My first volunteer project was de-molding a house in Biloxi. Over three days, nearly all of the Hands On Portland team and I worked with Emily, a team leader from Hands On Gulf Coast. The house was built about 20 years ago, and it sat unoccupied after Katrina. Despite being 13 feet off the ground, water still reached three feet high inside.
Lawrence, the owner, was living in a second-hand FEMA trailer. He spent as much time as he could away from that trailer. Our goal was to finish mold remediation by the end of the week. After that, Lawrence was going to manage the drywall and final rebuilding of his home himself.
A week or two before, Emily and her crew had stripped the house down to the studs. They cleaned out the debris and furniture, drywall, a ton of mold and cockroaches. Everything was so bare by the time we got there, I had a hard time imagining what it must have been like when they started. There are still 30 houses on the HOGC mold remediation program waiting list, and I heard there are still 4500 houses in the Biloxi area that have yet to be rehabilitated. Emily’s team ran out of money a month or so ago. She’s not sure where funding will come from next year for her particular program. Hands On Gulf Coast takes donations online.
Soon we were scrubbing the walls with wire brushes to get rid of the last bits of visible mold, and release whatever dormant spores might still be hanging out in the surface of the wood.
We wore sweet Tyvek suits with filtering masks all day, and most of the next day. The weather was gorgeous. Probably 70-75F, sunny, with a cool breeze. Inside the house and our suits, it was incredibly hot. The tin roof and some pretty windows in the front helped create a nice greenhouse effect. During our lunchbreak, we hung our suits out to dry.
For lunch, we went to Irma D’s.
I had a shrimp po boy, and a plate-full of fried pickles. We all ate together at a huge table and lots of us had the sweet tea, which just about made my head spin off from all the caffeine.
Then, we went back to scrubbing. In the afternoon, we were treated to the radio and lots of political commercials. One silly thing I noticed in Biloxi was a hot race for the Coroner’s office, and some really huge signs for one of the candidates.
Eventually, we found who he was running against – but only saw one tiny sign, on the side of a large freeway on our way out of town the next day.
The next step in the de-mold process was to vacuum up the dust and debris we had scrubbed off the wood. That left time for us to hang out, talk with Lawrence’s friends and play horse shoes. I talked a lot of smack, but lost.
The third step in de-molding was to wipe down all the wooden surfaces with an anti-viral disinfectant, that happens to also kill several types of mold. I got to work more on my Daniel LaRusso moves, and try to sing karaoke-style through the air-filtering masks. By lunch the next day, we’d finished!
Finally, we were ready for the Kilz. This is a general-purpose primer, supposed to both seal in the mold-killer and protect the surface from future mold-infestation. We got most of the way through the painting before we had to leave – about half the rafters were left to be sealed. Emily said that we’d probably saved them a week’s worth of labor.
Lawrence was so happy to see his house coming back together. He and his friends kept walking in and taking photos, smiling and giving us all hugs. After two years of watching the house he built mold away, his home was being transformed back into a real place to live.
I’ve read a few things for and against remediation projects like this one. In this case, Hands On Gulf Coast did exactly the right thing. The house was in great shape – the owner just needed some help to get started in rebuilding.
The Houston Chronicle has a 6-part series from 2006 on the Gulf Coast region. In the first article about Biloxi, they said that 90% of the 20,000+ structures were flooded to some extent. The city’s damage assessment map says that 5,000 were completely destroyed. People at HOGC said that the city estimated that half of the 50,000 or so residents from before the storm were gone and not returning.
On our way to New Orleans, we drove down the coast. It was incredible and very sad.
NPR has a special section for coverage of post-Hurricane Katrina issues.