Saturday, April 26, 2008

Kim Climbing!

Kim came out to Vertical endeavors for her first climbing trip! It was great having her out, and she did very well. She made it all the way to the top, conquering her fear of being suspended from a rope. Hopefully it will be the first of many trips for her.

We went with a group that she works with, led by Chris. Chris is a 5.12 climber who was great to watch on the walls. He's also good at pushing people to go one step farther than they've gone before, which led to some attempts at new techniques and routes for everybody. Great time.

Friday, April 18, 2008

I'm Back!


1) This is a nearly completed house that Habitat built. Our crew built the steps you see, and shortly after this picture was taken built a fancy railing around the porch. This was taken at the presentation ceremony in which Habitat turns over the keys to the new homeowner.
2) These are the steps that our crew built...
3) The front of the "siding job" that Matt and I worked on. This is what it looks like nearly completed.
4) Address sign
5) Doug working on the siding. You can also see part of the 2nd story that Matt and I were assigned to. We did the siding and got a good start on the facia and soffit.
6) Ron using a powershears to cut the Hardiboard siding sheets. He was Matt and I's sawyer pretty much the whole time we were on that job.
7) View of our first job from the driveway. The house was completely underwater during the storm surge, but is now almost ready to be moved back into. The entire interior was gutted and re-done and the exterior is in the process of being repaired. We framed a porch on the back of it. Notice the FEMA trailer the homeowner lives in to the left of the house.
8) Matt's dad and two uncles getting started on the porch.
9) Matt and Gary working on the Gable
10) The roof, ready for tin.
11) The framed porch. The tin and siding were both on order, so this is as far as we were able to take it.
12) An example of how many people are rebuilding - elevated. Many homes are being rebuilt with parking space beneath the house. This will both conserve space on the compact lots and allow as much as eight feet of water to pass harmlessly beneath.

More pics from this trip, as well as from when I was there in '05 if you click on the "My web albums" link on the right of this page.


Matt and I returned last night from Biloxi. The trip was great. Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out how to update the blog from the phone, but everything else went well. We were with a great group of people from MN, WI, MA, and the DC area. Almost everyone in the group had already been down there working on houses before, so the skill level of the group was pretty high. We got a lot done, including building a porch on one house, building stairs and a porch railing on another house, and working on siding and soffits on a third house. Matt and I were specifically called over to the siding job because we'd earned a reputation for climbing up on roofs and into rafters. Turns out they had some scaffolding work that needed doing, so there we were.

It was nice to see the progress that has been made down there. While there is still a LOT of work to be done and plenty of residents down there are still getting the shaft from the insurance companies and the government, there has been much improvement since I was there last. Many homes have been repaired or rebuilt, now with greater storm resistance. Most homes have been removed from the lowest and most vulnerable areas, and most of those that have been rebuilt are now elevated anywhere from 4 to 10 feet to allow any future storm surges to pass beneath them. Additionally, most houses are now using steel roofs and cement-board siding. Supposedly these materials can withstand 140mph winds, which would greatly diminish the odds of damage from future storms.

Many people are now living in "Katrina Cottages," which are small, prefabricated homes that were designed specifically for families displaced by the storm. The homes start at the same dimensions as a FEMA trailer and about the same cost, though larger versions are available. What sets them apart from the trailers is that they are drastically more livable (courtesy of some brilliant design work) and much more attractive as a home. They also have the advantages of being permanent, being easily expandable, and helping residents get away from the stigma of living in a camper trailer. This seems to be a huge improvement and I was glad to see so many of them popping up down there.

The bad news is that there are still far too many people in FEMA trailers. There are still FEMA trailer parks, where large numbers of displaced residents now live together, as well as many trailers in the front yard of what used to be the family home. Hopefully, with lots more work from volunteer groups, these people will continue to transition back into their homes as they're repaired or rebuilt.

Commercially, the area is well on the road to recovery. There are huge casinos that employ many residents and draw tourists to the area, there are tons of new and re-built restaurants and stores, and things generally seem to be picking back up economically. Again, still room for improvemenet, but it was heartening to see.

I saw some unexpected, but familiar sites down there. First, the huge Salvation Army operations center and food tents are still right where they were 2.5 years ago and still operating for volunteers and people in need. Second, I ran into Dr. Bob, who is a retired MD from MN that was working at HandsOn when I was down there last. Turns out he was staying at the same church I was. Small world.

So, that's a rough recap. I have tons more info and some great stories, but it's all too much to write here. I'll post pics in the next couple days when I get a chance to go through them.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Off to Biloxi!

Beecher and I are off to Biloxi to rebuild some houses that the hurricane smashed 3 years ago. I was down in the same area a few weeks after the storm, so I'm excited to see what's changed. Here are some pics from the first trip to give you an idea of what the damage was like originally. Let's hope it's different now.

I'll do my best to update the blog while I'm down there. Supposedly I can upload pics from my new phone right to the blog, so that will be cool if it works. Stay tuned!

Monday, April 07, 2008

Weekend Fun

Spent the weekend doing a couple of different things. First, Jocelyne was visiting from Cali and I got to see her both Friday and Saturday nights. It was great to get together again and catch up. Kim also came out for a while on Saturday, despite her final exams this week.

Second, I spent a few hours down at the Verm on Saturday with about a dozen other paddlers. Railroad was awesome -- fast and punchy, with great spins, a couple of entry wheels, and some right-handed ends thrown into the river-left seam. Caleb and I surfed until we were too exhausted to paddle anymore. Graeme was rockin in there, dialing his spins steeper and steeper into wheels, but then got flipped and torqued his shoulder again. Nora also spent some time in there and looked great! To add some icing to the cake, rumor has it that the Kettle is opening up!

Unfortunately the rest of the weekend was spent working, but it was good to get caught up on some stuff.

Leave for a week of rebuilding houses in Biloxi, Mississippi this coming Sunday, so stay tuned for info about that!