Posted by: Date: April 18, 2008 In: , , ,

Lutes find trip to New Orleans inspiring, shocking

At first, the neighborhoods seemed like any other to the PLU students traveling around New Orleans over spring break.

But then they began to notice that many of the houses were empty, as hollow-eyed windows stared blankly back at passerby, with no furniture, no families, and sometimes no interior walls. The strange cross hatched markings on the buildings – on closer inspection – revealed themselves to be a grim haiku that search teams used when Katrina struck this city in 2005: the number of people rescued, bodies found, pets recovered or lost.

“That was one of the things that really hit me,” said junior Anna Holzemer, who went to the Big Easy along with 14 other students and three staff members to help out residents who are still struggling to recover from the destruction of their world almost three years ago.

“These homes looked like a normal block of any neighborhood, and then you’d see the writing, that showed two elderly people had crawled up in an attic, and had passed,” she said. “Or you’d see something like “Rabbit, DOA.”

“I think we were surprised at how much remains untouched, two and half years later,” said Allison Cambronne, also a junior.

The group, which traveled to New Orleans under the auspices of Campus Ministry and University Congregation, returned from New Orleans March 30, still mulls over the lessons learned and the blessings given and received during the week-long stay.

They shared some of those experiences at Chapel last Wednesday, as well as showed a video and pictures they took during their trip. Students also shared their musings, both before, during and after the trip in the

Both women said they would return in a heartbeat to help those they met on the trip, such as Miss Cynthia, who returned home to find, that in fact, her house was the middle of the street, with a large hole chopped in the center.

“They were driving down the road in the Lower Ninth Ward, and they were noticing houses lifted off their foundations and moved around,” said Holzemer. “Then they noticed that one house was in the middle of the road, with a hole chopped through it for traffic.”

When the family was driving through the house, they realized it was theirs, Holzemer said.

Apparently Miss Cynthia, as she is known, spotted a unique tea kettle, still on the stove where she’d left it before fleeing the storm, added Cambronne.

Still, the family saw God’s hand and mercy, even in this devastation.

Everything was ruined and covered with mud in Miss Cynthia’s house, except for one photo of a sister, who had died of cancer. That one treasured photo was somehow untouched by the floodwaters and rested on the back of a couch, apparently waiting for the family to find it.

“Even when all these awful things happen, the faith of the residents living there is incredible,” Holzemer said.

About 80 percent of the cleanup work has been done through volunteers, such as those from PLU, the students were told. Although the residents have lost faith in the government, she added.

The PLU team painted, scraped mold, gutted soggy drywall and scooped out garbage into dumpsters, working alongside the residents who had returned.

And they told the team of stories, of amazing rescues or heartbreaking tales of relatives who had died in the storm.

“But at the end of all these stories,” Cambronne said, “They always said “But God is good, and I’m really blessed.”