There’s an article about us in today’s Inside Out, the Times-Picayune’s Saturday home & garden magazine. Ironically enough, I still can’t get the paper delivered to our home.
REBUILDING IN MID-CITY IS STOP AND GO
Saturday, April 08, 2006
By Stephanie Bruno
NOTE: Meet Bart Everson and Christy Paxson, who live on North Salcedo Street just off Canal Street. Though they moved back into the upstairs of their house in November, it was another month before they had power, and several more before work began on repairing the flood damage downstairs. We will drop in on them from time to time to check on their progress.
ADDRESS: 215 N. Salcedo St.
OWNER: Bart Everson and Christy Paxson
HOUSE AGE: About 80 years
TYPE AND STYLE: Raised-basement bungalow
INSURANCE: Homeowners and flood
DAMAGE: 5 feet of floodwater downstairs, wind damage upstairs
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Before Bart Everson and Christy Paxson left their Mid-City raised-basement bungalow early on the morning of Aug. 28, Everson took out his digital video camera to record images of what their house looked like, just in case the worst-case predictions the couple had been hearing came true.
There’s the kitchen, there’s Paxson putting the three cats in their carriers, there’s the hallway with blue walls, a color that Everson picked out.
By the time they made it to their home state of Indiana, they were pretty sure their house had flooded.
But as Everson put it, it was their “good fortune” that the only real damage was from the 5 feet of water that stood in their ground-level basement for two weeks, drowning the couple’s entertainment area and turning decades of journals and collections to mush.
Now, seven months later, repairs are starting to put things right again.
Everson said it was about a month after Hurricane Katrina roared through town that he first returned to assess the damage and get a clear picture of what had happened.
“A neighbor rode out the storm and had to be rescued by boat, but he was able to tell me that our house was OK except for the 5 feet of water in the basement.”
Their main living area upstairs was untouched and immediately habitable — except there was no gas or electricity.
Everson said getting the gas connected was their priority.
“The hot-water heater was in the basement and had flooded, so the first thing we had to do was get a plumber to install a new one and get the gas lines checked,” he said.
Everson’s friend Mike Kaplan recommended a plumber, and the job went without a hitch. “By mid-November, we were living in our house again, and the hot water was flowing,” he said.
Not so with the electricity. “We thought the hot water was more important than the electricity,” Everson said. “And there were more challenges with the electricity. Mike is an electrician, and he did what he could to make sure we could get at least some power as fast as we could. That meant repairing and reconnecting the newer lines in the house, but separating them from the old knob-and-tube wiring that powers our overhead lights.”
It took about a month from the time the electrician did the work before Entergy restored power to the house. In the interim, Everson said, they did without.
“We bought a generator, and we used it a couple of times,” he said. “But it wasn’t really cold, and we were able to cook on our gas stove without electricity. At night, we used oil lamps.”
Ice chests solved the couple’s food refrigeration problems.
Two days before Christmas, the lights came on, and Everson was stunned. “We expected to wait a lot longer.”
Everson said their house was the only one for blocks that had power. It was eerie. “We could go out on the back deck and look out over 20 or 30 rooftops. There were no lights anywhere in any direction.”
Meanwhile, there was the basement to contend with.
When Everson sneaked back into town during Hurricane Rita, he had done what he could to prevent the continued growth of mold.
“I tore out the walls downstairs because they had turned mushy from sitting in the water for so long,” he said. “When I did, I found a lot of termite damage I didn’t realize I had.”
Everson and Paxson had some decisions to make post-storm, but never really considered leaving town or not restoring their basement.
“Our house was 42.94 percent damaged according to the city’s ‘damage wizard,’ so we were able to get a permit to make the repairs in the basement,” he said.
Everson knows that there’s a risk of flooding again.
“We like using the space in the basement and want to keep it, but we don’t plan to finish it out quite the same as upstairs,” he said. “For one thing, the floor is cement in one area and Mexican tile in the other, so those surfaces are pretty easy to clean if we get more water. And we are looking into a type of drywall that Mike told us about that doesn’t have paper on it so it won’t mold.”
Of course, getting the work started required a wait.
“Mike is really an electrician, but since the storm he has had a crew that does carpentry work, and I planned to have them do the work on the basement.”
But almost four months had passed since the wiring was partially repaired in November, and, by March, Everson was starting to worry if his contractor was going to return.
“I didn’t hear from Mike for months, because he’s been running around like crazy just trying to do whatever he needs to get people up and running,” Everson said.
“But Monday morning two weeks ago he called at 6 in the morning and said the crew was coming that day.”
The workers reframed one exterior wall, installed new sills, top and bottom plates, and replaced weatherboards as needed. Then work stopped.
“It turns out that they had an unexpected delay on another project where they were working, and that’s why they were able to come to our place,” Everson said. “But now they’re back at the other job. They said they’d be back here in a week or two, but I’m not really sure what that really means.”
While Everson and Paxson are waiting, they at least have some company.
“Life is resuming in the neighborhood, and bit by bit people are reappearing. We’ve seen most of the homeowners, but a lot of the renters who were here before the storm have come by to pick up a few things and then leave. There are new renters now, and the scene seems to change every day.”
Everson says his strategy for dealing with the slow pace of change is to try to manage his expectations.
“When the one-year anniversary comes, a lot of people will be looking around in frustration and saying, ‘Is this only as far as we have gotten?’ But I’ve been telling myself that the recovery will take decades. So when I hear it may only take five or 10 years, I think that sounds pretty good.”