Sunday, October 09, 2005

Determination Until the End

This is the story of the second address, in Chelsea's words.

On Tuesday morning Danielle and I woke up before sunrise and prepared to leave for search and rescue in New Orleans. We went with Dan and Casey from Team 3, both who had been in and out of the city all week long. Prep and packing of the van was quick and we were soon on our way. The drive in alone, was an eye opening experience. On the outskirts of the city most of the hurricane damage is from the winds, but as we travelled further into the city we could see the devastation from the flooding as well.

The neighbourhood we searched was Northeast of the French Quarter, and had experienced extensive flooding. The damage was visible inside and outside of homes. Waterlines reached about 4 feet and could be seen on abandoned vehicles and the outsides of buildings. The interiors of the buildings showed another level of destruction. It looked like the houses had been picked up and shaken and then placed back down in the same spot. Everything inside was scattered, broken or flipped on it's side. Every object was covered in toxic scum from the flood water or mold from the humidity afterward. The feeling was that of sensory overload, every sense was bombarded by something. It was really overwhelming and like nothing I have ever seen before.

One of the first few homes we entered, we couldn't enter through the front. So we had to walk along a very narrow path between the side of the house and a chain link fence, climbing through branches scattered along the pathway. When we reached the back of the house and forced our way through the door, the mess we saw inside was unbelievable. The back room had a washer and dryer in it that had been lifted by the flood water and moved several feet forward. The floor was littered with filthy debris that came from both inside and outside of the house. Past the laundry room, was the kitchen. It also had appliances and furniture that had been moved or knocked over. Kitchen items and food were strewn everywhere. There was rotting food, and more mold and waterscum covering everything. The smell will stay with me forever. It was so awful and penetrated through our masks. We wore boots to protect our feet, but we still had to be careful because the floor was slippery and uneven with debris. We wore gloves to protect our hands, while we shifted through the everything. We had to use flashlights in some of the rooms because it was so dark and hard to see.

It was in the very next room, by the light of the flashlight that we found what we hoped we would not find. In the corner of the bedroom, behind the door, we saw a dog that had not made it out and had not survived to be rescued. It looked like the dog had gotten trapped in the room and couldn't get out. It was horribly sad to see and what made it even more heartbreaking was that on the wall in the very corner of the room where the dog was laying, there were scratch marks from where the dog had been trying to dig it's way out. It appeared that the dog's body had been in the same spot for some time, probably since shortly after the flood, and my hope is that the dog didn't suffer for very long. I hope that the owners can take comfort in knowing that their dog showed such strength and determination to the very end, and that they know where there dog was amidst all the chaos. They will be able to have some closure.

This dog and this day I will never forget.

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