Saturday, March 18, 2006

Arrived in Biloxi

This morning we left the Williams club in NYC at 4:15, and flew to New Orleans, where the parents of two current Williams students drove us to the organization in Biloxi. I was pleasantly surprised to see that we were met by Zach '05, who I knew was working down here but I had no idea he was working with the same organization in the same place where we would be.

It turns out that there is this big building and we get to sleep inside. I borrowed a tent from Colin and set it up, but it is actually moldy smelling because it was damp and I think just sitting there damp for a month, so I probably won't sleep in it (people sleep in tents inside for privacy; I could sleep in it outside to be hard core). We didn't have to do anything today because the work crews were already long gone when we got here in the afternoon, and also we got up at 3:00 Mississippi time, so we had the afternoon to check out the area.

As we drove from New Orleans to Biloxi, we saw a lot of the destruction. The highway went through these rather nice housing developments, some big buildings with lots of units inside, and some neighborhoods with single-family homes. They look very nice until you realize that they are all uninhabited because they were sitting in water for three weeks. The Williams dad who drove us said that when you drive through that area at night, it's completely dark.

There's a long highway bridge over Lake Ponchatrain. The lake is really big; it was kind of windy today, so there were whitecaps. It didn't look particularly polluted, but I suppose it is very much so.

Everywhere there is debris, but just small debris, like bits of paper and stuff on the ground. It might just be that it's a dilapidated area; you can't really tell. But there are a lot of places where things were clearly blown off because of the storm. We were driving along the highway and all these billboards, the board part was gone and so it was just the frame, and then the frame was tilted way up in the air. There were many of these.

I learned two phrases today: "blue roof" and "FEMA trailer." If your roof is unstable, FEMA puts a blue tarp on it to stabilize it until they can get it fixed; this is called a "blue roof." A FEMA trailer is a trailer (like a mobile home) that they give you to live in if your home is uninhabitable. You put it in your yard. Apparently they are very small inside.

The organization here seems to be a very good one. Lots of people have been here for months. They live in tents outside that are very homey and customized, even spray-painting the outside. There are big government-surplus green tents that people set up individual tents under, for even more protection from the rain. Apparently it will rain tonight with an electrical storm.

The Williams parents were really nice. They took us to a coffee shop and bought whatever we wanted, since we had a weird eating schedule today (breakfast at the airport at 6:00 east coast, 5:00 gulf coast time). The dad was a Williams alum, so he was happy to know about what is going on there, like anchor housing (he thought it was the dumbest idea he had heard) and the destruction (he hadn't heard about it) and the focus on athletic tips (he thought it was a very odd focus for Williams to care whether their sports teams won or lost). In any case, I was glad that they were there to take us where we needed to go; it was a spot of organization in a bit of a disorganized mishmosh.

I was surprised that the Williams Club in NYC was not as posh as I thought it would be. The people working there were certainly not all Williams alums, and the rooms were just like regular motel rooms. My alarm clock did not work; my light was not plugged in; my door handle and lock didn't work very well. But they provided soap, shampoo, etc. and there was a leather folder explaining about the Williams club with free stationery, so in some ways it was quite nice. And of course, we got to stay there for free (most people sleeping on the floor in a conference room on the top floor).

We will have dinner this evening, and go out and work tomorrow. The jobs are "Interiors" (gutting the insides of houses, sometimes carrying out all of someone's stuff), "Mold" (scraping and ammonia-ing walls), painting, debris (clearing it out) surveying (looking at houses to see what needs to be done), and trees. We split ourselves into teams, and each team is assigned to a job (Interiors and Mold have five times as much work as the other four). It should be exciting.

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