Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Carter Work Project with Habitat for Humanity, Day 6

Friday we woke up to rain. Worse, there was more showing on the Doppler radar and it was headed our way. Team pictures of each group with the Carters had been scheduled for Friday morning, but given the limited shelter at the Framing Frenzy on the beach in Biloxi, photos for those teams were moved into the hotel, and their work day canceled. Those of us who'd been building new houses or rehabbing old ones had some shelter, and the worst of the storm was supposed to be past by noon, so we headed out to our work sites.

On the trip to Pascagoula, I spotted a pine tree in flames from a lightning strike...not a promising sign. We arrived to heavy rain and water puddling in the streets. The lightning started getting closer, so they moved people out of the dining tent (which was handily equipped with 6 giant lightning rods) and shuttled people to the houses in vans to wait for the team pictures and to work on what we could.When we got to the house, we discovered that one of the roof vents we'd put on yesterday was leaking. D'oh! Tom supervised the installation, and I've installed similar vents (albeit shorter in length) before the same way with no leaks, so I think Tom was correct that one of the seams was broken. The other vent installed the same way didn't leak, lending further support to the theory. Frank kicked a hole from above to let the water out (in hindsight, I probably would have done what one the drywallers who showed up later said we should have done, and just punched a couple of small holes with a screw driver to simplify the repair, but c'est la vie.) We hauled some no-longer-dry drywall and a couple of very wet bats of insulation out to the dumpster.

We were the last house in Pascagoula scheduled for our picture, so the mayor of Pascagoula and various other dignitaries were waiting with us for some sort of special presentation to the Carters. The rain slowed down the previously tightly-scheduled photo shoots, so we waited quite a while. As they got closer, some photo assistants came and pre-arranged us for the photo and reminded us of the Secret Service rules. And then we waited some more.

As the rain continued, the water in the streets continued to rise. Eventually some trash cans started to float, and debris and garbage were strewn everywhere. While he may have been partially motivated by the impending arrival of the Carters, the mayor quickly called the DPW to send someone over to clear the drains and clean up the street. After 10 minutes there was no sign of them, so he called again, and was a bit more terse with whoever was on the other end. Finally, after another 10 minutes and they still hadn't shown up, the rain eased up so he went out and started picking up the trash himself. In a couple of minutes we had the drains cleared, the waters receded, and we got the trash out of the street. When the DPW finally showed up in another 15 minutes or so, there was nothing left for them to do.
The photographer finally arrived, got us back into our places, and then the Carters arrived. As we'd been told, there was no messing around. The Carters stepped into place, put Christine the homeowner between them, and that was that. They then presented her with the Bible. But maybe because we were the last house in Pascagoula, they stopped and chatted. As in my previous encounters with the Carters, they were very gracious and humble. If it weren't for the Secret Service agents moving around with them, you'd never know they were a former president and first lady of the United States and not just a couple more Habitat volunteers.They then moved out to the porch for the presentations with the mayor and others. Finally we were out of 'wait mode', but while the weather was much better than it had been, it was still raining and the ground around the house was soaked.

A number of people opted to take an early shuttle back to the hotel. It had been a long week made longer by the weather, and with the ground soaked, I thought about it myself. But Tom reminded us that we came to the Gulf Coast to help build a house for Christine, so a number of us stayed. We nailed up OSB and installed siding for the ceiling of the porch, and installed siding on the front and left side of the house, and despite the sloppy conditions, got a fair amount more work done. I have a great deal of respect for Christine...she's the hardest-working Habitat homeowner I've ever worked with. And I'd like to thank Tom, who (despite me having 13 years of volunteering with Habitat) taught me quite a bit during the week and was patient with my sometimes glacial speeds.While we didn't get as far as the schedule called for, we left Christine a lot closer to owning a home. A couple weeks more work (at a more normal pace) and she'll have her home. And that's what Habitat is all about -- decent, safe, affordable housing for all.

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