Friday, March 03, 2006

Rebuilding New Orleans

Here is a little write up on my trip to New Orleans that I promised a few weeks back. I sent it to our Kansas Nebraska Southern Baptist Convention Baptist Digest, but it keeps getting bounced back. So, I guess I won't be published there. Anyway, here it is.

New Orleans is a mess. That is the simplest way of saying it. The volume and magnitude of destruction is mind boggling. Have you ever seen The Omega Man starring Charlton Heston? This 1971 movie shows a world where most of humanity is gone and the buildings are vacant. Driving around New Orleans, I felt like I was in The Omega Man. Only with traffic. Like there are only automobiles, and vacant buildings.

As we drove into town, the first things we noticed were blue roofs. Most roofs have a blue tarp on them. At first I thought, "Why haven't they fixed the roof yet? It's been six months." Eventually I realized that many of them may not have the money to fix it yet. Some insurance companies are slow to pay and are paying only part of the actual cost. Many buildings may have also flooded, and therefore, the owners are waiting to see what FEMA, or the insurance company, is going to do. Many owners may not be able to get people and/or materials together yet, as there is a waiting list for everything construction related. The scale of the problem is so large, that the wait for someone to do any kind of work to your property is months long.

When I first heard reporters claim "10 years to rebuild," I thought that was exaggeration. But now that I have seen the scale of destruction, I believe them. Imagine if Wichita, KS or Omaha, NE had three-quarters of the town made unlivable in one day. Not just homes, but businesses as well. How long would that take to rebuild? Where would the people go? How would they earn a living? Where would they get supplies? All those small owner-run shops that were just staying afloat, that were the sole income for many families, are now gone. What will they do?

Wherever one goes in New Orleans, there are piles of trash along the streets. Everything in a flooded house (meaning 3/4 of the city) is hauled out to the curb in a pile waiting for the city to pick it up. Looking at these piles you see every material possession that these families owned. Every single material possession. Except the literal clothes on their backs. Everything they have worked for, saved, collected, treasured, or inherited is gone. What an opportunity to see what is truly valuable.

I am proud to be a (very small) part of the rebuilding effort and proud to be working with the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Team.


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