Vancouver firefighters help rebuild 2 homes hit by Katrina in 2005



Photo courtesy marty evans


Vancouver firefighters unload drywall in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward during a nine-day trip to rebuild two homes destroyed by hurricane Katrina.

For nine days, a group of 29 Vancouver firefighters laboured among the ruined streets of New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward repairing a pair of hurricane-damaged houses that belonged to U.S. colleagues they had never met.

Yesterday was their first day back at work, having arrived from New Orleans the day before.

“To know that people generally still care in the world speaks volumes,” said Don Armelin, a New Orleans firefighter whose house was virtually destroyed two-and-a-half years ago when hurricane Katrina flooded the ward under four metres of water.

The Vancouver firefighters, a group that included carpenters, electricians, plumbers and drywallers, used vacation time or swapped shifts to go.

“It’s been extremely tough,” said Armelin. “I’ve been working and working just to try and save money to be able to repair the house.”

He hopes to be back in his house early in the New Year.

Vancouver firefighter Ken Gammill said the ramshackle district, one of two that were the hardest hit during Katrina, felt like a ghost town.

“It was two-and-a-half years later and the houses — if they weren’t moved off their foundations — were basically totally destroyed,” Gammill said. “You could look all the way down the block and as far as you could see it was empty houses.”

Charles Mulder, a firefighter who was among those rebuilding the house of a New Orleans police officer, said one of the project’s goals was to show that people still care about New Orleans.

For others, the scale of the devastation was daunting.

“It’s an amazing thing for this one guy,” said firefighter Martin Ogden, “but it’s nothing compared to what needs to be done.”

Still living in trailers

  • Hundreds of thousands of New Orleans residents are still unable to return to their homes, many are living in small government-supplied trailers following hurricane Katrina in 2005.