Hurricane Katrina Victim Helps People Recover After Louisiana Floods NPR's Ari Shapiro speaks with Errol Joseph, whose house was flooded by Hurricane Katrina, about how he is working with volunteers from the non-profit to help people rebuild after flooding in Baton Rouge, La.

Hurricane Katrina Victim Helps People Recover After Louisiana Floods

Hurricane Katrina Victim Helps People Recover After Louisiana Floods

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NPR's Ari Shapiro speaks with Errol Joseph, whose house was flooded by Hurricane Katrina, about how he is working with volunteers from the non-profit to help people rebuild after flooding in Baton Rouge, La.


In Baton Rouge, professional work crews are stretched thin - tearing out drywall, carpeting and hardwood floors from tens of thousands of flooded houses. So anyone who has experience, gutting a house is in high demand. Lots of people who've been through this before live a couple hours away in New Orleans. Monday is the 11th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. And as my colleague Ari Shapiro found, people who lived through that storm are now helping victims of the one that hit central Louisiana.


A car full of people has just arrived outside this flooded house in Baton Rouge. They drove up from New Orleans as part of an organization called This is a group of volunteers that has been rebuilding flooded homes over the last decade in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward. And now they're applying their skills to the same kinds of flooded houses in Baton Rouge.

ERROL JOSEPH: OK, let's divide up in, like, crews of two maybe. And we'll get a couple of men on the saw.

SHAPIRO: Sixty-five year old Errol Joseph is directing a team of young volunteers from France, Taiwan and New Orleans. In 2005, Joseph's house flooded to the roof during Katrina. Now this team is at his niece's house in Baton Rouge, trying to help her recover from the storms that dumped more than 30 inches of rain on the city. Joseph says the construction is one challenge - the bureaucracy is another.

JOSEPH: And that's what I'm stressing to people now. Be aware because you'll get promised the world, but you'll get nothing. They put me on hold for over four years when my house rotted from looking like this in the inside...

SHAPIRO: Just bare bone studs, yeah.

JOSEPH: ...To rotting out. And we had to pretty much tear it down. And they didn't compensate us one penny.

SHAPIRO: As you drive around these neighborhoods and you see piles of debris on the street in these flooded-out homes, what's the same as Katrina and what's different?

JOSEPH: The stench.

SHAPIRO: The stench.

JOSEPH: We're here now maybe a week or two later. I came back to New Orleans about the same time, maybe a week or two later. And just, you know, to look at your house flooded and I can't even get in it.

SHAPIRO: You know, we're 11 years out from Katrina. Does seeing this put you back in there in a way that you haven't felt in a while?

JOSEPH: I thought it would. Sunday I came up here, and it kind of made me cry a little bit. I cry quick. I'm a big baby.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

JOSEPH: And as I traveled down Prescott, there's a church around here, and I could see all of the new furniture and everything out. And I said, man, this is the same old thing - deja vu.

SHAPIRO: Tell me about the moment that your niece called you and said, you're never going to believe what happened to me...

JOSEPH: Well, she called crying.

SHAPIRO: ...Something similar happened to you. Yeah.

JOSEPH: Uncle Errol, I don't know what to do. My house flooded. I said, don't worry. Pray. All you can do is pray. So she's working two jobs, more or less. She's running herself crazy.

SHAPIRO: And so how do you tell your niece everything's going to be OK when your own life still has so many challenges...

JOSEPH: What can you do?

SHAPIRO: ...From what happened in 2005?

JOSEPH: What can you do, back up? Turn around and stop? Where can you go? If you go to California, you've got the fires. You go to the Midwest, you've got tornadoes. You can't run. Don't run. There's an old saying - you're afraid? Go to church. You're scared? Get your lawyer. You're a man? Put on your big drawers and let's go.

SHAPIRO: Who are these volunteers that you've brought up here?

JOSEPH: OK, these volunteers are from is a volunteer organization that started after Katrina in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans.

SHAPIRO: So you told the founder of that you wanted to come up here and help your niece with her flooded home in Baton Rouge, and she said I've got a team of volunteers for you, and then these people just showed up?

JOSEPH: No problem.

SHAPIRO: So how does that make you feel, to have this group of basically strangers showing up and saying, put us to work, we'll help?

JOSEPH: Well, I've learned through Lowernine helping me - they become your family. The first day you get to the job, they're apprehensive. The next day they're starting to buddy in with you. Wednesday, they're starting to be your children. Thursday, you're loving them; they're hugging you and everything. And then tear-jerking time comes. We start crying.

SHAPIRO: So they come and they spend a week working, and then they fly back to wherever in the country they're from? And they may come in for another...

JOSEPH: ...They may spend two months, three months. Their school - they do this for a part of their schooling, the Frenchmans do.

SHAPIRO: So you've got people not just from all over the U.S., but all over the world.

JOSEPH: All over the world. I've had people from Russia, Korea, South Korea, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Mexico, Honduras. Kids still call back to see how we're doing.

SHAPIRO: Well, Mr. Joseph, thank you very much.

JOSEPH: I appreciate you guys.

MCEVERS: That was Errol Joseph of New Orleans talking to our co-host, Ari Shapiro, in Baton Rouge.

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