This year marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which touched down Aug. 29, 2005. The anniversary will also serve as a benchmark for a rescue organization that began in Boothbay.
Rick Prose and congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Rockland and Boothbay started aiding victims of the hurricane the following year. In 2006 and continuing until today, volunteers have helped to reclaim and rebuild homes in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans.
"It was the worst natural disaster in this country's history,” said Prose, who is currently living and working with his wife, Barbara, in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The first group organized by Prose consisted of 25 teenagers and 15 adults who traveled to the Lower Ninth Ward, one of the poorest and hardest hit districts of the city. At that point most of the work was concentrated on tearing out storm-damaged material from buildings and clearing away debris caused by wind and flooding from a breach of the nearby levee.
“One hundred percent of the houses were devastated,” said Prose.
The construction phase followed in attempts to restore many of the historic buildings mostly owned by African American residents. In February 2007, the work began on Roy Bradley’s house, one of the group’s first contacts.
"I was one of the skilled persons,” said Prose, a former boatbuilder.
When it came to the building phase, much of the effort was to train volunteers in carpentry and renovation.
In the summer of 2007, “lowernine.org” gained nonprofit status with the help of Joe Osborn of East Boothbay. The group could then raise money for materials and supply housing for a rotating crew of volunteers. Later that year the group purchased office and residential space for the volunteers.
One saving grace was that many of the original construction was made of sturdy, rot-resistant lumber, which, over the years, had come down the Mississippi River in the form of barges that were then disassembled for framing houses.
On the other hand, many of the damaged houses were part of the historic district and city officials insisted that they be restored in like the originals.
That is where Prose’s experience with in boatbuilding came in handy. He was able to duplicate many of the refined woodworking details from the original historic forms.
In the eight years that followed, the organization has succeeded in the construction of 75 homes and has renovated hundreds more.
“We have built more homes than Brad Pitt," said Prose. Pitt began a project in a neighboring ward called “Make it Right.”
Yet, according to Prose, only 34 percent of the former residents have been able to return. City officials have still not come to grips with how to move forward in the Lower Ninth, he said. Work on roads and infrastructure has yet to become a priority with the city. Federal funds for reconstruction will expire in 2025.
Although the organization has been able to bring 8,000 volunteers to serve a minimum of weeks in-service, Katrina has been somewhat forgotten in the wake of other storm-related disasters, he said.
Prose hopes that the 10-year mark will inspire continued volunteerism and monetary contributions.
“It is not over,” he said.