Saturday, November 19, 2005

Day 7 - Last work day in Biloxi

We worked with the tree crew again today. A good crew. Jojo is the lead and will climb up anything with a chainsaw. We call him monkey-boy. He's all of 5 ft tall and his energy is limitless. We were also with Carl, a retired elementary school principal from California. He was the oldest member of the crew but more than pulls his weight.

My right foot is pretty messed up. I took a pic but I don't think you want to see it. I've tried to keep it clean and dry but working 8 hours in combat boots means they sweat. Rossana applied some antibiotic cream and a gauze pad. It really needs some air. Rossana is sporting some nasty bruises and a couple of mean scrapes from tree limbs. No serious cuts or punctures so far (knock on wood) although I have developed the 'Katrina Cough'. I'm told a lot of people pick it up but it's not serious.

When we got to our second job I started to feel bites on my arms and neck. There seems to be some kind of mite down here that finds people mighty tasty. Very small, but they hurt like a bitch. I started to get paranoid and thought I felt them on my scalp. I seem to do more damage to myself hauling debris than any other job. It doesn't help that the area is littered with hidden holes which I seem to find with amazing regularity. I have so far avoided seriously messing up my ankles thanks to my trusty Army surplus boots. Best money I ever spent.

We finished our jobs a little early and dropped 2 of our crew over at a house clean out, The crew leader was unhappy because a Senator and some other political hacks came by for a photo op earlier in the day. The problem is that our crew had already mostly finished. But the senator wanted the photo op so several heaps of debris here hauled back into the house so the could haul them back out again for the cameras. Is this news? Does this count as compassion or solidarity? Are they really helping by using some poor bastards ruined house as a prop?

We finished the day and I went straight to the showers to scrub the little bloodsucking bastards off. They collapsed for a nap. We decided to miss the evening meal. Rossana doesn't want to say any public goodbyes, she just wants to slip away tomorrow. We'll say adios tomorrow after breakfast to the people we want to and then pack up the last of our gear.

We went to dinner at a Chinese buffet with Vlad and Liz which was great. Good food and great company. Vlad is a total geek and it's fun to talk geek with someone.

tomorrow we hit New Orleans. I don't know what kind of connectivity will be available. I may be making these posts from my phone which means they will be drastically shorter. I'm also not sure still about the camping situation. Emails from Common Ground have been vague.

It's great that 2-300 people are coming in to help. But does Common Ground have enough equipment to give them? How will they get to the work zone? Have they set up specific projects? Here at Hands on USA there is actually a whole admin department that supports our teams. They take requests from people as well as scout out locations where we can be of use, they write up work orders and allocate (in a very loose way) resources to get everything done. Is this system in place in New Orleans? I guess we'll find or very shortly.

I feel good about heading out. A whole new crop of volunteers flew in today as well as some hippie types who arrived in a psychedelic school bus 'powered by vegetable oil'. New blood and renewed energy. They'll do a great job I have no doubt.


I found a Flickr photoset of HOUSA in action here.

Day 6 -Distribution again

No pics today. We were too busy moving food. Our crew was smaller than last time so we had to stay on our toes. We again distributed a mess of food, water and cleaning supplies. Lean, our crew chief said that she didn't see anyone come back twice.

We had no ice today. The SA rep said we officially never get ice but he knew a guy with FEMA. We had stuff they wanted and they had ice so every few days a truck of ice was misplaced and everyone was happy. Unfortunately someone higher up in the SA noticed that we 'didn't have ice' and tried to go through channels and had thus cocked everything up. Our guy said he should have it straightened out by Monday with his buddy. There's always a way around the system.

I don't know what crew we'll go out with tomorrow. The SA screwed up their schedule and discovered they had no one to cook for this weekend. They asked Hands On USA to help. I considered it but it would require leaving base at 5am and working till 3. That's just too brutal for us right now. I came down with an unstoppable itch on my feet yesterday. I could not stop myself from scratching them and today my feet don't look so good. I'll try to keep them clean and dry and get them some air to heal up before we head out on Sunday.

Our great treat was having a home cooked meal at Vlad's tonight. Pot Roast, with potatoes, carrots, biscuits and pumpkin pie. Sheer joy. We swapped Pennsic stories into the night. Too tired to type more. Shoulders hurt from lugging food boxes all day.

Friday, November 18, 2005


We're back at base after a day back at distribution. I keep finding ways to get filthy no matter what job it is. I grab a nap on one of the couches in the main building. In the kitchen they are preparing dinner and listening to Paul Simon's 'Graceland'. It really is one of the best CD's I can think of. It's just great to listen to. Not a bad song in the lot.

We're in the paper!

We're in the paper!
Originally uploaded by stevepack.
This is the front page of the travel section of USA Today.

Day 5 - Warehouse

Last night the temperature plummeted into the thirties. I wore my winter cap to bed and we toughed it out. I think there might have been some thought in my head about solidarity with those who are still living in tents down here. I have quickly gotten over that thought. With the temperature again in the thirties tonight I am blogging from the comfort of Vlad's guest room, occasionally visited by one of his three cats.

Today we worked at the Salvation Army warehouse. The crew consisted of Diane (the 80 year old) Rossana, me and a girl I call princess. Princess worked with us on distribution but couldn't take our aggressive loading style. She wouldn't walk the 10 feet to the back of a car insisting that the car would pull up to the toiletries station anyway and she could load juice there. She didn't seem to grasp that some people didn't need toiletries or cleaning supplies and by loading all the food at once we saved valuable time. Every second we saved got more people through the line and more aid distributed. She wandered off and took an hour coffee break, and then lunch.

When we arrived at the site (a former oyster company)we were amazed by the sophistication of the operation. There must have been three mobile command stations, 6 distribution units, a dozen vans, satelite uplink. The photo can't capture it all since it was so spread out over the complex.

We were whisked into an office, photographed and issued I.D. tags and a Salvation Army sweater. We then entered the warehouse which was a hive of activity. The space was split into two areas.

This is the outgoing food room. These are the boxes of non perishable foods that we handed out the other day.

The other section was where donated goods were housed, broken up, sorted, assembled into kits and otherwise moved through the system. We were introduced to Max, or rather he introduced himself in his own unique way. Looking a bit like a burned out roadie for the Rolling Stones Max sped up on a forklift, hopped out wearing jogging pants with shorts on top and a blue hospital gown over his Salvation Army outfit. He introduced himself, shook out hands and got us right to work. We were assembling comfort kits from donated goods and we needed to fill five massive boxes before lunch.

"We feed and clothe about 4000 each day."

We got to it as best we could. The donated goods were of widely different sizes and while we had plenty of some things like Shampoo we were short of razors. We worked fast and I'm not sure why we didn't make two different kinds of kits, one for men and one for women. Some guy in a distribution line is going to get several tampons which will be of little use to him. I worked unboxing donations and sorting them into different spots on our assembly line. We worked along side several SA employees and a few other volunteers. One of them was Ron.

Ron was a marine in Vietnam, a 35 year veteran of the Fire department, a regular volunteer with the SA and had worked in Waveland, the worst hit area in Mississippi shortly after the hurricanes. He is also a yammering ass. His mouth was constantly open and noise was coming out of it. He was constantly making comments to the women and saying generally annoying or dumb things. I could tell he was annoying Rossana as well but she said nothing. We were eventually send to another section of the warehouse to help organize loose donations onto palates and move them out of the way for expected food deliveries. It was like taking the contents to 20 thrift stores and trying to sort them into something that made sense. Ron was moving finished loads with the pallet jack and was thus, slightly less annoying. We were about a third of the way through this grueling process when lunch was served (Ribs!) in a small break room. Ron was back to yacking again. He had just mentioned how Arnold Schwarzenegger would make a great president when I left the room to take some pics of the warehouse. When I came back in it was very quiet and Rossana and a group of women were heading out the door to the parking lot. I followed.

"Honey, did you lay the smack down on the Marine?" I asked.

"The asshole needed to good slapping."

At this point I wasn't sure if she meant that literally or not.

"Did you leave any marks? Is he still able to stand?"

"I didn't kick the crap out of him if that's what you're asking. He just got on my last nerve" the other women were nodding. He's been making cutsey comments at them all damn morning.

"What did you say?"

"Carol here was complaining of a headache and I told her I was getting one two. And when Mr Man guy started to open his mouth I told him that I would going to get Carol some aspirin and a roll of duct tape for him if he didn't shut up."


The rest of the day Ron was more civil. He and I were eventually sent to work for 'The Major' (remember these people think of themselves as an army) to move some desks over at Yankee Stadium. On the way over he informed us that their clinic had been shut down by FEMA and the Red Cross. They refused to give an official reason but said that if the clinic didn't shut down the SA would have to leave the area entirely. Once the clinic was gone the Red Cross apparently made an announcement that there was a great need for a clinic in the area and opened one at the Community Center.

Outside the stadium area a large semi-permanent hanger like structure has been erected. This houses a distribution area for clothes, baby needs and formerly the clinic as well an an open area and pulpit with seating for maybe 200 for church services. The back third of the building has offices and we spent a few hours moving desks that I swear were composed of lead. I was pleased to see that these were donated desks, bookshelves and file cabinets. No blatant spending on lavish office goods. The Major, who never seemed to be around during the lifting portions would keep finding other tasks for us to do. We got back to the warehouse at about three and helped finish out the last of the sorting. By this time Rossana had taken to just telling the other what to do and the results were than the unruly pile of misc goods were now sorted, plastic wrapped and cleared out to make room.

Having undergone this experience, here are a few helpful hints in case you ever want to donate items after a disaster. Buy a whole box or case of the item, not just a dozen. If the box doesn't lists its contents, write what it is on the top and sides. Don't send sample sizes. If you send toothbrushes, make sure they are in individual packages. Cut bulk pakages of soap into individual bars. This makes sorting and distribution a lot easier.

Princess stayed at it all day although she primarily moved stacks of Styrofoam bowls and serving boxes. I honestly wonder what she is doing here. She flew in from Southern California but doesn't strike me as an ardent do gooder. It's like she's here to fulfill some kind of obligation. Maybe her dad told her she'd get a car if she did this. I don't know. I could be completely wrong about her.

Driving back to base my eyelids were heavy from lack of sleep and from the fast paced work today. We drove by the destroyed and damaged homes and businesses with hardly a second glance. By now it has strangely started to look normal. I suppose that's what is needed to live in this environment. You need to look past the vast scope of the damage and focus on accomplishing one thing at a time. Solving one problem, removing one tree, cleaning one house, getting one person a jacket and a blanket. Repeat as necessary.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Food distribution pic

Food distribution pic
Originally uploaded by stevepack.

Day 4 - Food Distribution

Today was suppoed to be a light day. It was discovered that working seven days a week at this tends to wear people out. Those who have been here a long time are told to take the day off. They get extra sleep, do laundry, etc. But since we're only here a week we hooked up with another crew. Today was working the food distribution line at Yankee Stadium for the Salvation Army.

I only managed to snap a few cameraphone pics because we were so busy. This is an efficient operation. We handed out water, boxes of non-perishable food, juice or gatorade, personal products kits, cleaning kits and if needed diapers or blankets.

People arrive in cars, tell us what they need and we load them up fast. I don't know how many cars we filled but it could well be over 350 by our rough estimate. They were evenly split between Vietnamese, Blacks, Whites and some Mexicans.

We were kept hopping loading cars and hauling pallets. It felt great seeing all these goods moving out. Everyone on the team was in great spirits. Our general leader was an 80 year old woman whose name I didn't get. I asked her if anyone abuses the system.

"Yep, if you're here long enough you'll begin to recognize cars. And some of the Vietnamese don't eat the food we give them. They sell it."

"What do you do when they come through again?"

"We load 'em up again."

I asked her at the end of the day how many cars came through twice or in some way looked like they weren't really in need. She guesses 3 or 4. That's not bad. There will always be people who abuse the system. But the vast majority of people we saw are just working to get their lives back on track. The distribution line runs Mon, Wed and Friday (down from 5 days a week). Tomorrow we will be working in the warehouse sorting and packing .I'm glad we're getting a crack at each of these different jobs. We also might work as a 'street crew'. It's going to be cold over the weekend and the street crews need to get more blankets and jackets to people who need them.

Rossana and I finished up when the line closed at 2:30 and headed back to base for a nap. Although not as exhausting as house crew, we were at it constantly. No sooner had we pulled up to our tent then a nice fellow named Thom asked us for a ride to Gulfport about 20 min away. We agreed since a lot of the other volunteers were still out and dinner wouldn't be for a few hours.

He had a lot of gear, much of it construction tools. On the way he told us of how he'd come down to Biloxi from South Carolina to get work. But his truck blew an engine. He hooked up with Hands on USA and helped out while trying to network for work which is real hard without wheels. He assembled the thirty or so bikes that were donated to us which we use for short trips and give to locals if they need them. He eventually got this job in Gulfport renovating a mobile home. We arrived at the site and moved him into the home. It needs a lot of work. No power or running water. I asked him how he was set for food and he said he had a granola bar and some chips. Why he didn't fill a box of food from our stores I don't know. I think he was just trying to get to the job. He hasn't seen his wife or step son for a month. The bank will soon start sending nasty letters about his Mortgage.

We took some of the gas money and took him shopping for some basics. For a guy so close to the edge he seems remarkably upbeat. He just wants to work. If he can hold on for a week then the money should start coming in. I hope he makes it.

Day 3 - Welcome to the suck.

This morning we got off to a late start. By the time I finished posting the pics and report last night it was about 10:30. Officially 'quiet time'. But when I got over to our tent there was some kind of party going on. It broke up within a half hour but not before these kids had knocked over three crosses planted on a small hill nearby. I stepped outside and was going to give these kids whatfore when I saw them trying to fix what they had done.What can I say? It looked like drunk evangelical marines had taken Iwo Jima. They were trying to plant the crosses but the dirt was very loose and they were very drunk and kept dropping the croes on each other and falling off the hill. I was too amused to chide them and they quieted down shortly thereafter.

Later I learned that the lead asshat was so drunk that he stumbled around in the loft and relieved himself next to a poor young volunteer, which sort of freaked her out. The next day there was lots of chatter about the incident. The kid in question didn't need to be asked, he left of his own accord. Darius, who is in charge was calm but firm.

"I know this is a tough job, and I know you need to unwind at the end of the day after what we do, but we didn't come here for a party. Anyone who fucks up like that again will be asked to leave".

I agree. The heavy drinking was the cause of our late start. Today we ran with an interior crew. As hard as hauling trees was, interior cleanup is even harder. We cleaned out a small Vietnamese business. They obviously made jewelry and all of their equipment was totaled. I cannot describe to you how damaging seawater is. It's like painting instant rust on anything it touches. I turned over a box in a back room and discovered that I had stumbled upon several gallons of sulfuric acid. I carefully put it down and went outside to rinse off my gloves. Luckily the containers were not leaking.

The two safes had to be left behind.

The owners know that everything gets pitched. Anything they want should be removed before we arrive. I found this small shrine in a back room and carefully put it out by the curb with what little respect I could. When we drove by later it was gone.

Our second project was clearing a small house. When we entered the home it had already had its contents removed. It looked no worse than several places I might had rented as a younger man. But once water floods a house you have to pull out all the materials on the walls down to the studs. The paneling as easy, then another layer of paneling. But then I learned that most houses down here have walls made with tongue and groove slats. This is just like old floors but on ALL the walls and it is a bitch to pull out. I spent ten minutes beating the hell out of one piece before I was shown the proper way to use a crowbar in this situation. Even with a crew of ten we spent the rest of the day on this project. Every time I yanked a piece off the wall a small shower of filth would flutter down on me. I have never in my life been more filthy. We discovered that there had been a bad fire at some point and the previous owner just covered it up. At least when the house it re-done it will have proper walls. Everything will need to be sprayed but thats for another crew.

This is the hardest work I think I have ever done and by the end of the day I was having a hard time keeping up. This was a young crew and that crowbar kept getting heavier and heavier. Rossana did great despite the pain in her feet. She took a solid nail to the foot but the boots stopped it. Did I mention that I was absolutely filthy?

At lunch we took our food to go and went down to 'The Point'. The Images below are of a Casino Barge run aground and Route 90 (or what's left of it.)

Rain and high winds tonight so we stayed at Vlads and got some laundry done. Too tired to write more.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Day 2

This was yesterdays task.

Slept well and awoke with only minor stiffness. We went out with termites (tree cutters) again. Yesterday our driver was Richard. He was once a teacher in South Africa during aparteid. He tought people who were under house arrest/confinement. I also met Jose', who hails from California once worked in the dot com boom but burned out on it. He works with Habitat for Humanity. Doyle operated the tractor. He's a good ole boy. He proudly displays a GW Bush sticker on his pickep and thinks he knows everything. Considering we didn't destroy two houses yesterday he may be right. He's also replaced 13 tires on his tractor since getting here. Each time it's $100 to get fixed, and he pays for it himself.

Today we were with a different crew. Ted, Ozuna and Patch are with the airforce but since their jobs don't exist at the moment they have been working with Hands On a lot. They are highly motivated. Ted is the Seargent and has a John Wayne thing going. Whenever we have to move on he shouts "Regulators! Mount up!" (Someone tell me what movie that's from)

We were rounded out with Diane, Steve, Jose' and Jake. Our first job went like clockwork. We cleared out a tree that had damaged a house. Tree removal is crucial. FEMA will not move in a trailer unless the area is fairly safe. Once it's in the trailer is hooked into city water and power. I don't know how long people will be allowed to stay in these trailers. I assume you have to have had flood insurance and are planning on rebuilding to get one. I'll check into this.

We rolled up onto our second job and I had to get a picture, since it completely blocked the house behind it. This thing was a monster.

We didn't have the tractor and our chain was short making this one bitch of a job. The tree is basically a tripod. Stable as hell and very thick. We cleared what we could and tried to pull it over but were'nt having much luck using the chain with a Ford Explorer.

Eventually Jose' and I came up with a plan. We tied the chain to the bottom of one of the legs and notched it out about half way up. This gave us more leverage and was safer for cutting. The afair was kind of like braking someones leg with a baseball bat. (Not that I've ever done such a thing.) It worked and the tree rolled over. The hardest work was cutting and hauling the sections. We had to drag the largest using the chains and th Explorer. This was one time when a big-ass, gas guzzling SUV did something that they advertise it doing in the commercials.

It took us most of the day to clear this property. We got lunch at a Salvation Army food distribution point staffed by Southern Baptists. They were friendly and very efficient. No evengelizing or hard sell. I will say now that the Red Cross and Salvation Army have a noticable presence in Biloxi. We have seen three Red Cross trucks serving meals. There are several mobile medical units here including dentists.

The one dissapointing thing I learned is that illegal immigrants are not counted towards the official body count. The real count may be three times as high as officially reported

We finished at about 4 and went back to base. The volunteers were holding a birthday party for a young girl and her family from once of the houses we've worked on. Since I've already served my time with kids so we cleaned up and joined Vlad and his wife for diner out. We drove through Keesler AFB and you would hardly know a hurricane had tried to wife it off the map. This base had narrowly avoided the last round of closings and when Katrina hot the brass seriously wondered if it should just be shuttered. The base personell worked thair asses off clearing and repairing the site and it seems they are not at risk now. Many buildings are damaged but it is up to full operational status. This base is huge and its closure would seriously damage the local economy. We saw Vlads old off base house and while it was solidly built it had succumbed to the massive storm surge that put most of this area under 20-30 of water.

The house that stood on this foundation is the one across the street now behind the red pickup.

The First Termite Crew.

Off to bed now.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Pasta and shots

Pasta and shots
Originally uploaded by stevepack.
But not the alcohol kind. After a four minute shower we walked to the nearest store. We were told it was walking distance but the guy who told us was jogger. This is a man who likes pain. But Rossanas feet were killing her. She didn't have enough time to break in her boots and already has blisters from the days work. We bought her some sneakers and some other essentials and hoofed it back in time for chow. Damn good pasta. In fact it was the best tasting meal EVER.

There was a brief meeting where stories were told. We all busted ass today. After dinner we spoke with other volunteers. They come from all over. We were asked about our shots. We had tried to get them before we left but could not swing it. Luckily the nurse who has been here over a month is well stocked. We both got our Hepatitus A shots and I updated my tetnus shot.

I pray I can sleep tonight. I doubt it though. It is hard to put what we saw today out of your mind. Its good we work in teams. For a short time today I was alone in front of a devastated house. As I sat I could start to feel a sense of helplessness start to overcome me. You could feel the sadness of the people who had come back to their homes only to find that they had been swept away or worse, crushed where they stood.

I hope to post pics tomorrow. But I'm tired now. Have to get some rest. I kept up. I kept up with these kids. I hope I can keep up the pace.


Today we got to it. Our work crew was Rossana, myself, Jose' and Richard. We were part of a larger group tasked with taking down two trees and clearing debris. As we drove around the city only one thing comes to mind. This place looks like a war zone without bullet holes. Near the coat, where we were it was as if the area had been bombed or shoved off their foundations. Yet some houses mysteriously survived unscathed.

We worked hard but there was still some down time while the men folk stood and discussed how best to take down the trees. One large tree rested against another. Getting the first one down was tough, but taking the talled one was made more difficult because it was already leaning. If we cocked up it would destroy two houses. In the end we got both down safely. The other crew were mostly firefighters from Indiana. They weren't leaving until those trees came down. We had lunch back at base (PB&J) and then back out to another sight to clear more debris. There was some miscommunication and the pther part of the team was held up at another site. We met up with them to finish a job and moved on to the last job of the day. Another damn tree wedges against another. This one hung over a neighbors FEMA trailer and if we cocked up if would crush it. Doyle, a good ole boy with a trackton on the firefighter team successfully got the tree out. It was shortly hacked up and out by the curb. There are still piles of debris around the city and this is ten weeks after the event. At first things were so bad you could find streets through the debris.

Not far from the worksite was a wafflehouse we had eaten last year during a convention. It was destroyed. Next to it was a barge the size of a large apartment complex that had been washed ashore. Everywhere you look is devastation in this area. But people are cleaning up. The rebuild is in progress. The first Casino should be open in December. The air force base was damaged but in fact wasn't destroyed.

So tired. I'm getting a shower and a rest before dinner. More later.

Arrival and Reunion

We drive the last 40 miles of our trip on I-10. At first nothing seems amiss at all. I know we're not far from the coast, there should be something. But it's dark. The first indicators are subtle. Highway signs are bent and twisted. But little else seems amiss.

But as we pull off and drive into Biloxi things start to take shape. The first thing we see are the dozens of cheap signs, the kind you see at offramps advertising cheap hot tubs and insurance for the self employed. These advertise contractors. We are passed by about a dozen trucks on the way down. Then the banners. "We're open!" they cry. "Now Hiring". Further on there's a crumbling strip mall. The corner of the Quizno's subs is a pile of bricks. Then the tree trunks, all hacked off. Mosts business signs that were on poles are twisted and broken. It's strange. I have never been in a disaster area. But despite this damage there are lights, people, businesses are open. It seems somewhat normal.

We locate the church that houses Hands on USA. The front is the chapel. The rear building is the operations center/clinic/crash space/dining hall. We walk in and its dead quiet. There's a meeting going on. People are making reports, relating what they saw or what might need to be done tomorrow. A young woman sees us and tells us to get some chow. The guys from the airforce base cooked dinner tonight so it was served earlier than usual. We hastily make something like a burrito and sit down. The meeting is wrapped up.

The woman returns with some papers. She asks us where we're from and how long we're staying. They she gives us a paper outlining the groups mission and then asks us to fill in the release form. Let me tell you that this waiver was one big flashing caution sign. It said that we acknowledged that what were doing was dangerous. That we would be in dangerous places working with dangerous tools operated by volunteers. We might be far from medical help. We might be injured, maimed or killed. Were we okay with that?

"This thing says we could be subject to every danger known to man except tooth decay and smiting by the God of the Israelites"

"Smiting is in paragraph 4" she smiled.

We signed and then got a tour. The building is a plain steel box, half of which is filled with clothing, toiletries and other supplies that are distributed locally. There are tables, some couches, a kitchen. There's a shower inside with hot water but showers were limited to 4 minutes. They had McGuyvered showers outside as well. Not very warm, but you can spend more time in them.

A loft that runs around the room has room to put your air mattress or small tent. The other option was camping in the field behind the ops center. More privacy. We opted for that.

We were introduced around. I remember no ones name but that doesn't bother anyone. People are in and out all the time. Most seem young and a few old hands round out a group of maybe 50. When they hear I have a van and tools they are delighted. I'm told I'll be a 'termite', someone who works with the tree removal crew. They look at Rossana. I decide to end any debate about if she can hack it. "She doesn't run a chainsaw but she's stronger then me."

"Okay, we meet at 7am for breakfast and try to get out on the road by 8. We have a lot of work tomorrow. All hands on deck" he says.

I look at our escort. "We normally have 3 outside crews and three inside crews and several crews back at base or working with the salvation army. But we can't keep up with the new requests for help. So tomorrow everyone is going out. It will be our busiest day yet."

"Fantastic" I smile. I'm still stiff from trying to go to the gym and from 2 days of driving.

We set up the tent and I make a call to Vlad, (a friend from the SCA) who had lived in the area until Katrina destroyed his house. He was back in town and he and his wife were in new base housing. (Vlads wife is in the Airforce, stationed at Kessler AFB). In fact, he said, we were only two blocks from his house. Why not come over?

Now I enjoy camping, but we will have plenty of time to rough it later, and Vlad was offering his spare room for the night. We drove over and spent the night catching up with them. It was strange. The last time I had been to Vlads house was when he was living in a sprawling place in Detroit. It had been packed with ornate furniture, swords, sconces. Vlad must have been a wealthy nobleman in a former life and his tastes run to the theatrically Baroque. But now he had whatever he could salvage from the old place wedged into the tiny 3 bedroom apartment. Vlad had also been insured, so he was replacing his destroyed furniture, but the massive credenza, desk, dining table etc were not coping well with the constraints of the 20th century utilitarian architecture. He needs a place to live, but the market is insane right now. And he things it would be better to build. Nothing remains of the grand old homes that used to line the beach. Nothing is left of many of the the Casino's that fed the states coffers. It will be at least a year before things are back to some semblance of normal. But he and his wife seem quite content to stay and are even planning of bringing his parents down.

I'm off to bed now. 6:30 comes damn early.