Message 4 Day 4- Oct 11
Our first full day at St. Bernard parish! Today, we spent some time touring the residential area. It was truly shocking. Ruined buildings, twisted poles, abandoned cars, dry mud everywhere. No signs of life except for our 2 cars. It was like driving through a concrete ghost town. Rebuilding this area is going to take years. I can imagine the tearing down of buildings and the removal of all the debris alone could itself take years.

We got back to work at the DRC, and since we weren’t too busy (saw about ~40 patients, and gave out ~85 vaccinations), we had ample opportunity to talk with the people that were pouring in everyday to the DRC. Many of their stories started the same. “We evacuated to Texas. Three weeks later, we evacuated again for Rita to Mississippi/Tennessee/Georgia. One to two weeks ago, we moved back to Louisiana and am now staying with a friend/relative nearby. We’re now returning to St. Bernard to apply for financial aid and to see if there’s anything salvageable from our home.” No matter how many times I hear it, the stories still make me very sad. Here’s one story that an elderly lady shared with us.

As a teenager, she’d eloped with her husband and since then has had 4 children and 9 grandchildren. She’s always wanted a wedding dress, so on their 50th anniversary, her kids gave her a wedding, complete with wedding dress, but the wedding dress was destroyed a few days later by Katrina. She’d always had grandkids running around her house, but now they’ve all been scattered to different states during the evacuations. She didn’t want to own a house anymore, because things will never be the same again.

We saw many people sad, because they knew they would never see their friends or their neighbors again. In fact, throughout the day, there would be occasional shouts of joy and frantic hugging as friends who hadn’t seen each other in 6 weeks, recognized each other at the DRC.

At the end of the day, instead of returning to Baton Rouge to the Center of Hope (a 3+ hour drive), we decided to stay at a FEMA tent-city shelter which we had serendipitously heard about talking to one of the relief workers. They had been building it for a while, and had just opened the day before. The best thing was that it was only 5 minutes away! If it turned out alright, we could save 5 hours of transit time a day, meaning more time spent serving the people of St. Bernard.

The shelter was amazing. The sleeping tent was enormous containing 1000 cots, and as a nice touch, each cot had a Snickers bar on top of the pillow! The dining room was fantastic, featuring buffet style meals, with food cooked by volunteer chefs from all over. We even heard that one of the chefs was the executive chef at a major Disneyworld resort! Whether that was true or not, the food definitely tasted like it was. Absolutely delicious! And you can’t beat all you can eat. The showers were decontamination showers converted to spray warm water, so no more ice cold showers! Phew. The decision was easy, we were going to stay here the rest of the week!