A home built sixteen feet above sea level
About three thousand families remain homeless along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Most are probably living in government provided trailers, or with friends or family, but they’d all love to be able to move back to their own homes.
Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005. While New Orleans got all the headlines, the brunt of the storm hit Waveland, Mississippi. There, a thirty foot storm surge totally wiped out many homes and businesses. New Orleans could blame much of their damage on the failure of their levees – after Katrina had moved on. Mississippi could blame nothing other than the hurricane.
So, after nearly five years, why are there still three thousand families unable to go home? The main problem: insurance companies found reasons to avoid paying the claims. In that area of the country, normal homeowner’s insurance means very little. One must also carry flood insurance and wind insurance, and then hope that your home is destroyed by something other than a “named” storm. Families need additional insurance when the storm is given a name.
In addition, charitable relief groups have run out of money. Government funding and grants from other sources have dried up. The only hope families have is to save enough money to pay for the materials to rebuild. There are still plenty of volunteers coming from all over to help. Personal savings and volunteer labor can put people back in their homes… eventually.
Last week, I stayed at the Mission on the Bay camp in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi and worked on two homes. One, in Gulfport, was nearing completion. It was located about five miles inland and might have survived the storm… until the roof collapsed. The insurance company wouldn’t pay the claim because the owner didn’t have flood insurance. The owner pitched in and helped us whenever he could. His job involved twelve hour days working with mentally handicapped children at a state hospital.
The second home I worked on was the heartbreaker. It was in Waveland. The owner had built the home himself, and he certainly built it to last. It was approximately twenty-five years old and held together throughout the storm. There was no wind damage to mention, but that thirty foot surge of water left it in ruins.
The authorities declared it inhabitable and the family was provided with a very small trailer. With no money to rebuild, they could do nothing until our volunteer group was able to place them on our schedule. In the past few weeks, they were able to watch as we dismantled their home.
Our supervisor made it clear to us; we were not demolishing the home, we were deconstructing it. We carefully reversed the building process, pulled nails out of boards, and stacked the lumber neatly. The hope of the owners is to use that lumber to rebuild their home.
After being under water (salt water no less) for hours and open to weathering for more than four and a half years, you can imagine the condition of the lumber. We had to discard more than half the boards as totally useless.
And yet, the owners were thrilled to have us bring down their home. They’ve known for years it had to be done before they could take the next step, but they couldn’t afford to pay anyone to do it.
Realistically, the lumber that remains is a drop in the bucket of what they need. For one thing, the current concrete slab (all that remains) is about six feet above sea level. The local ordinance (changed after Katrina) requires homes be built at least sixteen feet above sea level. Thus, the first thing they must do is put in some sort of piers to raise the house ten feet about ground level. (Do the math, a thirty foot surge would still put the houses under water, but building any higher would be unrealistic.)
The contractors working with Mission on the Bay tell us it would take approximately $60,000 dollars worth of material to rebuild that one home in Waveland. Right now, no one has that money.
As for the labor… that was another heartwarming part of our trip. Our group of nine representing Christ the King Lutheran Church in Cumming, Georgia was joined by a few folks from California and a small contingent from another state. In addition, there were about thirty college students who had flown in from New Hampshire and about fifty high school students from Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada.
Those Canadian kids had raised $20,000 to pay for the trip. They came by bus, spent a day in New York City and ate one meal in New Orleans. Otherwise, their mid winter break from school was spent helping others. There is hope for the future!!
I invite my readers to visit the Mission on the Bay web site. Take the time to learn what this group is doing. Then, if you can find it in your heart and wallet, send them a donation. Even if you can only afford a dollar, if we can get 60,000 people to do likewise, we can rebuild that home in Waveland.
If you are reading this article because of a link on Facebook, the effort is working. I’m asking all my friends to spread the word and I’m asking you to do the same.
When you send your donation, please mention my name. I’m hoping we raise more than $60,000, but I’d like the first $60,000 to go to rebuild the home I helped take apart.