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Publish Date: 9/20/2005

Troops from the Colorado National Guard, along with residents and other personnel, watch as firefighters work Monday to extinguish an apartment fire in St. Bernard Parish southeast of New Orleans. Times-Call/Joshua Buck

Salvage mission gets under way
Many are finding there’s not much left of former life

EDITOR’S NOTE: Daily Times-Call staff writer Pierrette J. Shields and photographer Joshua Buck are in St. Bernard Parish with the Colorado National Guard’s 3650th Maintenance Company during its deployment in New Orleans.

NEW ORLEANS — John “Fiz” Filizola returned to the home and the neighborhood where he grew up in St. Bernard Parish on Sunday. He helped his father scrounge for salvageable possessions and greeted the neighbors he knew as a child.

Parish officials are allowing residents to return to assess the damage and take what they can. A dusk-to-dawn curfew is in effect, and officials are asking residents to stay somewhere other than the parish because there is still no water or electricity.

Colorado National Guard troops removed one man from his home in the parish after discovering he had been living there with his dog since Hurricane Katrina devastated the parish.

“My dad lived here all of his life,” the unidentified man said.

Officials slowly allowed residents across New Orleans and the surrounding parishes to return home over the weekend. Those who did began the long process of sifting through the remnants of their water-damaged homes and stacking the unsalvageable on the curb.

The presence of residents in homes is often marked by curbside refrigerators.

Of the various noxious stenches that blanket New Orleans, St. Bernard Parish and other hurricane-battered areas, the fumes of food rotting inside refrigerators is one of the most pungent. Most residents are simply sealing them up with straps or duct tape and hauling them to the edge of the street.

Inside the home of Filizola’s parents, near Lebeau and Royal avenues, his father sifted through photos and searched for anything that could be saved.

“Fiz,” 36, said his mother’s Tinker Bell clock was untouched. But a collection of old books had been submerged and are now covered in mold.

Filizola, his wife and their three children have a home elsewhere in the parish, and he is certain that nothing can be salvaged from it, although he hoped he might save his dirt bikes.

Across the street, Dave Despaux also visited his home. Dressed in a T-shirt, coveralls and bright yellow rubber boots, he said he got out with his dogs before the storm. He managed to recover his guns and some photos.

“Why get upset about something you can replace?” he asked.

The Colorado National Guard has more than 600 soldiers in the region. Their initial mission was to locate residents and get them out of the hazardous conditions. Later, the mission evolved into helping St. Bernard Parish with heavy cleanup.

In St. Tammany Parish, northeast of St. Bernard, cleanup is also under way, but there is a stark difference between the damage in the two communities.

St. Bernard was heavily flooded by the hurricane, but St. Tammany was ripped to shreds by its winds. Much of the North Shores area looks as if bombs were dropped, with homes reduced to unrecognizable piles of splintered lumber.

Both Filizola and Despaux predicted they would return to the old neighborhood where they grew up. The damage is great, they said, but their sense of place and home is greater.

Pierrette J. Shields can be reached at 303-684-5273, or by e-mail at pshields@times-call.com.

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