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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Life in Buras, LA -- Day 3

I had two very interesting conversations with residents today. I also made my first trip "off-site" and got a chance to tutor some local children.

The first discussion was with a woman who talked about the problems people are having with government and the insurance companies. She personally had to "reject" two trailers that FEMA tried to send her, because she quite evidently didn't need them -- she was already living in one. That kind of bungling shouldn't be too surprising considering FEMA's ineptness immediately after the storm hit.

She also described the problems with money getting to the "lower parish," in the south of the peninsula where Buras is located. Most of the relief funds have been spent in the "upper" part of Plaquemines Parish closer to New Orleans. She characterized it as a result of the local government's bias toward the upper parish, which is better off both in the financial sense and as in not suffering the same scale of damage as the lower parish, where Katrina first made landfall.

As far as the insurance companies, they managed to wiggle out of proper payments to residents by claiming that the damage was caused by whatever wasn't covered in the policies -- wind or water.

Related to the FEMA trailer story I talked about in an earlier post, a volunteer working with us has read that FEMA signed an 18 month contract with a trailer manufacturer and part of that agreement was that the trailers get destroyed at the end of the period to prevent glutting the market. It's something straight out of Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath where food was destroyed rather than given away to the hungry, but this time it's the government taking away people's homes in order to preserve a private company's profits.

The second conversation I had was with a resident who rode out the storm by sitting in a tree for 3 days. He and his family used a boat to get 40 feet above ground and then had the water lapping at their feet as it was roiled by the ferocious winds. Unbelievably he and the 5 others he was with made it out alive -- dropping out of the branches when the water subsided some and then walking along the levee until the Coast Guard finally picked them up. His 3 dogs weren't so lucky.

It's become apparent that a lot of the residents down here really appreciate the chance to tell their stories to a sympathetic listener. That and a place where they can not just get a free meal, but sit down with the other locals and volunteers and regain a real sense of community once more. It's why they're so grateful for the work that Emergency Communities is doing out of the old YMCA here.

Besides my usual kitchen duties -- the residents have been quite pleased with the quality of the meals since Terry Feingold started doing his magic in the kitchen here (with my small help) -- I also got a chance to "tutor" some kids after school at a local elementary school. It was a pretty cool experience, even though it was just helping the teacher give some kindergarden students a little individual attention while they did their homework, read books, and colored. Two of the little girls gave me hugs, and that was a nice little payment for the day's efforts.

I took a number of photos today, and I'll get them up tomorrow when I recharge the camera's batteries. I even have one of a refrigerator stuck in a tree about 20 feet above ground.
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