Thursday, April 06, 2006

Officer Oscar's Story

It has been a very busy week. Piling, cleaning, sawing, nailing, sweeping, vacuuming (sort of...using a defective vacuum), listening, exploring, eating, cheering (on Monday for the UCLA Bruins in their failed attempt at the NCAA basketball crown) laughing, and learning. Sorry for the lack of news, but I will try to catch up a bit today and tomorrow.

Monday Morning

This is the home of "Officer Oscar", as he became known to us on Monday of this week. Our job on Monday morning was to assist another work crew from the Philadelphia area in "gutting" Oscar's home in the Lakeview District of New Orleans. If you look closely, you might see the standing watermark on the house at about the 8 foot level. Pretty much everything Oscar's family of three (wife and 2 year old son) owned in the world was piled up on the curb, after only about three hours of our work cleaning out. Everything in the house was left essentially as it was on August 28, 2006, the day before Katrina hit. Childrens toys on the floor, a refrigerator full of very toxic food, a washing machine still full of brackish flood water. Mold to the ceiling. The smell of mold everywhere.

Then, imagine this. A crew of strangers you don't know shows up at your home SEVEN months after Katrina, and in a matter of hours, has piled everything you ever had on the curb, and is already busy tearing the walls down to the bear studs when you show up around lunch time.

After a couple of hours of our work, Oscar showed up and (pictured here in the yellow shirt, surrounded by our demo team) spent some time with us on the back porch. His story of the storm is amazing. The initial surge from the 17th Street canal breach topped the roof of his home. Soon after, the flood waters settled in at about the 8 foot level for three weeks, until water could be pumped out of the neighborhood. The frist time Oscar saw his home after the flood was several days afterward, with one of his fellow officers, in a boat.

Oscar has not been emotionally able to return to his home for very long, and is basically coping with life, living in a rented home outside of New Orleans. He is still on the police force, and is working 14 to 16 hour days in order to make as much overtime money as possible. Before Katrina, the New Orleans police force consisted of 1,600 officers. Today, its 1,200 officers, all stretched to the limit. I was impressed with the few minutes we had to spend with Oscar. He did not leave. He loves his work, and his family. He intends to stay and make a go of it here in New Orleans, in spite of the uncertain future of his home. His days consist of a foot beat in the downtown area of New Orleans, a beat that he enjoys, because, as he puts it, "I know who all the bad guys are in my patrol area".

My prayer is that Oscar might find Hope, purpose, and a reason to keep on.

More later, I am working off of a City of New Orleans wireless connection that is pretty spotty.


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