(From left): Rich Glenn, Atilla Ujhelyi, "Miss Hazel" Tracey , and Dave Karaus.
Is this really going to happen? Boston’s Logan Airport is crowded, but it looks like my 30-year-old assistant Attila Ujhelyi and I will soon be traveling as volunteers to rebuild houses devastated by Katrina. We were supposed to leave last Thursday, but when a major snowstorm hit the Northeast, our flight to New Orleans was canceled and today the earliest we could reschedule. From the looks of the crowds, the same goes for the thousands of other travelers also at Logan. Since we have to return on Friday, I wonder if it’s even worth going.
With support and well wishes from friends and family, it would be pretty disappointing of us to bag out at this point. Obviously, many others have made bigger commitments, including Dave Karaus, a friend of 30 years and a Boston-based contractor who got me started in this business. It’s because of him that we are even going on this trip.
Dave wanted to get involved in the rebuilding after Katrina and found out about Massachusetts-based Wayland to Waveland (W2W), a grassroots movement started by Cindy Lombardo and Kathy Steinberg. The original intention was simply to collect and send clothing, blankets, and other supplies that hurricane victims need, but the effort soon evolved into a commitment to help rebuild homes
The organization’s name symbolizes the connection between the Boston suburb of Wayland and Waveland, Miss., once a quiet beachfront town of 7500 that found itself at the epicenter of Katrina’s path. To put the destruction in Waveland into context, 15-foot storm surges destroyed the town’s entire infrastructure and 70-percent of the houses.
Dave signed on to spend three weeks overseeing a shifting group of volunteers in the hope that 79-year-old “Miss Hazel” Tracey can leave the FEMA trailer she has been living in for 16 months and move back into her home. Dave and his helper, Jeremy Parker, drove their van and a trailer filled with tools and kitchen cabinets from Boston to Waveland. Attila and I are joining them two weeks into the project, and we have already lost three days due to the storm. After our flight gets into New Orleans at 11 p.m., we pick up our rental car and head 50 miles east on Route 10 to Waveland. In the darkness, we have no chance to assess our environment or to get a sense of the hurricane’s effects a year and a half after it happened. Better just to get to the motel and get some sleep.
Tomorrow will be a big day.