Monday, January 09, 2006

Next Question Answered...Home Sweet, Stinky Home

Muse asks : What's happening with your home in New Orleans? Will you and your kids be able to move back in (even if repairs need to be made)?
My home? Beautiful, wonderful, lovely, compared to so many other homes in New Orleans. Katrina's floodwaters didn't get inside of my house; they came up just below the floor joists. That's great news. But the water came up half way over my two central air units and trashed them and my hot water heater as well.

The wind did some damage to the exterior of the house, with a couple of broken windows, obliterated (decorative) shutters, some of the siding and all of the downspouts blown off. (The wind actually blew paint off the house and off of Renard's van.) The roof had damage as well. Several shingles and most of the roof caps were blown off. Water came in and went down the all of the walls. Mold is growing in the plaster. Almost every room in the house had water stains like the ones in these pictures- and that was in October. Who knows what it looks like now, after having been exposed for 4+ months. FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers don't put blue tarps on tile, asbestos or slate roofs. Which means most of us with old houses have to wait in line for a roofer while the water trickles (or pours) in with every rainfall.

As I said in the comments section of the "question" post, we'll have to stay with my Mom (who is doing well and has things pretty much back to normal at her house) until I can get the central air units, hot water heater and refrigerator replaced, provided the condition of the walls and ceiling hasn't changed. When they're repaired, we'll probably have to leave again, as I am very sensitive to plaster dust.

You may recall that the thing about which I was most apprehensive when I went home in October was having to deal with the two refrigerator-freezers that were loaded with food that sat putrifying for 5+ weeks. Well, the experience lived up to my expectations, but there is a nice element to the story.

I knew I had to get the refrigerators out of the house but had no idea how I was supposed to accomplish this task without help. So, I posted a message on a board that had just been created by my domain registrar,, a division of InterCosmos Media Group -a company run by a bunch of locals in New Orleans, asking if anyone knew where someone like me could get such help. (They stayed in town and took heroic measures to keep their servers up through the storm and its aftermath, and documented everything that was happening on a blog, complete with live webcam feeds. Their story alone is amazing.) One of the employees of the company named James, immediately offered assistance. Now that's customer service!

Dealing with the refrigerators was horrific.

I had two of them -an old one and a new one that I bought when I thought the old one was broken (turned out that it was a wiring problem in the house.) The new one didn't fit in the old one's space, so I had it in the dining room until I could do some renovation work in the kitchen. We used both and the new one had just been filled after a trip to Sam's Club.

We started with the new one. I had an N95 respirator on with Vick's Vapor Rub smeared all around and inside my nostrils to mask out the odor. Still not enough. James brought a hand truck with him and we blew the wheels out when we tilted the fridge back onto it. That's also when a gush of putrid liquid came pouring out of it. There are no words for this odor. Simply no words. I admire James' fortitude as he turned down the mask I offered. Eventually, he caved and accepted some Vick's. He gagged intermittently as we struggled to get the thing out of the house. But it wouldn't fit through the doorway. It was swollen with the gases of decomposition and we were told by "the authorities" to leave the contents inside and to seal the refrigerators with duct tape and put them on the curb. And I wasn't about to open that thing. No way. But without opening the doors, it definitely wouldn't make it out of the room. We had a problem.

The only solution was to take the door frame off, which damaged the plaster. (The lath underneath it turned out to have a quite unique pattern. You can see a picture of it and lots more from the house on the Flickr site.)

We borrowed another hand truck from workers in a neighbor's house and tried to load the fridge on it and blew a second set of wheels. We didn't have access to a hard-wheeled dolly, so we just pushed the fridge to into the far end of the foyer (scratching the hardwood floor all the way there) and after taking it off the front door's hinges, realized that it wouldn't fit through that space either. James had to go and Renard (who'd come to help) was ready to go as well, so I stayed to try to clean up some of the muck before the sun went down. (We still had no power.)

While I was outside, my beloved neighbor, Slim (nobody calls him by his real name) came by and saw me there. It was a beautiful reunion! I bought the house almost 18 years ago and he's been my "neighborhood father figure" ever since. He's helped through the years with minor repair jobs I've had and he always watches out for me.

He asked what was going on and when I told him, he offered to help. Soon there was no question that the front door frame would have to come off as well. Slim got quickly to work and soon both refrigerators were on the porch. I didn't even realize that I'd been left alone with the front door off its hinges and probably couldn't have put it back on by myself until Slim addressed that issue. Because of the damage inflicted on the frame, the door would no longer lock. So my house now sits with a heavy-duty barricade mounted inside to block the unlockable front door. That's one more thing for the to-do list.

As you might guess, this was a real funk-fest for the flies. There were phone, cable and power lines dangling all over the place, but one of them looked unusual. Only one. It appeared to have a strange and different texture than the others. A closer look revealed that the odd texture was the result of being covered in flies. Big, fat, disgusting flies. They went from the ground to about 8 feet up the wire and you could walk right up to it and they wouldn't fly away. I postulated that they must have been too full to fly, having gorged themselves on the contents of a neighbor's refrigerator that spilled out from a broken garbage bag on the curb nearby. (Initially, people were told to empty the contents before putting the refrigerators on the curb, but I suppose that proved to be a major sanitation hazard, if they even got people to comply in the first place. I'd made my mind up long brfore that that I was not opening the refrigerators, no way!)

Nothing you've seen on TV really captures the destruction of New Orleans. I have never experienced anything as creepy as what I did when I first drove into the city on October 5th, about 30 minutes before curfew, as the sun was setting. To see this once vibrant city all dull and gray, with nothing but my car's headlights illuminating piles of debris and damaged or burned out houses was something I'll never forget as long as I live. After I passed the National Guard checkpoint, I felt like the last person alive after the apocalypse; like I was in an episode of The Twilight Zone. There was not a soul in site. Not a person, not an animal. There was no color, no light, no sound. Nothing but gray emptiness. A major American city empty and lifeless, with destruction everywhere. Try imagining the city where you live in this state and maybe you can get some feeling of what this was like. It's the emptiness -the absence of any signs of life -that's so chilling.

It was not as bad in the light of the clear and beautiful day that followed my arrival, at least not in my neighborhood. At lot of clean-up had already taken place. The flood water peaked on my block at around 3.5 feet. Most houses are raised. But in other parts of New Orleans, the devastation is incomprehensible. And if you drive through certain parts of the city at dusk, they look the same today as what I saw when I first arrived. Dark and desolate.

There is so much work to be done in my city before life even comes close to anything that resembles what we once called normal. After all this time, services are not up and running in some places ans where they are, they're often inconsistent, grocery stores and gas stations are still scarce, mail is still not being delivered in many areas, and certainly not with any regularity when it is delivered, many traffic lights don't work... I could go on. We'll recover, but it will be a long road for New Orleans. But on the bright side, there are no meter maids working anywhere!

Be it ever so humble (and it's never been so humbled before,) there's no place like my home. No place. And we can't wait to get back.


Blogger muse said...

Aside from being currently all gross and moldy, your house is gorgeous! Beautiful colonial style (is that how it's called? anyway, I love it!)

3:53 PM  
Blogger LisaPal said...

Thanks! It's a Victorian, a little more than 100 years old, a believe me, it's showing its age! But its door will be open to you if you ever decide to visit.

4:46 PM  
Blogger LisaPal said...

BTW- If you wantr to see what it looked like before the storm, I have a picture on this post.

4:53 PM  
Blogger muse said...

Ooooh, it is absolutely lovely! :)

11:05 PM  
Blogger LisaPal said...

Thanks. It looks pretty wretched and it needs a LOT of work right now, but it will be back...

3:44 AM  

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