Friday, September 2, 2011

Six Years After Hurricane Katrina

Monday was was the 6-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which hit the Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005.

In the summer of 2006, I went to New Orleans with a dozen other Marianist volunteers to help with the rebuilding efforts. The devastation was unfathomable. I recently came across some papers from that trip, including a catalogue of items found in the first house I ever helped to rebuild... the list speaks more to the tragedy than anything I could write here.

List of Items Found in Home - Lower Ninth Ward (June 23, 2006)

unopened prison letters - marked "censored by staff"; "Vote for Kerry" campaign button; insulin needles; soaked polaroids of small children; rosary beads; mardi gras beads and coins; baby shoes; bible; rotting food in the refrigerator; bail bond receipt; IOU note for $195; small batman action figure; heart shaped wood block with two little boys on it; David and Goliath picture book; a plastic bag on the door with a picture of a family sitting on the lawn; china - some broken; baby shampoo; coats and dresses stuck together with mold; The Joy of Signing: The Illustrated Guide for Mastering Sign Language; candle sconces; bills - some marked paid, some not; a purse with a social security card in it; cards from grand kids; insurance papers; 1 tie.

We salvaged what we could, and the rest was thrown out with the gutted mold encrusted drywall and cockroach infested floor boards - until nothing was left but the house's frame... an entire family history of love and heartbreak, washed away by the storm.

As I was working, I couldn't help but worry about the fate of the family member who was in prison. I knew that most of the New Orleans prisoners had to be moved last minute when Katrina hit, and were haphazardly scattered across jails in several states - without clear records of placement. For example, one college kid - who had been in an overnight holding cell for public intoxication - was "lost" in a TX jail for nearly 4 months before he could be processed and released. Also, many of the court files in NO were not electronic, and were damaged in the flood - a litigator's nightmare. These violations of due process were almost wholly ignored by the media - I only knew about them through a fellow social justice worker, Bill Quigley, who is a Loyola University law professor in New Orleans. As I brushed off the prison letters and moved them to the "keep" pile, I felt this profound sadness - for both the physical and spiritual loss this family had suffered.

I was so incredibly moved by the experience that I vowed to return - with students from Archbishop Riordan HS (where I was the Campus Minister and Director of Service Learning, as well as an English teacher).

In 2007, a brave colleague (ARHS Director of Operations) and I took 16 students and 3 parents to New Orleans over spring break. Below is a news report (I'm the one in the white jacket, leading the prayer) and a few pictures from the trip:

The tradition of going to NO during spring break has continued at Riordan every year since - maybe it's time to bring this same tradition to Paramus Catholic HS.


Hurricane Irene vs. Hurricane Katrina: How They Stack Up
S.F. students join Katrina relief | Staff report | Local | San Francisco Examiner
Marianist Reflection: My Everyday Struggle with Justice (April 2007)
Casey: My Hero is a Bus Thief
Just Faith Ministries: Prayerful Reflections and Faithful Responses to the Gulf Coast Disaster
Catholic Charities - Volunteer in New Orleans

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