Day 5, 1/11/06 Do Not Destroy, Let this House Stand

We woke up early this morning to leave Pensacola, Florida for Biloxi, Mississippi. In Pensacola, Florida we focused on the impact of Hurricane Ivan. Those folks are still recovering after 18 or 19 months out. Now we're here in Biloxi, our first time seeing the impact of Katrina on whole communities, churches, individuals. The devastation and the wreckage is incomprehensible. It's hard to believe that all the uprooted trees, crumbled, hollowed out or just plain wiped out houses have been this way for the past five months. It looks like the hurricane happened last week. The emotional impact is the same. The pastor of Emanuel Baptist Church took us around the town and pointed out various houses, telling us stories about people who had either died, fled, or swam their way to safety in the midst of the storm. The pastor began to choke up when he talked about the media underreporting the number of deaths and focusing all the attention on New Orleans. Resentment is visible else where, one sign on a building said, "F*ck New Orleans." Others directed their anger towards FEMA, "Where the hell is FEMA?" "Do Not Destroy" "Let this House Stand."

We joined the rebuilding efforts today. We were divided up into three groups. I was a part of a group that did demolition work on a families house. We met the woman who used to live there when we first got there. She said, "Hi, nice to meet you , this is my home, well it used to be home." She left and we started hacking away at the dry wall in her house. It felt eerie to knock down the home of complete stranger and we were all alone as a team to figure out what to do. We had very few tools and no goggles. Fiber glass was flying everywhere from the insulation. Just before leaving this woman's house we walked down the street to pass out flyers letting people know that Emanuel Baptist will help them rebuild. Packi and I met this wonderful woman who said, "I am doing okay, but thank you so much. I am sure you've heard this but the faith based groups have been so wonderful. I really never knew that America was like this." As I was destroying the house before I couldn't help but think that this is what bombed out houses and streets and communities must look like so I naturally though of our other Gulf disaster in Iraq. The past few days have increased my anger and sadness at my government but increased my respect for the people of this country. I am struck by the beauty of the people and the landscape but the ugliness of government neglect. It's good to be here with the people.

Sara Suman

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