Katrina Disaster Relief

Trip Two--Bayou La Batre

25 December 2005 to 1 January 2006


After I presented a couple of talks, several people said that they would like to volunteer on our next trip to the Gulf Coast. The University of Kentucky staff and faculty newsletter and website, and the Kentucky Geological Survey newsletter also ran a story on our previous trip. Included in the articles was information about how to join our next volunteer trip. Several people read the articles or saw the talks and volunteered. The best time for most people to go was between Christmas and New Year's Day. Mike Lynch and I said that we would coordinate the trip. We ended up with 13 individuals altogether. We made plans through the Southern Alabama and Southern Mississippi disaster assistance office of the Southern Alabama Presbytery in Daphne, Alabama. We would be staying in Grace Presbyterian Church in West Mobile and working in Bayou La Batre. We were told that most of the work would be "mucking out" trailers and houses. The following is my diary of the events.

25 December 2005, Christmas Day, Sunday

I left Lexington at noon, much to the displeasure of my family. It was cool and cloudy. About 30 miles out of town, I remembered to turn on my trip odometer this time. By the time I got to Tennessee, it was foggy and started to rain lightly and continued till I got to Huntsville, Alabama. I arrived at the Marriott in Huntsville at dusk. I checked in and found that the only place open for food was the bar. Most of the staff were gone for Christmas. I think there may have been one more family staying at the hotel, but I never saw them. After taking my luggage to my room, I went to the bar to eat. They didn't have much to offer. I had hot chicken wings and beer and then went to my room and watched television.

26 December 2005, Monday

I got up, took a shower and left the hotel by 8:30. What a difference; it is sunny and very nice. It must have been about 55 degrees. I drove to Mobile and Grace Presbyterian Church. I met Tracy Bryan at the church cleaning up and getting ready for us. The church had installed a washer and dryer in the kitchen so that now we could wash our clothes. After a couple of hours Mike Lynch and Bethany Overfield arrived. Beth Holsonbeck from the Presbyterian office in Mobile arrived about 3:30 local time. She and some others were going to cook dinner for us.

I called Mark Johnson, the disaster coordinator in Bayou La Batre and he is expecting us tomorrow (Tuesday). We will go to his office and he will give us sites to work on.

People arrived in twos or threes and everyone was here by dinner time at 6:00 PM. We have thirteen people altogether. Beth Holsonback fixed a very nice Southwestern Soup and salad. We also had appetizers. I gave a short talk about what to expect and what we needed to do. After dinner, everyone sat around and played cards. I fixed three batches of Cajun popcorn. Everyone got on the computer and sent e-mails, so I didn't get a chance to log on in the evening. Everyone is very nice; you would like them all.

27 December 2005, Tuesday

A couple of fellows snored all night long. One was related to Andrew Brooks. I got up to check the clock every hour. I slept next to a window where there was an outdoor light. It looked like daylight through the window. I wanted to be the first up to make sure we got to Bayou La Batre on time. We had set a target time of 8:30 in the morning to be at the relief office, which meant that we had to get up, brush teeth, eat breakfast, prepare lunch and leave the church by 8:00. I won't go into details about what everybody had for breakfast. However, I know that you will want to know that I had a bowl of cereal and a cup of yogurt (and coffee).

We left the church in a caravan and got to the Relief office in Bayou La Batre. This was the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (NVOAD www.nvoad.org) office next to Food Tiger grocery store on U.S. Highway 188. John Centamore told us that Mr. Alvin Bosarge at 8491 Gray Dr., Irvington, Alabama need help with his trailer. Irvington is next to Bayou La Batre. We went to the trailer which had been damaged by water. A tree limb had punched a hole in the roof and water washed in as well. I don't know if there had been storm surge or not. We were told to reattach the tarp over the hole and to tear out all of the paneling and ceiling in order to remove the insulation. Mold was the problem. But first we had to carry out all the furniture, pack up all the usual things found in a house and move it out to the yard (to await the arrival of a storage pod. James Pendergrast carried a ladder to the trailer and set it up. I climbed up to see what the matter was and found that rainwater had pushed the tarp into the hole and was filling the tarp with water. Mike Lynch got a mop and pushed up from inside the trailer to displace the water and tarp while I pulled on the tarp from the roof. We got the water out. Someone found a piece of plywood and handed it to me. I put it over the hole and under the tarp to keep the tarp from filling with water again.

Meanwhile, everyone else had started packing up items in the house and carrying the furniture. When that got done, we used crow bars and pry bars to tear out the paneling. Once the paneling was out we pulled the insulation out. There were lots of spiders and many large roaches in the insulation. The smell was not bad, not compared to Ruth Bosarge's trailer when I was there in early October. Anyway, it took us all day for all 13 of us to remove the paneling and insulation. We left about 4:30 with a small area of ceiling left to work on. Tomorrow, we will go back to finish that up and then start the next phase on the trailer. After we get this all done, inspectors will examine the trailer to see if it is salvageable or needs to be condemned.

Alvin and Penny Bosarge are now living in a FEMA trailer next to their damaged trailer. Their grandson D.J. (stands for Donald Jr.) lives with them as well as a mother of the Bosarges. D.J. is about 4 or 5 years old and enjoyed watching us carry furniture and tearing up the old trailer.

We left the Bosarges and went back to the church. We all took turns taking showers with the two available showers. After we were done, we called for reservations at Felix's Fish Camp (www.felixsfishcamp.com), but were told we'd have several hours to wait. Instead, we went to Saucy Q BBQ on Government Blvd. They were out of hot wings so most of us ordered ribs. The ribs were excellent as usual. However, there was a major billing problem. We were told by our waitress that it would be too difficult to pay by credit card. She said that she would take our money. Everybody paid with $20 bills. We waited for our change, but it never came. After we complained at the register, she reluctantly gave us our change. She was going to keep all the change as a significant tip. I've eaten there before and the rest of the staff gave excellent service. I ordered and paid for two pounds of hot chicken wings to be picked up by 7:00 PM on Friday.

28 December 2005, Wednesday,: 8:00 pm

I got up about 6 this morning. Cynthia made coffee. I had my usual breakfast. Others slowly got up. The night before, I ran a spyware detection program and found 18 spy ware programs on the computer. During the night (or was it the night before), I updated five critical Windows updates. I scanned the computer for viruses. Before I left to go work in the field, I started the disk defragmentation program.

We decided that I would go to the disaster relief office while the others finished up at the trailer from yesterday. They wanted several people to stabilize their big circus-type tent where they stored supplies like tarps, baby formula, etc. I got Gary and Andrew Brooks to help fix up the tent. We had to tighten all the guy lines, reset the outer poles and secure the poles to the tent. It was a very blustery day. Many of the poles had fallen before we got there. After fixing the tent, we carried tarpaulins, nails, wood and other supplies to put in the tent.

About noon, the other group (at the trailer) finished up and came to the office to meet the three of us. We decided to break for lunch. Everyone wanted to go to the Lighthouse Restaurant. Eleven of us went. I ordered two platters of fried crab claws so that everyone could try them. They were as good as I remembered them. I also ordered a salad and the others ordered a lunch.

After lunch, we went back to the office. Mike Lynch stayed there to try to get us jobs to do. We got a job to examine the trailer of Huong Tran and Duoc Nguyen at 14020 Sixth Avenue, Bayou La Batre. Their trailer roof needed the tarpaulin reattached and they wanted us to evaluate whether their trailer could be salvaged or not. Cathy stayed back to build some partitions with students from Florida for the relief office. The rest of us went to the trailer. When we got there, the fellow greeted us but did not speak English. He called his daughter who could and I spoke to her on his cell phone as I walked through the trailer. The trailer had been emptied and the paneling and a good bit of the insulation had been removed. There were numerous leaks, obvious by the still damp floor at places. Most of the leaks were where the trail and an addition met. The trailer ceiling had thin wooden strips as structural elements and a tin roof sat on these. A rubberized canvas-type covering was fixed over the roof. I determined that the roof was not strong enough to support us, so we could not safely put a tarp over it. We examined the trailer carefully. Andrew even went beneath it to examine the floor structure. We agreed that there was too much water damage, most caused by leaking roof, to salvage the trailer. I will report this observation when we go to the office tomorrow. As we were about to leave a neighbor Vietnamese lady named Tina came over. She acted as an interpreter for us and we had a more detailed conversation with the fellow who lived in the trailer. He had quite a nice garden in the back and was trying to grow fruit trees. He was a very industrious fellow. His family was living in a FEMA trailer in the back, but he mostly slept outside. He was cooking a chicken on the front porch while we were there. Tina had lived there but now lived in Atlanta and was a real estate agent and mortgage advisor. She was help her mother this week.

While on the job there, we got a call from Mike that there was a lady across the who needed someone to hook up a water heater. It turned out to be Tina's mother. She said that they needed an electrician to hook up the heater. None of us were competent electricians, so we said that we couldn't help there either. Mike called back and I told him about both of these situations. He gave us another job at Hilton Barnes house at 8975 West Rabby St., Bayou La Batre. We drove a la caravan to Mr. Barnes place. He had a roof leak. Someone had come to his house and put on a shingle roof, but the shingles in a valley over the front of his house overlapped incorrectly and water got under the shingles when it rained and poured onto his front porch through the roof. Mr. Barnes was a very nice elderly fellow who had been a fisherman and sailor. As we looked over his house, he told us about riding out the storm. His wife didn't want to leave their dogs alone during the hurricane, so they stayed home instead of evacuating. He said that he went to the front porch and saw water rising about knee level. He got in the water and went to get his boat in the back yard, by then it was waist level. He got in the boat and tied it to his front porch. By then the boat was bashing against the roof of his porch. He showed us where the rope wore against the paint on the porch timbers and where the boat hit against the wood at the porch roof. He rode out the storm surge and wind while in the boat. His dogs that were in the boat jumped out onto the roof of his house. He said that the wind was so strong that 55-gallon oil drums were skipping across the water, each bounce about 30 yards.

We got a ladder and several of us got on his roof. It seemed sturdy enough. We saw how the shingles had been laid. We got two large tarps and spread them out over the front of his house. He didn't want us to nail them down so we placed mahogany planks over the edges of the tarps and got nylon string to tie to the tarp grommets and nailed the ends of the string to the wood roof timbers on the side of the house. I believe that the tarps will keep rain from entering his house, but if a really strong wind comes, the tarps will blow away. I told him this, but he said that was what he wanted us to do. While on his roof I noticed that he had a kumquat tree in his backyard growing next to his house. He told us we could pick all we wanted. We picked a bag full and ate a bunch while still on the roof.

We finished the job just as it got dark. We got back in our cars and drove back in the dark to the church in Mobile. The church ladies were preparing dinner for us tonight and we were supposed to be there at six. We got there about ten before six and only had time to wash our hands. They served us homemade chicken pot pies that were excellent. We had a nice salad, ice tea and a wonderful homemade banana pudding. After eating, I started washing dishes till one of the ladies ran me off. The group sat around the table and talked quite awhile.

29 December 2005, Thursday: 7:45 PM central time

I got up at 6:15 this morning, changed clothes and had breakfast. Cynthia Pendergrast was already in the kitchen unloading the dishwasher in the dark (she had the closet light on). Others got up and had their breakfast and we left the church about 8:00. John Centamore at the relief office in Bayou La Batre had a job for us. Carolyn Boucher at Brown Ave., Irvington need a new roof put on her house. She was sixty two, had cancer and was taking cancer treatment. Her mother was living with her and she was 90. We arrived and talked to Mrs. Boucher. The shingles and other roofing supplies had not arrived. She called Lowes and they said that the materials would arrive in 45 minutes. We then started taking the old shingles and tar paper off the roof. This took about two-third's of a day. It was about 65 with a nice sunny day and blue skies. Gary and Andrew Brooks borrowed a stapling gun and short staples and decided to go back to Mr. Barnes house to staple the tarp onto his roof. This should help hold the tarp to the roof in the wind and not damage his shingles. Andrew and Gary got back to Mrs. Boucher's house by lunch time.

While working on her roof, Mrs. Boucher told us that she was in the process of cooking lunch for us. At lunch she brought out red beans, sausage and rice as well as homemade cornbread, iced tea and a cake that she had just made (cornbread recipe). After we went back on the job, she brought out peanut butter fudge. She told us that she had stayed home during the hurricane. Storm surge did not affect her area, but the wind was very strong. She said that the trees were doing "the Watusi" all over the place. I asked her if she had any downed trees that she would like cut. She said that there was a large oak limb down in the back yard that she'd like cut up. I got my chain saw out and surveyed the tree to see what was involved. The 12-inch diameter oak limb was broken and leaning against the tree about 12 feet up. I cut away the little branches and then worked on the bigger limbs. I cut up the bigger limbs into firewood. It took me about 45 minutes I guess. Then some of the others helped me drag limbs to the road's edge and carry the firewood. After that was done we went back on the roof to help the others. A neighbor lady who had gotten a lathe for Christmas came and got all the firewood.

Cathy Velotta is an ace carpenter and she was in charge of our roofing operation, thank goodness. By the time I got back on the roof, they had started putting tar paper down over some of the new drip-edge flashing. Then Cathy showed us how to cut the shingles in order to get the starter row. We got tar paper down on more than half of the house and had a start on some of the shingles. Then it started getting dark. We were to be in Mobile for a church dinner at 6, so we had to stop and cover the uncovered part of the roof with tarps and nail them down. It got dark while we put the tools back in the vehicles and we drove back in the dark. Traffic to Mobile was pretty heavy and there had been a big wreck. We got to church just at six.

The church ladies had made a nice Italian tomato sauce with mozzarella cheese dip for appetizers. For dinner we had two kinds of pork tenderloin and two kinds of sauce, barbecued beans with sausage, potato salad, iced tea and a very nice fudge and whipped-cream covered brownie for dessert. [See my "Heck-of-a-job Brownie!" recipe; it has a lot of nuts that don't cooperate.] It was another very nice dinner.

Tonight I will wait my turn to take a shower. I haven't gotten to the washer and dryer yet, it's been pretty busy too. Later I will buy white sweet potatoes to fix for supper tomorrow night. We are cooking in tomorrow. I'll buy some fresh seafood to boil and I have ordered hot chicken wings too. I will probably sleep well tonight.

30 December 2005, Friday: 10:10 pm Central time

I got up about 6:15 and had breakfast and coffee. Everyone left about 7:45 and went straight to Mrs. Boucher's house (8510 Brown St.) to finish her roof. I was late getting there because I had to fill up my car with gas. We worked hard and steady all day to lay the tar paper on the other side of her house, put on the drip edge flashing and then the shingles. Meanwhile, Mrs. Boucher made spaghetti with meat sauce, more cornbread, salad and iced tea. Then she came out with chocolate cake.

Andrew Brooks and I carried shingles most of the day while the others nailed. It got dark before we had all the final ridge-vent pieces nailed onto the roof. We were short two pieces. At dark, Mike Lynch and Mrs. Boucher's friend from Louisiana went to Lowe's in Tillman's Corner to buy the extra two pieces. Meanwhile, we cleaned up the area.

Andrew and I left a little after dark, before Mike came back with the vent pieces. We had placed a take-out order for hot chicken wings at Saucy Q BBQ and wanted to buy seafood for our seafood dinner. The others worked into dark with flashlights to install the last pieces when they arrived. Andrew and I drove to the Cajun Seafood market and bought 10 pounds of large shrimp (with the heads on) and some Louisiana spicy shrimp boil. A long line of customers lined up behind us (we got there just in time). I was talking to the lady waiting on us and someone in the back of the line asked the lady to hurry up. She told the person to be patient, that we were doing volunteer work in Bayou La Batre and for that person to not be impatient. We brought the shrimp back to the church and set them in the sink. We then went to the grocery store and bought white sweet potatoes and salad greens. After that we drove to pick up our 2 pounds of hot chicken wings. By the time we got back to church, most of the others had arrived. Cynthia had two large pots filled with boiling water, waiting for us. I put the shrimp boil in one of the boiling pots and then added five pounds of shrimp. I realized then that the pot would not hold the other five pounds of shrimp. I had used up all the shrimp boil. Gary and Andrew Brooks went to the grocery store to buy Zatarain's shrimp boil to use in the other pot. They came back with their boil and we fixed the other pot of shrimp. While cooking the shrimp, we opened up the containers of hot wings and everyone tried them. They were very good. We also had a little hot sauce drinking contest. Gary made up two batches of shrimp cocktail sauce, one that was hot with lots of Tabasco and horseradish, the other with less. It was a very nice dinner. Most people had never had shrimp with the heads still on them and most had never had white sweet potatoes. I told everyone that the meal was provided by my parents in support of our work on the Gulf Coast.

After dinner, Cythia Pendergrast awarded Cathy Velotta with a Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. hat from Bayou La Batre for her excellent job as crew boss in the roofing job as well as in most of our other jobs there. We wouldn't have been able to most of the things that we did without Cathy's expertise, training and patience. Mary Ann recited a prayer by Maya Angelou about difficult times and surprised us with a bottle of champagne which we all toasted. Gary Brooks said that they (Hunter Presbyterian Church) would be starting another Habitat house in Lexington and everyone there said that they would like to help when the time came. Everyone is planning to leave in the morning.

After dinner, I finally took my shower and it felt great.

31 December 2005, Saturday

It's 8:30 Saturday morning. The last person just left. Gary and Andrew are driving to New Orleans to visit friends and survey the damage. The Pendergrasts are going to Atlanta. David is going to go back to Lexington with Mike Lynch and Bethany (David's wife and daughter went back yesterday because Ana had to work Saturday). Cathy and Mary Ann are going back to Kentucky in time for a New Year's Eve party. I will be the last to leave so that I can lock up the church. I will drive to Huntsville to visit my son and daughter-in-law. They are preparing to move into their first house in Huntsville. I'll lock up the church and head for Huntsville to see Donald and Lorie.

I received a call on Sunday from Cathy saying that she and Mary Ann had a wreck about an hour north of Mobile on their way home. A merging car ran them off the road and almost over a fifty-foot embankment. Cathy's truck was totaled. She rented a van from the wrecking company and loaded all her tools on it. She and Mary Ann made it back to Lexington by 11:30 PM and were able to attend the New Year's Eve party.

I got to the Marriott at Huntsville by about 2:00 in the afternoon. The hotel was having a New Year's Eve party. I was very tired. I had averaged about two hours of sleep per night that week and I realize now that sleep deprivation was taking its affect on me Thursday and Friday while we were working. It was very difficult for me to drive to Huntsville. I went to my son's new house and they toured me through it. Very nice. I was almost so tired that I couldn't walk straight. I went back to the hotel and slept for about an hour. Then Donald and Lorie called me and said that they would pick me up at 6 to go to Rob and Sheryl's house for dinner (they are relatives). We had a very nice dinner and nice company. We left about 9:30 and I went back to my room and slept all night long. The next thing that I remember, it was daylight.

1 January 2006, Sunday

I got up about 8:30 AM, took a shower and called Donald. I invited them to breakfast at the hotel. They arrived about an hour later and we had a nice leisurely breakfast. After breakfast, we departed and I drove back to Lexington, Kentucky. My family was very glad to see me. According to my trip odometer and allowing for 30 miles not on the odometer, the total trip was 1583 miles.