I am pleased to post this article by Deborah Capraro a former Citizen columnist who now lives in Homestead.
"Watching the HBO documentary, "When the Levees Broke," I was taken aback by the enormity of emotions that had obviously lain dormant as I'd gone about my everyday life from Aug. 29, 2005, to Aug. 29, 2006. Glued to the tube for the entire four hours and 15 minutes, the sheer genius that is Spike Lee allowed the story to tell itself. If his aim was to elicit support by infuriating the masses, shaming them to care or inspiring them to act, he achieved it — with me.
I just could not wrap my brain around the fact that almost a year later it seemed nothing at all had been done in this major U.S. city. I was certainly infuriated as so many people, most of whom looked like me, were left hanging by a system of government more concerned with bureaucracy than responsibility. I was equally ashamed at how anesthetized the souls of many of us had become, our compassion measured by how much we could or could not relate. All I could think was, "There but for the grace ..."
On the way to rage, though, something wonderfully inspiring happened. I realized how proud I was of the resilience of a people ignored by those elected and selected to serve them. I was humbled by the resolute spirit with which they could still see a future in the midst of such devastation. And as they expressed their disappointment and utter disbelief — uncensored — I felt an odd sense of joy at the no-holds-barred freedom losing everything had given them. It triggered that familiar "quiet riot" feeling I get deep in the pit of my stomach when something patently wrong needs to be in some way addressed. And in that moment, I decided it was time for me to go and see for myself.
I volunteered to gut houses with Habitat for Humanity , which has taken over an abandoned school for their operation. Situated in the devastated St. Bernard Parish in Violet, La., the aptly named Camp Hope offered basic living necessities fashioned from whatever had been donated and constructed by the ingenuity of its inhabitants. Communal living at its best! I went to bed early, nervously anticipating the 6 a.m. call to action, worrying whether these 50-year-old bones could stand up to the task.
There was no way I could have been prepared for what I saw, though we'd gotten the "Katrina a year later" orientation the evening before. I was at once overwhelmed and invigorated as we rolled up to our first house in a somewhat affluent neighborhood. The two-story home had at least 10 rooms, three full baths, two kitchens and a pool in the backyard facing a canal. Out of all those rooms, the amount of salvageable items could fit on the hearth of the fireplace. The debris pile rose to the height of the first story and wrapped around the corner. Completely gutting someone's home seemed to me like a surgery that ended in death. You save what is vital hoping it can be used again and send the remains for burial — only in a landfill instead of a cemetery plot.
If the house had not yet been touched, flood-soaked furniture and personal items were the first order of business. After countless wheelbarrow trips to the pile, layers of mud were shoveled out so we could get to the carpeting that lay underneath. I'm here to tell you, there's nothing like the smell or feel of what we fondly referred to as "carpet juice" all over your clothes as you threw it on the pile.
Swollen drywall crumbled to the touch as we tried to remove it in sheets from the studs.
Refrigerators had to be sealed shut with duct tape before moving so the putrid stench of rotten food mixed with floodwaters didn't seep through your mask causing the inevitable dry heaves or worse, the real thing. We were on constant lookout for snakes, rats and those brown recluse spiders for which the rubble had provided a year's worth of safe haven.
Like most of you, I've seen the aftermath of hurricanes. Hurricane Hugo rocked my home in Charleston, S.C., with four feet of water inside my mother's dining room. And that was after climbing six steps up to the porch! Hurricane Andrew decimated Homestead, rendering the home where I'd raised my sons during their early years unrecognizable. And yes, I've seen the waterlines, the FEMA trailers and the work some of my friends had begun after the wrath of Hurricane Wilma. But in none of these catastrophes did I see neighborhood after neighborhood so eerily and entirely empty, a whole year later.
My initial motivation for writing this column was an attempt to solicit volunteers. I thought, "Who better to ask than those who had some idea of what it was like?" But after talking about it with a few people, I knew it was more important to share what impacted me most and let the chips fall where they may.
I've posted photographs of my experience . They tell a far more powerful story than I ever could. Hopefully, they will bring the magnitude of this loss back into focus and help keep the citizens of this forgotten city in your thoughts and prayers".