Day Five: April 13

On average, it appears that houses will be raised by about three feet. Where houses are being demolished and rebuilt, these standards are easy enough to put into place, as flood insurance will be withheld from homeowners who do not meet the new standards.

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Return to Relief During Spring Break

Our sign could have said: "28 Days Without a Trip to the Emergency Room." Even though we never had such a sign, we would have been forced to take it down today.

After an entire Jan Term and half of an Easter break, the SMC NOLA Relief Crew finally reached the inevitable moment when we had a serious injury. We won't go into the gory details, but we will say that it involved Justin, a box cutter, a vein, squirting blood, and stitches. He's okay.

We began the morning with a return to St. Raymond Church, where we joined with Amy to find our next house. While there, we also got to interact with Adam and Eileen, our escorts from yesterday morning who had experienced the difficult situation with Mama D. Though there was tension between us yesterday -- especially when we parted ways -- today we were all able to hug, apologize, exclaim over the weird combination of circumstances that led the situation to escalate to such an uncomfortable level, and make amends. We all thanked each other and got to work.

Our job was in the outer reaches of Uptown. We were again finishing floors and ceilings, and removing tile. A crew set up the teepee outhouse, for which we have lost one of the non-essential -- but still useful -- poles. (On a brief side note, this entire team has really embraced the use of the outhouse and its accompanying bucket toilet with ease. Unlike the first week of Jan Term, everyone just used it right away. No squirming. We have no real idea why it caught on so easily this time, but it sure made things more convenient for all of us that it did.)

Anyway, as Justin tried to fashion a replacement pole out of a stray piece of debris, the Box Cutter Incident occurred. Blood jumped into the air and splattered onto the floor. As soon as he got to the first aid box with Shawny, it was clear that he needed to go to the hospital, especially because of the conditions in which we were working. We called 411 to find a hospital, and Justin, Shawny, and Chris (as navigator) all hurried there, only to find that it was closed. Fortunately, another one was nearby.

When the triage nurses asked him what had happened, Justin told them, "I cut my wrist." When they asked "With what?," he said "A razor blade." From there, he had a lot of explaining to do. He managed to avoid a psych placement, and instead, after nearly five hours, got stitches to stop the blurbling blood once and for all (once it stopped squirting, it looked just like that shot at the beginning of "The Beverly Hillbillies," when Jed Clampett shoots into the dirt " . . . and up through the ground come a-bubblin' crude . . .").

While at the hospital, we learned from the local newspaper, the Times-Picayune, that the overall plan for reconstruction had finally been set. Different neighborhoods have different standards about how far each newly-reconstructed house must be raised. On average, it appears that houses will be raised by about three feet. Where houses are being demolished and rebuilt, these standards are easy enough to put into place, as flood insurance will be withheld from homeowners who do not meet the new standards. The tricky part, of course, is what should happen to homes that are substantially damaged, but not ruined. Elevating those structures will be very costly, above and beyond the normal costs of reconstruction. There are federal grants that might help, but the people of New Orleans are understandably skeptical about government assistance. In any case, having standards in place helps New Orleanians to move forward. Many have been waiting to make their next move, fearing that the new rules would undermine whatever work they might complete.

Away from the hospital and back at the house, the crew was tackling two messy problems: 1) a four-layer-thick linoleum floor (that included a very funky, groovy, mod, flower-power pink floor that almost made us hallucinate) and 2) that infernal chicken-wire stuff in the plaster parts of the ceiling. The groups at the house cranked all day, removing virtually every extraneous nail that remained in the interior.

Amy came by and exclaimed over our work. Additionally, she told us that the neighbors from the day before had told her how impressed they were with our work out there. She was surprised at how much effort we were putting into the gluepaper layer under the flooring, but we were determined to leave the space as clean as we could.

Once we finished the house and sprayed the framing with bleach, we hurried back to our place so that we could start the shower procedure as fast as we could. We then headed out to Lisa Trigo's house in Destrehan to see Lisa's family and our friends Rosie and Janice, whose houses we cleared in January. Lisa's Aunt Tay, whose home we cleared on our first day here at break, also joined us.

We were very interested to see Rosie, as we had heard just before we came that she has decided to sell her houses in the Upper Ninth Ward and move elsewhere. Those three small houses have been in her family since the mid-1800s, so this decision is a really big deal. Thus, we wanted to hear about her overall state of mind.

Rather than hearing her sound defeated, though, we were pleased to hear that she is incredibly optimistic. Three different signs recently have given her a renewed sense of hope. First, as she was visiting her two remaining cats that still live in one of the houses down on N. Claiborne, she heard a familiar sound coming from one of the other properties: the mewing of newborn kittens. Rosie and Janice lost eight of their ten cats in the storm, so, even though they do not expect to adopt the whole new brood, they are happy to know that their place is once again full of life.

Rosie's second sign of hope is the volunteer garden that has asserted itself in her backyard. Suddenly, there are tomato plants, watermelons, squash, and other edibles just popping up all over the place across the backyards on Rosie's block. They assume that someone had seed packets in a back shed, and those packets have now taken root. There is, of course, no structure to this garden, but Rosie seems to like it that way.

Rosie's third sign is that for the first time in her 74 years, she found a four-leaf clover. She had always thought that finding a four-leaf clover would be a great experience, but she had never managed to do so until some time in just the last few weeks. Her clover experience was so thrilling to her that she is actually seeking out places to live that have the word "clover" in their names. We'll keep track of whether she eventually moves to a place called "Clover Leaf," "Clover Dale," "Clover Bend," or some other Clover place.

On the food front, Tay had brought us gumbo, Lisa showed Alli how to make homemade beignets, and we each got a handmade chocolate bunny that was delivered in a Catholic Charities hat. For entertainment, we sang songs with Joan Diaz playing guitar. Elijah and Alli each took a turn playing as well. We listened to stories from Tay, Rosie, Janice, and Lisa, and when we realized that we were all just too tired to go on, we headed back into New Orleans.

We knew that we would get to sleep in on Friday (until 9:00!), so we sat around and talked a bit before heading off to bed. Tomorrow Catholic Charities will take the day off, so we are going to work through Emergency Communities (our beloved Hippie Camp from January) instead. But first, we need to sleep off some gumbo and beignets....

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