December 12, 2006


        gutted interior]

I'm not sure what the left half of the duplex had to offer, because I got switched to another site. It turns out that one of the two "first guts" yesterday was actually a de-mould, and Emily and Sarah were intent on making sure everyone had a chance to gut; so they had put some of last week's de-moulding crew on it, only to find out they'd have more de-moulding. So for the second day at that site, they swapped a bunch of them with a bunch of us over at the duplex.

The morning actually started off with me leading the vans to the site. The two TLs we were assigned were from the new group that just did their training gut last week, and they didn't know the city very well. So when I came over to their van asking for directions and looking like I knew my way around a map, they handed me their MapQuest printout and asked me to lead. (!)

[The ranch house to de-mould]

Lead I did, and in short order we pulled up to a totally 50s ranch house with a FEMA trailer parked on the front lawn. A nice middle-aged lady came out and was really excited to see us; the TLs went inside to scope out the place while we chatted with her. She's lived seven different places since the hurricane, not getting a trailer until April---prior to that she was in Houston, and then a string of different apartments inside New Orleans. Her two (adult) boys were living with her due to assorted life circumstances, and one of them was actually living inside the house (!), although in a room that was plastic-and-duct-taped-off, although that was done only yesterday when the previous crew told them that would be a good idea. Or rather, a less bad idea. Lucky for all of them, the house didn't get too much standing water; although it was close to the levees, it was near the edge of the areas that actually flooded. And it wasn't in the direct path of the break, so they got rising flood water (hence comparatively clean) rather than mud-and-silt-filled levee-break water directly. One house in one direction and they'd've had more than a foot; two houses in the other and they'd've had no flooding at all.

So anyway, the TLs came out and told us that this house is a little unusual. I'm increasingly becoming convinced that "this house is a little unusual" is part of the opening patter of every TL at every site, because I have yet to see or hear of a completely "usual" house. In any case, this house's particular unusualness is that the floors have gravel on them, and since the next stage of de-moulding is vacuuming, we need to first pick up the bigger chunks of gravel. While the vacuums would theoretically be able to do this themselves, they have HEPA filters in, and would need to be emptied out super-frequently. So, picking up gravel.

[Picking up gravel]

As best I can tell, this house (unlike the other NOLA houses I've seen) was of slab construction, and the slab under all but the kitchen and rec room was poured of very rough gravelly concrete with wooden A-shaped studs embedded, onto which a slatted hardwood floor was overlaid. The floor had been removed, and the gravelly stuff remained. Except half of what looked loose, wasn't, and of the rest, was. So this was an enormous pain in the ass. And in fact, the TLs eventually decided it was pointless since we couldn't really do anything with the rough concrete part of the floor anyway, so we just cleared off the floor studs. Having done all that, we went outside while the TLs started vacuuming up the dust, which hopefully didn't get too kicked-up while we were degravelling.

It was about this time that I discovered that the de-moulding process is one part science to two parts voodoo. After all the studs are brushed with a wire brush (to remove some of the surface mould) and vacuumed up (to remove most of the mould dust), we dump a bunch of Pine-Sol and water in a bucket and rub down all the available wall and floor surfaces with it. It's not clear whether the most important part is the dousing with Pine-Sol or the wiping off. It's not clear what the active mechanism is. They've tested and the air quality is generally better after this is done, but they're not sure why. Yikes!

But, in we went, and did the last phase of de-moulding on most of the house. At noon we took a break and the owner bought us pizza and we met the neighbourhood dog, Jake, and the owner showed us some of the really clever and cool wooden furniture her dad had built and which was fortunately saveable. (We would be wiping those down with steel wool and Pine-Sol after lunch.) After a panicky bit of moving stuff into the carport and storage shed when it started raining, we went in and did the last of the wipedowns; done by 2:00.

It was certainly interesting to see the Katrina effects on someone from the "other side", i.e. comparatively well-off, and white. Although she came across as very nice, she commented at one point that she had seen the Katrina documentary When the levees broke, but that she didn't like it and would like to see a Caucasian documentary (!!!). Quite aside from the water levels, the damage to her life was certainly different: she was able to come back to the city by the end of September 2005, was able to save a crap-ton of furniture, clothes, dishes, and so on. She has, as she told us, "fantastic insurance adjusters", so we gather that she's doing ok. One of our group commented that it was weird and unfair that we were doing volunteer work to help this lady, who looked like she could afford to pay, when there are so many people who just couldn't. I'm somewhat sympathetic to this view, but I pointed out that we just don't know what her whole life circumstance is. She's divorced and at the moment supporting two sons, and semi-elective medical work (her profession) is hard to come by in a city that, like NOLA, is still rebuilding. Furthermore, even without other potential drains on her money, a house gut-and-rebuild is not cheap! I know if my parents' house was similarly affected, we have a lot of stuff, much of which we might be able to save, but I'm not sure they could easily afford a full rebuild, and they're hardly poor. Especially if insurance were iffy---and down here, "fantastic insurance" might just mean "they didn't completely screw me", which is what most insurance providers did last year.

But I hope I can manage not to get on another de-mould site. Bo-ring! And I'm not totally convinced it's not a waste of time, and that inconfidence totally saps my energy to actually do the work.

Posted by blahedo at 5:20pm on 12 Dec 2006
Thanks for posting pictures...I lost my camera so yours mean something to me (especially the one I'm in!) In case you wanted the homeowner's name--it's Sue McCormick. Day 1 of molding with Chandra was definitely better. Posted by McKinley at 9:16pm on 24 Dec 2006
Hey Don- Thanks for posting this! I was working at Sue's house the first day and I was wondering how the second day went. ...the de-moulding process is one part science to two parts voodoo. Couldn't have said it better myself. Posted by Ellie at 5:17pm on 25 Dec 2006
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