The Transylvania Times -

By Mark Todd
Staff Writer" 

Student Witnesses Katrina's Legacy

 

February 1, 2011

Brevard High School student Dani Greenberg (left) and her friend Emily Lubin helped clear this lot in the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans to make way for a community garden. (Courtesy photo)

Five years after Hurricane Katrina destroyed vast areas in and around New Orleans, much of the city remains in ruins.

Many observers say it will take many more years to clean up and revitalize the city, even though lots of progress has been made.

Dani Greenberg, a junior at Brevard High School, spent a week during her winter break from school working in New Orleans with 60 young people her age to contribute to the effort.

She participated in Young Judaea's Alternative Winter Break 2010.

Young Judaea operated its fourth annual Alternative Winter Break (AWB) for Jewish high school students from across the nation.

AWB takes participants out of their everyday surroundings and immerses them in an entirely different environment to engage in intensive community service and hands-on learning that will be both enriching and transformative.

Founded in 1909, Young Judaea is the oldest Zionist youth movement in the United States. It seeks to build Jewish identity and Zionist commitment in American Jewish youth and young adults.

Zionism is a worldwide Jewish movement that resulted in the establishment and development of the state of Israel.

Greenberg said she went on the trip thinking that New Orleans had been largely restored and that most of the emphasis of the outing was going to be placed on cleaning shoreline that was fouled by last summer's massive oil spill in the Gulf.

Instead, she found that the much greater need at this time is in cleaning flood damaged homes that are still standing and considered worth saving despite thick layers of toxic black mold that remain.

During part of the week, she and other members of her group donned respirators and goggles.

They scrubbed mold from wood framing that remains where the flooded interior walls of salvageable homes have been removed and await replacement.

Most of her work was in the devastated lower Ninth Ward area of the city, where a levee broke and everything was under seven feet of water for a month.

While tourists go downtown and see the tourist district intact (it stands further above sea level and was spared heavy damage), the Ninth Ward and other areas are different.

"It's awful," Greenberg said. Many lots are covered with grass or weeds, some with foundations. Some destroyed homes await removal, while others that were heavily damaged await renovation.

Clusters of homes have been replaced or repaired, while vast areas await more attention.

While working in the Ninth Ward, Greenberg was inspired by local resident Ward "Mack" McClendon, who lost a priceless collection of rare automobiles to Katrina and said he had always been focused on material things.

After Katrina, he was inspired to go about helping others rebuild the city, lot by lot.

Greenburg called McClendon "the most inspirational guy I've ever met."

He has been working at a new post Katrina Lower Ninth Ward Village Community Center helping people any way he can.

"His life before was centered around things," Greenberg said. "It's hard to imagine, but now he says, Katrina was the best thing that ever happened."

It led to a rebirth of the community.

Property owners are fined by the city if they let the grass on their lots grow above 18 inches. Since many have left for parts unknown, McClendon forestalls the loss of their property to the government by organizing volunteers to cut the grass.

She also saw an area where actor Brad Pitt is leading an effort to rebuild with new environmentally friendly homes.

Some of the homes look similar to those traditional to the city, and others are entirely different and modernistic. Some are controversial as a result, and are built near the major levee, since repaired, that broke and flooded the area.

Greenberg said many people fled the area and relocated, and some do not want to return out of fear of another flood, the traumatic memories the area has for them or economic inability to move back.

Much of the city still has very little infrastructure and there is a reduced population. Heavy damage to schools and hospitals has been a major blow.

Greenberg said 75 percent of the population of the Ninth Ward was displaced.

Each day her group broke up into smaller ones, and went to various project sites. One day, they gave away energy efficient light bulbs to residents to help them save money.

At night, the volunteers toured the downtown area of the city, where life goes on much as always, and tourists enjoy music, world famous restaurants and historic districts.

It is possible to fly into the city and spend the entire visit without even seeing the devastation, Greenberg said.

The city and its residents have always welcomed visitors, and still do so. It helps the city economically and helps get out the word about the remaining need for assistance, she said.

Greenberg said the trip will always be unforgettable and she is still digesting what she experienced.

Even now, she brings up something she saw or did and surprises her mother with yet another story.

One woman she met survived by living in a tree above the floodwaters for a few days.

"There is so much that has to be done there that it's inconceivable," said Greenberg, who would like to return one day. "They've just started.

 
 

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