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Prof: Flood damage at residences ‘impossible to comprehend’

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Instead of heading for the library to study for classes, Justin Langford and his wife, Melinda, spent the weekend sorting through the mud and mold in their New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary apartment, trying to salvage pieces of their lives.

The couple moved into their first-floor apartment in the seminary’s Georgia apartment building just two weeks before Hurricane Katrina blew through the city. It was more than a month before they were allowed to return to see if anything could be salvaged. But even before they could see their former apartment, the couple were met at the seminary gates by volunteers requiring them to sign a waiver acknowledging they knew the dangers of entering the campus.

Melinda Langford spent the day in her apartment wearing a face mask, sterile gloves and bright yellow boots decorated with orange flowers — they were just $10 at the Payless shoe store. Most everything the couple had managed to gather in their 18 month marriage was destroyed. She pointed out the new mattress they had bought and slept on for just three nights before evacuating. It is now soaked and stained with mud with telltale signs of black mold.

She picked up her bridal bouquet — white flowers with mold spots popping up from the center like black pollen gone mad.

“You know, most everything we owned was his stuff or my stuff. I guess now it will all be our stuff,” she said as she tossed her bouquet on top of a garbage heap. Just down the street from the student housing, faculty members cleared out their houses as well.

“It’s worse than I thought it would be,” admitted Bob Stewart, professor of philosophy and theology who lived in a two-story faculty house.

“I figured some things might have turned over [during the flooding] but I didn’t expect the slime and grime everywhere. The amount of destruction — the rust, mold, goop — it is impossible to comprehend.”

His wife, Marilyn, made sure she was as prepared as she could be. “I looked at every picture I could find on the Internet so I would be prepared,” she said.

It was still difficult, especially when she saw two antique dressers she had just refinished by hand before the hurricane.

“It’s hard, but we’re very, very grateful that what we have is not counted by our possessions. We own things that are more important than what’s in the kitchen or bedroom,” Marilyn Stewart said.

Down the street, faculty member Christi Gibson was clearing out her family’s possessions to take them to the Wichita Falls, Texas, home where they are now living. Gibson, who teaches women’s ministry classes at the seminary, and her husband, John, a communications professor, spent several days digging out of the mud.

“I’m through crying for the stuff,” she said, but each visit with a former neighbor “makes me cry,” she said.

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  • Sherri Brown