I don’t think reading and watching the news reports adequately prepared me for the sobering sight that greeted us as we drove through New Orleans East, the area most impacted by the recent tornadoes. Sheared telephone poles, tangled wires, bent metal, and felled trees were the common denominators between residential homes, gas stations and local businesses. The affected zones, though modest in size, suffered catastrophic damage. It was interesting to note that both intact and completely demolished structures stood side by side, hinting at the non-linear paths the tornadoes must’ve taken. We soon arrived at an intersection guarded by armed National Guard officers in charge of loot prevention, who immediately waved us through upon seeing the Red Cross logo emblazoned on both sides of our vehicle. As part of the disaster assessment team, our responsibility was to determine the degree of damage to each home in our assigned sectors. I was incredibly fortunate that Kurt, our crew leader, was a seasoned disaster relief responder who explained things I never thought to ask, thereby enriching my experience immeasurably.Thankfully, the streets we canvassed were in the penumbra, and as such they were spared from tangible loss. Still, I was awed by the morale the residents exhibited, each waving and smiling as we passed by. How terrifying it must’ve been to watch the winds tear through neighboring streets so mercilessly, wondering if your home was next! Even more humbling are the combined efforts of the Red Cross, FEMA and local groups all working altruistically towards the common goal of restoration, whether it be through damage assessment, repairs or meal provisions. It struck me anew that though New Orleans is no stranger to natural disasters, its inhabitants have again rebounded with remarkable vigor. Amidst houses on shifted foundations, rubble that was once a dwelling, and cars with shattered windows shines an indomitable spirit that is New Orleans, as evidenced by the unparalleled willingness of workers and volunteers alike to take rebuilding to task. What an absolute honor it was to partake in the relief efforts, to give back in my small way to this exceptional community.
February community service hours: 13