New Orleans House Party: How to find a filthy angel

All around the New Orleans area there are these X's painted on people's houses. In each section of the X there are things written. The upper quadrant is the date the house was checked, the left is the unit that did the check and the lower quadrant is the number of dead people found. I mostly saw zeros, but I did see some ones and twos in some places that were hit badly.

Today we tore down drywall at Don & Rita's house in Slidell. They are a couple in their 80s. Don is in a wheelchair because of a stroke he suffered a few years ago. In Slidell, they had 4 to 5 feet of standing water for a 24-hour period. In some of the low-lying areas in New Orleans they had water for a month. That water had to be pumped because it had nowhere to go. In Slidell they have trailers provided by FEMA. Still, you have to have electricity to get a trailer. Rita said, "Don probably wouldn't have survived if it wasn't for the trailer." She thanked us effusively for the work we did.

One of the other groups went to a house on Charles Drive in the Chalmette area east of New Orleans. The neighborhood had a Murphy oil refinery near it that had a spill, and so the land was contaminated. The cleanup crew had to wear full protective suits. The owner of the house, Charles, had a Purple Heart he wanted removed from the mess. One of the volunteers, Robert, found the room where it was. There were overturned shelves and everything was pretty well destroyed. Robert located a badly damaged case and inside was the Purple Heart in perfect condition. Charles was overjoyed by the discovery.

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In the same house Charles's wife, Rose, had an extensive collection of porcelain angels. The bookcase where they'd resided was overturned and they'd gotten covered in filth. The team kept finding the angels throughout the day, preserved in the mud. Rose gave each of the girls on the team an angel to keep. Charles and Rose, who were in their 60s, insisted on working right along with our crew. They bought everyone Po' Boy sandwiches for lunch.

Words and pictures by Adam Craven

Editors note: Last month, Adam Craven, a graphic designer for City Pages, barreled down I-55 to New Orleans in a caravan of five rented minivans. Along with a crew from his Minneapolis church, the Rock, he spent a full work week cleaning out houses in Louisiana. This is part three of a five-part series.
Day One, Day Two, Day Three, Day Four
, Day Five


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