Day Three: Unbelievable

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— Day 3
Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Michelle and I dined under the big top today, but this is a circus no one wants to watch. On one side of the tent, we ate spaghetti, garlic bread, salad and vanilla pudding pie provided for Hurricane Katrina relief workers.

On the other side of the blue and yellow tent, men, women and children of all ages walked single-file through a distribution line, receiving free items such as canned vegetables, tampons and clothes. Seven months after the hurricane struck New Orleans, Top Ramen will be someone's meal in St. Bernard's Parish tonight.

After spending Tuesday with the mission group from Hayden Congregational Church, Michelle and I met up Wednesday with 20 teenagers and their adult chaperones from Craig's First Christian Church.

We followed their school bus to Veronica Drive in St. Bernard's Parish, one of the hardest hit areas in south Louisiana. The storm surge -- as high as 20 feet -- came at residents from two sides. I joined a group of guys in the garage, shoveling the 6 inches of mud on the floor into a wheelbarrow for dumping. One hour later, we decided to open the refrigerator that rested in the corner.

Rusty flood water spilled out onto the garage floor. Eggs, Coke and Dr. Pepper were inside. I'm not sure what was in the freezer. As soon as we opened it, we ran from the garage to escape the smell.

Early in the afternoon, intern missionary Matt Ralston took Michelle and I to homes that haven't been touched since the devastation. Ceilings and insulation were on the floor.

The smell is both musty and dusty. It's black mold, we later learned. That's why we wear respirators. Ralston also tells us to head down Genie Street before we come back to file our stories. Look left, he says. There will be a photo opportunity.

Between rows of empty streets, piles of unsalvageable personal items and cars beneath displaced homes, we find Dolphie, an 80-foot shrimp boat resting at the end of a street in St. Bernard's Parish. Dolphie's path through the storm surge is easy to spot.

Four homes are missing behind it. We started laughing. It was too unbelievable for tears. Besides, I've grown tired of crying, and Michelle and I have yet to visit the Ninth Ward. There, everyone says, we will see devastation beyond words.

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