, possibly dating back to the time of Christ....The artifacts were unearthed during recent efforts to rebuild a thoroughfare and major bridge heavily damaged last year by Hurricane Katrina....

"That area was very strategic and would have allowed them to travel, fish and hunt," he said.

"It's on high ground at the entrance to the bay, which would allow them to see people coming and they could defend themselves a lot easier.""

"For most of the previous century, the mound was covered by large oak trees and hidden behind massive beachfront homes. Katrina destroyed most of the homes in Bay St. Louis, including the ones that had protected the mound for so long."

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A look at St. Bernard's Parish

house accident
house accident,
originally uploaded by boxchain.
This was taken by "Boxchain" almost 11 months AFTER Katrina. And some people think everything is back to normal????

There is still so so much work to do. If you have any vacation time coming, seriously consider going down to help out. It will be the best "vacation" you can have!

If you can not go, pick a good charity and consider donating so that they can get more done.

Persevere Disaster Relief: Making Progress

This is from Persevere Volunteers. It will give some small idea of what volunteering is like. It was created by Bill Driscoll (jr).

A couple of things to note:
1. Interior work is being done on some homes! Drywall and painting is so much better than gutting! However, at the same time some areas still have debris clean-up and one project is even cleaning up a cemetery. So much still has to be done.

2. Notice the heavy equipment. This takes much fuel and hence money. If you can not make it down to help, consider donating some. I assure you that they will put it to very good use!!

In their words:
"A collection of photos and video of Persevere Volunteers in action. Persevere Disaster Relief is currently deployed to the Mississppi gulf coast aiding in the Katrina Relief effort.

Every victory is important!

During the aftermath of Katrina we were reminded that every loss, while small in the whole scheme of things, is huge for those experiencing the loss. Almost 11 months later it is worthwhile to remember that the same works in reverse. That while a relatively small number of people are back in their homes, every person who can move back in to his/her own house is a huge victory!

With that in mind, Dr. Bob send me the following article. It is by the Sun Herald's business editor Lisa Monti who recently moved back into her home. And while somewhere a statistician added another completion to a column on a spreadsheet, to Lisa and her family the event is cause for great excitement!

FEMA Trailer Gone, Forgotten
"The FEMA trailer was finally, mercifully, hauled off......good riddance. It served its purpose by providing temporary shelter, and I'm grateful for that. But I'm even more grateful that the claustrophobic discomfort, the leaks, the formaldehyde, all part of the plastic and plywood package, are over with.

My wish now is that all of you who are still waiting for a trailer or other temporary housing get some help immediately, and that all of you who are still "living" in a trailer get out and into your homes at the fastest possible speed."

One more victory! Congratulations!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Modular New Orleans style homes

As a FinanceProfessor, I have to admit, I am happy that markets seemed to have found a good way to help rebuild New Orleans.

From WDSU:
"Modular home companies are now specifically designing these houses to look like they belong in New Orleans. They also said the homes would withstand whatever Mother Nature has to offer."
Oh and this is interesting too:
"Modular home experts said they expect a building boom by late fall, once the hurricane season is over and people begin receiving their Road Home grants."

Homes or casinos? or both?

From WLOX:
"[Harrison] rebuilt his hurricane damaged dwelling...because he couldn't imagine living anywhere else....It looks quiet now, it looks deserted. But you can feel the vibrations of progress. You can feel the vibrations of growth. It's coming. It's going to be good."

Harrison made sure he was one of the first east Biloxi homeowners south of the railroad tracks to reconstruct what Katrina knocked down."

and later:
""I want to see the progress with the casinos and the condos. But I also want to make sure we preserve our heritage and put back a lot of residential," he says."

[He] says east Biloxi's future isn't a game of dominos. It's a jigsaw puzzle -- with casinos, condos, retail shops and homes all fitting together.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Persevere Blogs

PersevereVolunteers told me these blogs existed, but I just could not find them, until today that is!

So here they are:

Saturday, July 15, 2006

More on Biloxi's recovery

From the Daytona Beach News:
"With construction workers taking up residence in many of the remaining beachside motels, tourists are limited to the relatively few casino hotels or overpriced inland motels. The going rate for a room in nearby Crystal Springs has doubled since Katrina. (Legally, that might not be price gouging, but it sure doesn't seem very nice.)

Driving along Beach Boulevard, where magnificent homes and grand live oaks stood facing the ocean less than a year ago, the drastic changes are evident everywhere. Some of the centuries-old trees are standing. They're battered, without leaves and missing branches, but they're still standing.

The beautiful homes are virtually all gone or gutted. The boats are mostly gone. The docks are mostly gone.

In the business district, there's very little business and almost no place to eat."

Wanna bet?

While I am not a fan of casinos, they sure are popular!

From the Kansas City Star:
"The five coastal casinos that have reopened since Katrina employ around 6,000 workers. That number is expected to grow to roughly 10,000 by Sept. 1 with the return of several more casinos, all of which are struggling to find workers.

Katrina’s winds and storm surge demolished or crippled the dozen casino barges that lined the Mississippi coast, but the region’s gambling industry is rebounding more quickly than many experts initially anticipated. Day and night, gamblers drive past blocks of destruction to jockey for seats at blackjack tables and slot machines."

Friday, July 14, 2006

More on the Recovering from Katrina Stress

This week Harvard Medical School's Dr. Kevin Becker has been talking on dealing with the stress of Katrina. Previous blog entries regarding this include a look ahead and then one from his first speech.

This is from his most recent presentation. From RedOrbit:

"The disaster is still continually washing over you," he said, "it's in the news, you see it in the places you drive, in the people you see and the ones you don't."

Many people will try to avoid certain areas or take alternate routes in their daily outings so they won't see the constant visual reminders of the losses. Becker suggested several strategies for coping, including making an effort to return to routines as much as possible.

"Whatever your routines were before the storm, if you ate red beans and rice every Wednesday, for example, return to those routines whenever possible. The sense of predictability and normalcy is important."

Dr. Dorothy Dickson-Rishel, one of the organizers of the series, said that social contact with others can help people cope.

"Staying connected, reaching out to the community, to friends, churches, or helping others in need can be one of the best things we can do for ourselves."

Pet Rescues or Pet stealing?

From the Pittsburgh Post Gazette:

Today, Mr. Cavalier is living in an apartment in Houston, waiting for a new home in New Orleans. Bandit was last seen somewhere in the Pittsburgh area, brought here by the head of a local animal rights group and given to a woman whose attorney has suggested Mr. Malvin, 86, was unfit to care for the animal.

"It's my dog. She has no right to it. That's just stealing," Mr. Cavalier said.

The battle pits Mr. Cavalier, a retired sheet-metal worker and widower, against Lisa Fox, whose last address was in McCandless. Mr. Cavalier's attorney has been unable to find her.

Eric Rice, an Annapolis, Md., businessman who joined in animal rescues after Katrina, said he has encountered hundreds of cases of shelters that put up pets for adoption without first attempting to find owners, as well as cases of advocacy groups that simply assume any pet left behind was neglected.

Thanks to "Spirits Mom" for pointing this one out.

Friends in Low Places

Yes, I am home, but this is one of several "essays" I had thought of, but did not have the time to write, when I was in Mississippi.

Wednesday July 5th, 2006

You have a lot of time to think when you are on an interior or mold team. Oh sure, you are working—working hard in hot and dirty conditions, but as a general rule it is not exactly the most mentally challenging of job ever devised. The result is that after your first house, the radio becomes your constant companion.

Today’s experience was no different. I was on a mold crew that wiped down and then “Kiltzed” a home in East Biloxi that had been flooded to about 8 feet.

This house was different from most in that the owner had already done quite a bit of work on it and the electric was working. In fact, he had a radio already hanging in the corner when we arrived. I do not know if the radio went through the storm or not, but it might have. To say it was not a Bose would be an understatement; reception, even of “close by” stations, was hit and miss.

The reception difficulties led to frequent station changes as with apparent randomness the station, which only seconds before was coming in perfectly, faded into static. The two main stations we listened to today were classic rock 105.9 WXRG and country WZKX 107.9 Kicker 108.

It was just before lunch that one of these frequent station changes landed us on Garth Brook’s Friends in Low Places.

I should confess that I love to analyze the timing of songs. For instance I complain when “It’s Five O’clock Somewhere” gets played at any time other than the top of the hour. Forget about ever playing “Here Comes the Rain Again” if the sun is shining and "It's Been a Long Day?" if it is before 8PM. But "Friends in Low Places" seemed particularly apt right now.

For starters the elevation of much of East Biloxi is below 20 feet above sea level. Indeed, sections are below 12 feet. Economically, East Biloxi is the poorest section of a poor city in a poor state. And since Katrina, mental depression has risen. So by almost any criteria, this is a “low place.”

That volunteers have friends in the area is abundantly clear. The residents here and throughout the region have been more than generous with their praise, thanks, and even belongings. Oh sure, as time has gone on some of the public outpouring of thanks has changed form (I was hugged by total strangers in the airport on the first trip), but the thankfulness has not diminished. This is shown in many ways. From the always pleasant horn beeping of passerbys if you are working anywhere near the road, to gifts, to simple “thank-yous,” to large billboards saying thanks, the whole region wants the volunteers to know that their efforts are appreciated.

As Garth and many of the demolders sang on, I thought back some of the friends I had made in the region and especially to one I had recently met when I stopped to buy watermelons on the side of the road. The price was 3 for $10. As we talked, the purveyor found out that I was a volunteer and he began handing me more and more watermelon as he thanked me profusely. By the time he was done, there were 8 watermelons in by vehicle for the same $10 we had originally agreed upon. Yeah, the volunteers have friends here.

Several station changes ago, this point was driven home even further. The owner of the home had taken orders for lunch. He was buying. Even after we told him he did not have to do so, he insisted. It was his way of saying “Thank-you.”

As the song ended, he pulled up, smiling and carrying three bags of food.

Oh, and the song that came on next? Jamie O’Neal’s She’s Somebody’s Hero, which is also perfect for the conditions but that had to wait. It was lunch time.

A look at streets in E. Biloxi

Be sure to click through to the picture of what this area was like back in October.

So while their still is MUCH work to be done, it has gotten MUCH better!

Indeed, I just went through the pictures from October and was shocked--I remember it as being really bad, but I had forgotten just how bad it was. Progress is DEFINITELY being made. :)

Two High Schools meet

Whiel they are separated by 1300 miles, a High School in NewJersey and a High School in Bay St. Louis are coming together.
From LocalSource:
“It’s going to take a very long time to bring them back,” said Catrambone, adding that the citizens of Bay St. Louis will require federal and other volunteer assistance to bring some semblance of normalcy back to their lives. He believes that Nutley High School will continue to be a part of the efforts, having made similar efforts closer to home in New Jersey with Habitat for Humanity.

“We plan to host several Bay St. Louis students during the holidays,” said Catrambone. “We’ll do our fund-raising and then fly up six to 10 students and place them with host families.”

Thursday, July 13, 2006

An update on Hancock County Little League

I spoke with Herb Sires when I was in MS. He is the leader of the softball and baseball leagues to which BonaResponds donated a truck full of equipment from Western New York and as far as COnnecticut.

The league finished their season last week. Here is an article I found from the start of their season from WLOX:
"...two ball fields destroyed by the storm are now back up and running just in time for the start of the season.

This day of outdoor athletics marks a significant step on the post Katrina road to recovery.

Catcher Natasha Saucier has been playing softball for 12 years. Like most of her team mates, she was displaced after Katrina.

Saucier says she felt relieved when she heard the good news that there would be a softball season this year.

"This is my last year playing so its really important for the memories before I go to college," says Saucier.

Her teammate, pitcher Cindy Fouasnon, is grateful for all of the volunteers. Fouasnon says without them, there would not be a season."

A look at the recovery efforts 10+ months after the storm

This is taken from my report that I sent to the BonaRespond leaders.

Hi everyone,


I just got back from a week in the Gulf. Yes, it is getting better, but the pace of improvement is still very slow. That said, the area is looking better. Several casinos are open, and in Biloxi and the French Quarter the majority of businesses have opened.

On July 4th, there was only a half day of work so we went to St. Bernard’s Parish and New Orleans. It is sad to see how much work remains there. It will be years for them to recover. Indeed, it will never be the same. From the Lake Front Airport to homes, to businesses, miles and miles are still ghost towns. Other whole neighborhoods have FEMA trailers at every house. But in other regions (Dillard University area) some businesses are reopening and there are at least glimmers of hope.

Bay St. Louis and Waveland are much cleaner than in March (in fact I think it was the biggest difference of anywhere I saw). Debris piles are largely removed, but FEMA trailers are still the norm and many homes still need to be demolded and then rebuilt. But like elsewhere, there has been progress and some new homes are being built. I walked around town for a while (street team of one) and actually got to speak with some of the same people I had met on previous trips which was great fun. They are not yet in their homes, but will be soon. (I predict within 2-4 weeks for a couple of them.)

That said however, the streets of East Biloxi are still about the same as in March--Remember they were much further along then. There are fewer and smaller debris piles, but most every street still has some debris piles and on most days an interior team (or two or even more) still go out to gut homes. So by no means are things back to normal. Yankiei stadium is still the relief center with the Salvation Army playing a major role in feeding volunteers.

Much attention is being devoted to mold abatement. In fact I was on three mold teams in the week I was there. Like most things, mold abatement is further ahead in Biloxi than in most locales. To help this, on one day our mold team went to Bay St. Louis and helped to train one of their volunteers on leading a mold team.

Pass Christian, Long Beach, and other towns in the area have some areas that are dramatically improved while other parts of town are still in very bad. Indeed, it often is street to street or even house to house. Coordination in many of these small towns appears to be lacking and there have been some instances of apparent fraud with some relief agencies. In a possibly related issue, the Morrell Center has been closed and bull-dozed so we will not be staying there on future trips.

Skilled workers

The shortage of skilled labor is a big problem. Electricians are in particularly high demand across the region as drywall can not be hung etc. until the electric system is installed and approved. If you know of electricians, plumbers, carpenters, or any contractor who can spare some time down there, please have them volunteer. Indeed, feel free to have them contact me for more details.


As most of my time has been spent in Biloxi I can speak best on their operations.

Most things at Handson are about the same. There ranged from about 110 people to about 70 people at Handson the week I was there. They still appear to be the leaders in the area and are involved in many areas from interior work, to the Humane Society, to local Boys and Girls club, to beach clean-ups, to a new pet survey, and to redoing a park (with Persevere Volunteers).

At Handson itself, Erika and Carrie are the leaders with Chris and Suzanne playing important roles. Americorps volunteers have assumed the role of many of the long term volunteers as team leaders at many locales (including Handson). They generally are hard working and try hard, but do not have the experience or skills of some of the long-timers.

Teams did roll out at about 8:15 every morning, but unlike in the past, most jobs were done before 3:00 pm and when a job was completed, there is poor communication as to what can be done next. Whereas before an early ending job would lead to a call back to base, now many leaders do not even carry cell phones or radios. This led to some teams getting back very early and wasting volunteer time. The sense of urgency of past trips (even March) seems to be missing).

Overall, the emergency of last year is over. The transition to a different type of work has begun and will continue for months to come. The long-term commitment that HandsOn and other organizations have made to the region is very valuable. While the organizations are not perfect, I can not imagine how long the recovery would take without the volunteer groups.

The Future:

I recommend that BONARESPONDS minimally plan two student trips to the area. Given that I have to teach over our “fall break”, I think the best times will be right after Christmas and again over Spring break.

Because of the changing makeup of work, it is a good idea that those going on the trips receive some training. This can be done with through local BOCES (Vo-Tech) and or contractors or retail hardware stores.

Debris pickup in St. Bernards Parish

According to the company doing the pickup (i.e. picking up piles etc), they are ahead of schedule, although the residents disagree:

From Yahoo and WDSU:
"Lawrence Green with the Unified Recovery Group...said the reality is that his company cut through all the red tape and is leading southeast Louisiana in debris removal with 80 percent debris already taken and destroyed. "We are very far ahead so residents can take solace in the fact that everything here is going at a faster pace then their neighbors," said Green"

mmm...80%? Maybe...but it seemed like there was still a long long ways to go. And by his own admission later in the article it will take another year...and that is not the rebuilding.

Residents fear school will not open

This is the school that is roughly opposite Yangui stadium (next to the Dollar Store)

From WLOX:

"But the beautiful school that Black remembered is now a mess. Nichols Elementary took in eight feet of water during Hurricane Katrina.

"There were some fears about the school opening after Katrina," said Black.

That fear of losing Nichols is growing stronger, despite the fact that crews are busy repairing the storm damage."

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Katrina stress

From the Sun Herald:
"Nearly 35 residents of Hancock and Harrison counties convened upon United Methodist Church on Tuesday and listened attentively as Dr. Kevin Becker outlined a "Psychological Response to Disaster."

Many in the audience nodded their heads in recognition as Becker, director of Harvard's Center for Trauma, spoke to the residents on the psychological and physical characteristics that occur after a traumatic event such as Hurricane Katrina."

and later:
"Becker said other risk factors are an increase in domestic violence, drug and alcohol use, and smoking. Drawing from a correlation with a study after Sept. 11, 2001, Becker said, "Smoking and alcoholism went through the roof in the area around Manhattan."

As surprising as it may seem, Becker said that some residents feel a sense of guilt for not losing as much as their neighbors in the hurricane. With guilt comes withdrawal and isolation, he said, which are factors that need to be worked through with counseling."

A very good web site for Hurricane related news from Hancock County

This is really good. It is by volunteer Kathleen Johnson. HIGHLY Recommended!!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

New Orleans video

The "Drive" through the lower 9th ward and into the Lakeview District of New Orleans. I have seen only a portion of this section of the city on two different trips and it is as bad as the video shows.

I think I am glad I did not get over to see all of this--it may have been too discouraging. But it does show why more volunteers are needed! To quote the film, it will take "years and perhaps decades" to fix this mess. So volunteer.

Biloxi puppies end up on Air Force One

From the Sun Herald:

"In April, when an advance team for President Bush came to Biloxi to tour the Hands On Network volunteer center that is based at Beauvoir Methodist Church, they e-mailed staff back at the White House photos of puppies that the president would see when he visited the camp. There was a pen of puppies, all offspring of dogs abandoned after Katrina.....By the time Bush arrived, the dogs already had their health certificates so they could travel across state lines and were crated and ready to go when the entourage arrived....Once informed, the president was supportive, volunteers said, and whisked them away aboard Air Force One."

Abandoned cars in New Orleans

We just were talking about this on July 4th. NPR must have been listening ;)

All Things Considered,
"July 10, 2006 · Nearly a year after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, the state of Louisiana has finally started hauling way tens of thousands of lost or abandoned cars and boats."
and later:
"Even a totally destroyed car is worth about $1,000 for scrap metal. In the case of a nicer car that isn't completely flooded, the parts could be worth up to $1,000 as well.

State officials are concerned that unauthorized scrapping of abandoned vehicles could lead to an environmental mess. There are mercury switches, battery acid, antifreeze and other toxins in cars that are supposed to be disposed of properly.

But it's expected to take at least several months for the tens of thousands of abandoned cars to be towed away, so it's likely that illegal car scrapping will continue in Louisiana."

Random topics from Biloxi

I always like short-fast opinionated articles that are frequently done by sportswriters, so I will do the same about the recent trip:

* It is somewhat ironic that the outside showers at Handson have mold. A clean-up might be a useful "mold crew" job....speaking of showers, "occupied/open" signs would save much waiting....Another short fast job (that would need city approval) would be to cut weeds and bushes back to that people could actually use the cross walk to get across Pass Road.

* At least when I was there, the sewer problems of January and March seem to have been solved. Thank goodness. They were getting really bad. Of course they were not designed to house 200 people.

* Most of the grass in the back has been replaced by mud and stones. Not nearly as pretty. To help rectify that, the "patio" in very nice by the door. Too bad that due to the smoke, most can not enjoy it.

*The bunk beds upstairs are a nice addition, but surprisingly do not appear to save much is amazing how many alarm clocks go off throughout the 5:00 to 7:00 period...and how quickly you learn to sleep through all but your own..."Lights-out" have gotten much better since the kitchen lights are left on. That was really annoying in March.

* Niko's Garden has seen better days, but we learned at Beauvoir that going back at least as far as the Civil War, the soil of the camp (which was at one point part of the Davis Beauvoir land) was poor for farming because of so much sand. Another almost unbelievable factoid from Beauvoir: there were less than 40 ocean front homes from Bay St. Louis to Mobile in the 1870s.

* No Capri Suns on this trip, but much "Bud water" which is water in cans donated by the makers of Budweiser....meals were slightly fancier this time than last, about in line with January...the mini-bananas were excellent. As sweet as candy.

* The Open Mic night was excellent. Especially the Tyvex fashion show....I predict Piano Man and Superstition are two of the final four songs left.

* I really liked the warmth, but sweating so much did make for more laundry.

* Worst thing? Having to carry your things with you--example to shower, to bathroom, to dinner, to car. Can not just leave it.

* After dinner clean-up is not fun. Takes much too long. One thing that would help is a sprayer on one of the faucets. Also if at least some of the pans were done by the cooking crew.

* Running was MUCH better on this trip than on previous relief trips. Not only are all roads and parks now open, but also being done early on a few days really made it easy to was the main game as every night there was a game across the street.

* Saw a parade and fireworks in New Orleans...went to Cafe Dumond, Burbon Street, and walked around for 3 hours.

* I bought a pair of clogs. What a GREAT pickup. From Inside the Bay Area:
"The bulky clog with a strap along the heel and holes across the top and around the toes is winning consumers over with its versatility and comfort. Food service and factory workers, hair stylists and hospital personnel buy them for comfort. Boaters and swimmers buy them for function. And some just think they're fun."
* Handson has plans to begin house building. Plans call for upto 80 homes a year by next year. How exciting is that! Count me in!

* With a very few exceptions, the people at Handson continue to impress me and local residents. Great job. I can not wait to go back. I just wish the travel was easier. Leaving camp at 4:10 AM is not fun under any circumstance. I was (and to a large degree still am) exhausted more from that than the actual work.

Monday, July 10, 2006


Here are a few of the pictures taken on this last trip. I have about 400 to pick from, so this is just the first group of pictures that I will be uploading. Stay tuned for more. :)

More tomorrow

I made it home, but am too tired to write coherently right now...with luck I will find time tomorrow.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

What I didn't say tonight and what I said (sort of)

It's that time again. Time to say goodbye. I hate leaving. I have a million things to do when I get home, but still find leaving to be awful. But alas, it is that time.

Handson has a well established tradition of allowing volunteers to say good bye on their last day. It is my favorite part (although saddest part) of every nightly meeting, but personally I hate leaving so much that the public admission of leaving is always somewhat painful.

For much of the day as I worked with the mold team (appropriately nicknamed the Bay City Molders) worked in Bay St. Louis, I thought of what I was going to say.

I thought back to previous departure speeches of other volunteers as well as my own. I remember asking Darius if I could say a few words the first time (the tradition was not yet established) and then of thanking the HandsonUSA crew for not only letting us come down, but for all of the great work they were doing and promised to return as soon as possible.

Then in January, I decided not to say good bye, but rather until next time. In my March good-bye I echoed the words of other volunteers who had said that we can all take a bit of the Handson spirit back to our homes. (In a stroke of good fortune, this was then used to wrap up a PBS report on the Recovery Efforts in the Gulf. SO you can see it here if you want.)

But what could I say today? I couldn't say, just kidding, I am staying for a while longer. I couldn't just say, "hey great job, see you later".

The bar, which had been set high by all of the previous volunteers, was raised even further by Janos last night as he challenged us all to use our minds as well as our hands to find new ways to help people. That with a bit of creativity, perseverence, and hard work, we can accomplish much.

So what to say? As we were wrapping up the mold job, I took in the perfect idea. Literally. I accidentally vacuumed up the letter "U" from scrabble game.

Only after the fact did I realize it would have been the perfect accompaniment: I would stand in front of the volunteers with the letter U and say that "U" are the most important person for the residents of this community and the community back at home. That "U" can make things better. That "U" are making things better. And end with a Thank "U".

But the letter prop was now long gone, and because of the late work we almost missed the meeting, so I had no time to make a "U". So the speech was not from my mind, but from my heart. So to the best of my memory and with only slight alternations (ok, more than slight, but had I had a bit more time to think about it this is what I would have said ;) ), my goodbye:
"You are all doing a great job. While many of my words are aimed at the long timers, they are equally true for you all.

You are really doing a great job. I totally understand and appreciate the temptation to fall into a rut and believe that your actions do not have much impact any more. To think that eleven months after the storm, things are not as important or as pressing as they once were. To get discouraged. To believe the naysayers who are there at every turn saying "what can one person do, why bother?" To take the easy road and not push that extra mile to make a difference, to be the difference.

Don't fall into that trap. You are making a difference. You are making a great difference.

Two quick stories to drive that point home:

Today as you know we worked on a mold job in Bay St. Louis. We had to begin by removing dried mud from the rafters of the two story house. It is 11 months after the storm. 11 months. Almost a year later and we are still removing mud.

There is a lot of work left to be done. And you are the ones doing it. So from the local residents, from those around the country, and those around the world, and mostly from me, THANK YOU.

My second story is shorter and happier. Yesterday I helped move a family into their new home. 11 months after the storm and that was the first time I had that I moved people into their home. What a great feeling.

So while there is much much to be done, progress is being made. It's there. My trips down have been spaced enough to allow me to see the progress. Those of you who are here every day may not have that luxury. But trust me it is happening.

I have sort of made a tradition of not saying goodbye but rather "until next time" in these "good byes" and this time will be no different. I will definitely be back and I look forward to working with you all again as soon as possible. Thank you for everything and keep in touch!
Gee, maybe I should stay another day just to use the speech ;)

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Harvard Pychologists to help

While I would guess it is higher than 15%, this is a very important article from the SunHerald:

"When a natural disaster strikes, studies show that up to 30 percent of the
affected population will experience long-term negative psychological

A noted expert on disaster trauma estimates that the percentage for
Hurricane Katrina will be about 15 percent, but that is educated

Dr. Kevin J. Becker, director of the Institute for Trauma & Crisis
at Harvard Medical School, is on the Coast for a week, providing sessions on the
psychological response to disaster for the interested public and health care
"It's hard to get a handle on the numbers because there aren't
enough providers here to begin with," said Becker. "The response to a disaster
so much depends on who you are as a person and what resources you have

"Everyone here is impacted, whether or not you had damage to your property,
and that is because the whole community is impacted."

A first for me! Moving people into their home!

Several largely unrelated topics in today's blog entry:

* Today was house gutting day (AKA Interiors). The house was in East Biloxi and had been started before. Even then it was quite a job and we did not quite finish. But it was a good gutting day (really my first--and probably only) good interior day I have had this trip down. And while I hope I never need to again (as in no more disasters), there really is something therapeutic about tearing down walls and pulling out nails, insulation, and everything else.

Because of a planning meeting for Handson long-timers on Hurricane preparation (ride out a Category 1 leave for anything more severe), we had to stop work early (2:10 so that tools could be picked up etc.).

For change I ran back from the job site (not directly back). While there was too much traffic to make it a favorite run, it was fun for a change. Then by a bizarre stroke of luck as I was just about done with the run I heard a shouted "Jim".

It was Bill Driscoll putting the finishing touches on a new shed at Our Lady Of Fatima Church (across from Handson). Of course I stopped, talked for a bit, and asked if he needed any help.

While they didn't really need help, he and his Persevere Volunteers were kind enough to let me in on a fun job, a job that absolutely any volunteer from the early days would absolutely love to have had: helping a family move INTO their new home! So after dragging untold numbers of chairs, beds, and cabinets out to the curb, today I got to carry stuff into a rooms. What a treat! Thanks

After the move I got a tour of Persevere's home base. It is really a nice set-up that will allow them to do many really great things for the local residents. Keep up the great work "guys"!

* On the run today I ran on the beach for a while. Much of it is still closed and even the sections that are open are closed for swimming. Indeed, there is still much work to be done on "beach cleanup"as miles of water are littered with trees, parts of roofs, and other debris.

* Tomorrow I am signed up for mold removal in Bay St. Louis. Tonight I ran into Beau who heads the Handson operation there. He said things are going very well there and the town was getting cleaner, but that like everywhere along the coast, there is still much work to be done. He especially suggested that those who can install doors and windows are in high demand. So if you can, why not come down for a while. Even a few days will make a huge difference in the lives of many.

* Monika along-term volunteer got a new puppy today. I think there are three dogs and the puppy here now. I still get worried they will be hit by a car EVERY time I see them.

*Meals today: pancakes and cereal for breakfast, I skipped lunch, and then spaghetti for dinner. And of course, the almost every day 3 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for a "late" night snack.

Ok, well I out of news. I apologize for the boringness of this post, but the ideas I had for entries will take more time to develop than I had to devote tonight.

Friday, July 07, 2006

What are you gong to do with your home? Tell us soon...

It will soon be decision time!

Understandably, local governments are urging residents to make their decsions on whether they are moving back.
This one is NOT going to be politically popular!

From WDSU:
"In St. Bernard Parish, homeowners must demolish homes by Aug. 29.

If the parish isn't notified about the rebuilding decision by homeowners, their homes will be condemned and then demolished.

In St. Tammany Parish, there is no deadline for demolition or home gutting. Parish President Kevin Davis hopes all homeowners find someone to work on their home.

Jefferson Parish sent notices to all homeowners telling them to gut their property by the end of August. If they do not, they can face fines.

Having driven through St. Bernard Parish this week, these deadlines will be VERY VERY difficult to accomplish. But at some point a decision must be made and the sooner the better. That said, it will be difficult to make the decision.

Ch Ch Cha Changes

"Things are always different here, but always good"---Dave Campbell

Dave Campbell is back in Biloxi! The founder of HandsonUSA and now leader of HandsonDisasterResponse gave his usual great update at tonight's meeting where he mentioned the large grant that Coastal Medical had recently received, Handson-Indonesia, and how HODR will be ready to deploy again in the event of another major hurricane. He also reminded everyone of the plans for a HOUSA reunion here in Biloxi the week of August 29th (the one year anniversary of Katrina).

More importantly however were his editorial comments (quoted above) where he reminded us all that while things do change down here every time he returns, that things are always good.

There are so many cases of these changes that it impossible to show them all, but I will point out a few things that can serve as both examples and updates as to what is going on in the area.

A great example of how work changes but is still good happened on today's mold crew job. We were working on the house of a retired army officer. He had already done much of the work himself, but as it was a really big project we went to give him a hand. He was there waiting for us and immediately showed himself to be one of the nicest and most helpful people I have met (which is saying an awful lot!). After showing us what needed to be done, he insisted that he buy us all lunch.

As the crew ate he talked with everyone; about the storm, about his house, about his career, and about the importance of schooling, of staying motivated, and of leadership. Indeed, he was much more motivational than any 'self-help" guru!

At some point during this seminar he mentioned that I looked familiar and he thinks I was on the team that helped gut his parents house in early October. Now I can not vouch for it, but in my mind I will say I did gut his parents house. And from gutting his parents' house (which came before his own) to helping prepare his own house, the work has changed, but the importance and feeling of accomplishment have not.

Another example of how things are changing here is that Handson is now working on a new playground on the site of what early Handson volunteers will remember as Compassion Central (where free meals were served on Division St.) The park had not only been damaged by the hurricane, but also by the trucks and throngs of people who occupied the park for weeks on end.

Want another example? The Humans Society. From the original work of feeding strays (crews would take dog food with them to feed starving animals), to helping them move back to their old facility (in a mamogram bus of all things!), to the days of trying to help with overcrowding, to helping out at their new facility to now helping open a pet store at their new facilty and also helping to create a data base of pets in East Biloxi to help in the event of another hurricane. The work changes, but it is all valuable and all good.

Of course these frequent transitions bring challenges. One current challenge is how to deal with jobs that are demanding more skilled labor. Gone are the days where a totally unskilled crew could pick-up trash for hours on end or pull down drywall ad infinitem. This transition is happening faster in Biloxi than elsewhere, but it will be coming to towns and villages everywehre across the Gulf. How Handson and other relief organizations handle this transition will be of paramount importance in the coming months. Stay Tuned.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Molding to the Oldies

I will let you in on a secret. It is something that 99.9% of the population does not know.

Ready? Ok here it is: "Mold abatement can be fun." Indeed in the right conditions, the hardest work imagineable can be made fun!

Oh sure it is hot work--drink 64 ounces of Orange Juice in about 2 minutes hot--work. And yes, it does get a tad boring--did I brush that section or not?. But it really can be fun.

Take today for instance. On a day where the high temperature in Southern Mississippi was in upper 80s and low 90s with equivalent humidity--a feat I think possible only in Mississippi and and on the planet Mercury, volunteers across the Gulf Coast donned Tyvex suits, cumbersome respirators, and gloves for added warmth, and went to work.

I was fortunate enough to be part of one of the mold teams working in East Biloxi. The boring details as reported at tonight's nightly meeting were that we finished one house and got a very good start on another. Which is true.

What everyone should also hear is that how, in conditions more suited for Paralvinella sulfincola (worms that live near underwater volcanoes), the volunteers scrubbed and brushed. They climbed ladders, hung from rafters, and crawled on hands and knees to remove mold from homes of people they do not even know.

People should also know that these volunteers sweated so much that when their gloves and boots filled as a torrent of sweat actually flowed down their arms and legs.

The volunteers that are helping to rebuild the Gulf Coast really do deserve the credit and then some that they are getting. I am absolutely blown away by many of them each time I get to visit the area.

And if the story stopped there, it would be noteworthy enough. You know, sort of the "volunteers work hard," blah blah blah story that gets run in almost every newspaper in the country.

But there is something more that people should also know. Something so big that it could bring thousands of more volunteers down to volunteer. Something that seems to happen and happen with great regularity.

What is this big secret? The team begins to have fun and work gets accomplished even faster.

It happens on mold teams, on interior teams, on animal welfare teams, and on street teams. It happens on teams with active "drill sergeant type" leaders and"laid back carefree" leaders. It happens so much that it can not just be random.

Today it happened. It all started when the local classic radio station played American Pie by Don McLean. Within seconds, people begin to sing along until almost every person in the house was "singing" the same thing:
"bye-bye Miss American Pie
Drove my chevy to the levee But the levee was dry
And them good old boys were drinkin' whiskey and rye
Singin' this'll be the day that I die
This'll be the day that I die"
It was one of those moments that instantly makes a team. One of those moments that takes strangers and turns them into friends. That takes inexperienced novices and molds them in to valuable pieces in the recovery efforts of a region. It makes even mold abatement fun.

Almost enough fun to make you forget that you were zipped into a suit that was soaked through and through. Almost enough fun to make you forget that your clothes looked like you just swam a mile up China's Dasha River. Almost.

But the funny thing is, that within minutes of being done, that "almost" vanishes and the only thing you remember is the fun times and the fact that some family is that much closer to being able to move back into their home.

Oh yeah, you also have something else to take home with you: you remember the lyrics. And the next time that song comes on, no matter where you are, you won't be able to forget the good time you had "molding to the oldies."

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Fast recap

Given the time, this will be really short:

Got picked up by an interior crew this AM. We went to house #1 and after some walls were taken down it was decided that it was not safe so we left it for job 2. Here we took down a ceiling...or at least about a half of it until the owner came in (in a less than happy mood) and told us he wanted to leave the sagging (and in parts water damaged) ceiling up. Uh, ok.

And then Job #3 was done by the time we got there, so all in all not the most productive of AMs. While this was a bad thing, I would rather take it as good news that there are few homes still in need of gutting in the E. Biloxi area.

Since it was July 4th, we took the afternoon off. Some people had a cook-out, others got pizza, we decided to go to New Orleans.

St. Bernard Parish and MUCH of New Orleans remain in horrible conditions. I really can not stress enough the importance of getting others (many others!) down to help. Mile after mile of good homes, bad homes, all homes were damaged. In many parts of the region no homes are habitable now 10+ months after the storm first hit.

Then we made a stop at the Handson New Orleans site. It is really going well. I had seen it just before it opened in March and it definitely is MUCH more crowded. Spoke with John who said much of their work is gutting interiors still.

After that we went to the French Quarter and came upon a parade where many sets of beads were collected I have 6 bead necklaces on right now as I type this). Then walked around for a few hours until the fireworks began.

Then the much longer drive back to Biloxi.

Lesson learned (remembered): New Orleans and vicinity need much help in their recovery!!!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Handson Disaster Response--Indonesia

Scuba (err, Mark) has put up his "director's report" from Indonesia.

Definitely worth reading and going if you can find the time!

Monday, July 03, 2006


First the news (yes it was a month ago, but at the meeting tonight we had an update and it looks even less likely that the finding will be extended:

From The
"In the eight months since Katrina devastated that region, NCCC members have logged more than 515,000 hours of service. All together, individuals serving in national service programs have logged 1.1 million hours...
But even more importantly:
"Besides the immense community benefits the NCCC provides the nation, the program has enormous impact on the people who join. These young men and women become empowered as citizens because they know their presence in society makes a difference. The sense of pride and accomplishment gained from the NCCC program is contagious; it inspires others to dedicate time to serving their communities...."
""The Senate recently included an additional $20 million earmark for the NCCC in the 2006 supplemental budget to continue disaster work in the Gulf through September 2007. But the rest of the program will be terminated in December 2006 unless Congress reinstates the base funding — a modest $27 million. "
Huh? Am I missing something? Cutting the funding for the program?

Now, I am all for small government and would gladly live with many projects being ended. But this is one program that seems to be working and if the investment is really only $27 million, it seems to money very well spent! Indeed, it might be useful to consider expanding it!

As I mentioned in the previous post, I am asking you to forward this. I am not saying write your congress people etc, merely forward this to someone else. I am sure that when enough people hear of the savings as compared to the benefits of the program, even the politicans will have to agree that the $27 million dollars of cuts can come from somewhere else!

PS If they can not find $27 million in cuts, I am sure I can find some volunteers to give them a hand!.

Great run and MUCH more!

Well it was another good day (or a HOUSA day for those who remember this post--I guess it should now be a HON day).

As I mentioned yesterday, today we worked at Beauvoir and learned that I do not have the patience to be an escavator. We did find a few artifacts (mini-balls, crystal bottle stopper, and bits and pieces of other things) but not that many (those before us had gotten most of them!). However, we did finish with that section of the clean up (the Confederate Soldiers Museum and Gift Shop) and had an interesting lecture on Jefferson Davis, the museum, and the future (they optimistically hope to open in 2008 for Jefferson Davis' 200th Birthday.

Got done a tad early so I had time for a better than normal run. It was really warm :) Really humid :) :) and speed workout :) :) :) Best run I have ever had in Biloxi. :) :) :):)

Dinner was good. The vegetarian fare was tofu stir fry :) everyone else had fried chicken. Then we were on "clean-up" for dinner. Yeah!!! uh, no. Not fun. By the time we were done it was "lights out". Oh well. I can type in the dark :)

Tomorrow (the Fourth of July--Independence Day) is a half day of work. Because of dinner clean-up the sign up board was filled by the time we got done, so I am not sure what the day will bring. I am guessing Mold!

Then several options ranging from sleep to a cook-out and ending with Fireworks. We might try to get over to Bay St. Louis to see Beau and crew, but I am not sure yet.

Assorted other random topics ;)
Janos is back...big crew came in today. Up to about 100 people...there are now bunk beds upstairs...also quite a few are leaving tomorrow...this brought many very moving (and tearful) good byes--there should be a book of the good-byes!!

...after the Beauvoir clean-up, we stopped where a couple were selling watermelons out of their pick-up truck. Watermelon were 3 for $10. We got talking and told him we were working with Handson and he immediately began giving us more watermelon. By the time we pulled away we had 8 watermelon and a new friend :)...
I am not a fan of Air Conditioning...saw many bull frogs in a small nearby stream...we are staying on part of what was Jefferson Davis' land...the headline story in the SunHerald today was stressed that while many of the local beaches are open, much caution should be observed as debris is still a major issue both on shore and in the water....oh and an interesting article on the local Catholic Bishop's request that everyone plant a tree on August 29th to commemorate the Anniversary of Katrina coming ashore. Good idea! Maybe we could make it nation-wide! sure to check out the HandsonNetwork Gulfcoast blog! It is really good!

I'll hold the last comment for a separate blog article. Which will allow you to forward it easier...and yes I am asking you to forward it!

Biloxi in USA Today


"BILOXI, Miss. — To understand how long Gulf Coast hurricane recovery is going to take, visit this city's Volunteer Village.....We needed a place for the long haul," says Jim Green of Project Teamwork, a Florida-based volunteer group that runs the camp with the Salvation Army. "Tent cities can only last so long."
This summer, the Gulf Coast is entering the next and longest recovery phase: Rebuilding houses and starting lives anew. Almost a year after the storm, Mississippi's coast has an eerie emptiness about it. Along the water, where the storm surge lifted floating casino barges and dropped them into neighborhoods, there are far more empty lots and steps leading nowhere than there are homes or businesses. Groups such as Project Teamwork and the Salvation Army plan to be here for many years."

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Back in Mississippi

Hi everyone...
I'm back in Biloxi. We drove around Biloxi and Long Beach for a bit today and there is still MUCH work to be done.

Much looks the same as before, but there has been progress and even rebuilding happening in many parts of Biloxi itself.

Handson seems much the same. We got in just before dinner (well in time for a 5 mile run) and the meetings went the same.

Tomorrow I am going to Beauvoir (Jefferson Davis' house). Other teams include Humane Society/Street team where they are building a database of pets to help in the event of another disaster, interiors (I think putting up drywall, but not positive), Mold, Salvation Army, Community Coordination Center.

So all-in-all things appear about the same. Quite a few people are here from other trips. Some have stayed straight through, others just got back...Carrie, Nate, Jacquline, Gueriellmo (Will), Joe, Meeko, Amy, Kate, and several others come immediately to mind.

oh and a very positive change? Faster internet connections :)

And I thought I was crazy

Wow. 51 marathons in 51 days. And Good Luck!

Vicksburg Post
"Thompson went to the Mississippi Gulf Coast immediately after the storm to help with cleanup efforts, and has been there since. Most days, he supervises a crew of about 100 volunteers from the First Presbyterian Church in Bay St. Louis. As the work slowly progressed, Thompson thought the 󈬢 in 50 in 50” idea - he'll also run in Washington, D.C., upping the total to 51 marathons - would provide a good fundraiser for relief efforts.

Setting up a fundraising organization proved too difficult to do, however, so Thompson is running the marathons to raise awareness for Katrina victims.

“Like somebody told me, I had the idea and now I had the cause, so I better get busy,” he said. “It was too hard to get everything in place (for fundraising). I am officially raising awareness for the Mississippi Coast. People need to realize things are not fixed down there.”"