BUTLER, N.J. — Emmet Murphy traveled last month to New Orleans, La., where he participated in a Catholic Charities USA service program.
He was one of 48 adults and college students who went to New Orleans from Jan. 7 through 13 to assist residents rebuild their homes that were damaged during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
This was Emmet’s second trip to New Orleans to help with post-Katrina work; his previous visit was in May 2006.
Emmet, who is semi-retired, said that he wanted to help people with no home insurance.
“Our work saved each homeowner approximately $10,000,” he said.
During the trip, the participants broke up into four teams to do the work. They gutted 12 houses, he said, and each team had a leader who knew about gutting.
His team was fortunate enough to work in the poor ninth ward that experienced the brunt of the flooding.They worked near the 17th Street levy, where water was as high as 20 feet immediately after the storm.
“This was the poorest area of New Orleans,” Emmet said. The residents stayed elsewhere — either with relatives or at motels – while their homes were being renovated.
“Our team gutted three houses,” Emmet said. There are still 10,000 houses to go, he added.
While on the trip, the participants lived dormitory-style in a Volunteers of American facility that resembled a YMCA, he said.
The trip was organized by Catholic Charities in Paterson, N.J., which connected with Catholic Charities in New Orleans. Twenty other Catholic Charities groups were in the New Orleans area.
“The projects were extremely organized,” Emmet said. “They had a staging area where we picked up our tools. Each evening when our group members returned from work at 5, we had Mass before supper.”
The experience was “a real eye-opener,” Emmet said. “Everyone felt very good that we were doing this. “
Emmet said that he noticed how much of an impact the experience had on the young participants.
“Quite a few of the college kids were from fairly affluent suburbs,” he said. ”They were amazed seeing that people were living as they were.”
“It was awful that after so much time, more than 15 months since the hurricane, we still needed to pull out wet furniture,” he said. “We even saw rats running around.” We moved at least a couple of tons of debris – plaster, furniture, toilets, bathtubs, water heaters, and even a refrigerator with food in it from before the storm.”One of our teams discovered a puppy, and two college girls arranged to take it home,” he added that “the experience was very tiring and yet very gratifying,”