Saturday, October 01, 2005

Katrina Diaries: Lord's Day

The best way to describe this Sabbath is that it has been a four ibuprofen day. We made of our work a worship, and recalled with our backs that the Sabbath was made for humankind not humankind for the Sabbath.

The “worship” began with prayer at 8:30, followed by a chorus of chain saws at 8:45. Before dinner was mercifully served at 7:00 we had gutted one house down to its bare studs and removed a ton or more of trees and debris from outside of another.

We are in an area spared the worst of the storm, and still the devastation along the shore is indescribable. Tornados reduce homes to matchsticks; hurricanes do the same thing and then sweep the matchsticks out to sea.

Such storms strike with a great egalitarian furry, sweeping away mansions and shacks alike. Along the beach road in Pascagoula we passed what, we were told, was the home of the wealthiest man in Mississippi. It is now a see-through – or, perhaps, sea-through – structure. The neighbor’s car rests in a swimming pool. One perfectly intact roof sits squarely on the foundation of a house swept away by the storm surge. The roofers would be proud of their work, but a bit mystified as to the whereabouts of the house they did it on.

Two blocks inland the homes are far more modest – two bedrooms on a slab qualifies as middle class; working class folks inhabit trailers. Just a few days ago all were six feet under the Gulf of Mexico.

Of course, while the wind and waves were no respecter of class, the economic structures that will determine the course of rebuilding are entirely class driven. There is a class of folks who are insured and another class of folks who are not. There is a class of folks who can afford to rebuild and another class who cannot. The wealth on the coast line here is not as deep as the flood waters were, and thus the outpouring of volunteers is crucial. Free labor is all some folks can afford.

But it will not, on its own, be enough to ensure the return of ordinary working folks – the shipbuilders, the fishers, the shop owners, police, fire fighters, school teachers, service employees and factory workers who have lived along this coastline in homes just a stroll away from the water.

Ensuring their return will take a massive influx of public money justly distributed. These days, the tens of thousands of folks all along the Gulf Coast need the concern of the federal government.

They certainly aren’t getting the concern of some insurance companies unless they have flood insurance. Homes utterly destroyed by the 25-foot storm surge aren’t covered by standard policies because the damage was caused by water not wind – never mind that the wall of water was driven by 150-mile per hour winds.

One home we worked on today was totaled by the storm surge. It had to be completely gutted, which we did. The insurance agent told the home owner to expect $10,000 to cover the roof of their shed, which was blown off by the wind, but to expect nothing for their house which was under eight feet of water when the surge rolled through. The family of five is homeless, but their shed will have a nice roof.

For now, the kindness of strangers is all that holds together many such families. Such kindness marks the first step on the road to recovery. There’s plenty of work to be done. Will there be enough strangers to do it?

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