Scholar Dismantles Homes in Relief Effort
Comstock Scholar Meaghan Murphy recently traveled to Louisiana
for a week to join Hilltop Rescue and Relief, a nonprofit
group that helps victims of natural disasters. With some 50
volunteers, the group is concentrating on emptying and stripping
houses flooded during Hurricane Katrina down to their frames
in preparation for rebuilding. Murphy, who plans to return
for another stint with Hilltop Rescue during Spring Break,
urges others in the Smith community to join the effort. She
recently wrote this account of her experience.
After eight days
working in coastal Louisiana, I concur with the words of Chris
Rose, a columnist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune,
who recently said about the devastation of Hurricane Katrina:
“You have to come down here and see it to believe it.”
and I think everyone should go there.
My sister was
supposed to start her senior year at Loyola University in
New Orleans when Katrina hit. She evacuated, but returned
when it was safe to retrieve some of her belongings. My father
flew down from Boston to help her. They told me about the
devastation, and they sent me pictures. But until I went to
the city myself, I couldn't truly understand how bad it was.
I signed up with
Hilltop Rescue for an eight-day trip of “mucking houses.”
This process entails removing all furniture, clothes, appliances,
carpeting, and light fixtures; stripping door frames and paneling;
taking out toilets, bathtubs, and sinks; tearing down sheetrock
or plaster from walls and ceilings; and scraping tiles and
linoleum from the floor. Depending on how much “stuff”
was in a house, a team of about 17 could finish one house
a day. It was strenuous work, and on the fourth day my muscles
ached and I limped along in my work. But seeing the members
of my team enthusiastically push on despite their tired bones
inspired me to suck it up and work harder.
My first job was
in Chalmette, Louisiana, where some houses had been under
water for three weeks. Clothes saturated with slime, kitchen
utensils lying in the bedroom, maggots in the kitchen sink
-- this is what I found. The smells, the texture of the garments,
the seemingly impossible maneuver of large household appliances
-- all of this will stay with me.
I could not possibly
comprehend the destruction by looking at pictures or watching
the news. When you walk into your first house nothing can
prepare you for what you will see. When you enter a child’s
bedroom and begin picking up wet stuffed animals, moldy sneakers,
and rusty trophies and then cart them away in a wheelbarrow
to be dumped in the growing heap of “trash” on
the sidewalk, you understand. When you are cleaning out a
closet and need to literally tear the clothes off the floor
because they stick to the carpet, you understand. And when
at the end of a long day of hard work you walk out of the
finished house and see that there are 25 other houses on the
street that need to be gutted, you understand.
But what resonates
most deeply inside me is the look on the homeowners’
faces when they saw their houses after our team was done with
them: gutted and ready for the rebuilding process. And when
one homeowner asked as we were finishing up, “Do I pay
ya’ll now?” and started to cry when we told her
our services were free, I felt emotions that I never knew
And because of
that, I am going back.
No one can possibly
understand the enormity of the problem until he or she goes
to Louisiana to see it firsthand. More help is desperately
needed and I urge people at Smith to get involved in this
relief effort. A Smithie who volunteers only one week of her
time could help seven families regain hope and see that there
is an end in sight.
This has undoubtedly
been the most rewarding experience of my entire life, and
I know it has been for many others.
on how to get involved, contact Murphy at ,
or go to .