Mr. Herbert Gettridge
About a true hero of Hurricane Katrina: Mr. Herbert Gettridge – airing January 6, 2009 and online. Six months after Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans, producer June Cross came across 82-year-old Herbert Gettridge working alone on his home in the lower Ninth Ward, a neighborhood devastated when the levees broke in 2005. Over the next two years, Cross documented the Gettridge family’s story. After a long wait, the film – The Old Man and the Storm – will air on PBS to tell the story of perseverance against all odds, not the least of which is the bungling of recovery efforts by state and federal agencies.
Project417’s Andy Coates came across Mr. Gettridge in the Lower Ninth ward in April of 2006, eight months after the storm hit. Like Cross he found Mr. G, as he became affectionately known, working by himself – the only home-owner for blocks around struggling to clean-up his property and repair his hurricane ravaged home. I visited him at his home last month returning from our Texas Hurricane Ike relief trip.
I first visited New Orleans in March 2006, eight months after Katrina, to volunteer for two weeks with the Salvation Army. Our director Joe Elkerton had been a first responder in September of ’05 just after the storm. When I saw the devastation of the city and the snail’s pace at which recovery was taking place, I decided to stay for the next six months and organize volunteer teams through Project417 to help with the clean-up. Over the course of that stay, almost a hundred volunteers came down to work on projects with me – three of the work sites were properties owned by the Gettridge family in the Lower Ninth Ward of Orleans Parish, New Orleans. Everyone who met Mr. Herbert Gettridge realized he was no victim – 82 years old, he was one of the first returning residents of the Lower 9th – and was working single-handed to fix his home. His mission, to rebuild it so his wife, staying with family in Madison, Wisconsin, could rejoin him in the home they had built together more than fifty years ago. Many faith based volunteer teams pitched in to help Mr. Gettridge re-build – and that story is told in June Cross’ film on PBS . (It was so wonderful to be able to visit with both Mr. and Mrs. Gettridge in their renovated home last month – what he’d been wishing and working for so long).
Almost without exception, everywhere in New Orleans re-building was taking place, hard working church volunteers were making a difference. Of course there were a multitude of recovery teams, not just faith-based, that came to New Orleans to fill the vacuum left by the total absence of any organized government efforts – including groups like the local Common Ground who adopted the Lower Ninth, and young hard-working AmeriCorps youth were sweating it out all across the gulf. (Project417 hosted AmeriCorps teams at two Lower Ninth sites).
Be sure to watch the story of a true American hero – The Old Man and the Storm – on PBS January 6th at 9pm (check local listings). And when you’re done, consider coming with Project417 back to the Gulf and continue the re-building that is still going on. We want to get a fund set up to build new homes on two properties owned by Mr. Gettridge in the Lower Ninth. All across the Lower Ninth are still homes that have not been touched since Katrina 3 1/2 years ago. In Mississippi, from Waveland to Biloxi, re-construction continues – house foundations still lay bare. Following Hurricane’s Gustav and Ike this fall, Project417 is hosting teams in Galveston County, Texas – the devastation is on the scale of that visited by Katrina. The people of the Gulf coast need you, their neighbors, to come and help them.
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