Opinion

How much will have to be torn down?

Tell me, I said to Jim Woods, who, with his wife, Rep. Beverly Woods, R-Kingston, has long been in the business of replacing or restoring homes damaged by flood, fire and earthquake, are all those flooded homes in New Orleans a lost cause?

I mean, will they have to be bulldozed or can they be made so people can live in them again?

“In most cases,” said Woods, who has been to New Orleans and lived across from there in Hammond, La., “a lot of older homes in the poor neighborhoods probably floated off their foundations. They’re just post-and-pier homes a lot like downtown Bremerton. The ones that didn’t float off their piers will not have to be completely torn down, but they’ll have to have all the drywall taken out, all the siding taken off, stripped down to the studs and built back up again.”

The newer homes, those built from 1960 to present day, will probably be fine, he said. “They will need to have the drywall taken out, mold mitigation. Some of the old southern homes are 100 percent plaster. They’ve got to tear out all the lath and plaster and go back in and refurbish. It will be extremely expensive, but if you have a registered home (as an historic place) like a lot of them, you’ll do it.”

The commandant’s home in Puget Sound Naval Shipyard is one of the old lathe and plaster houses, said Woods.

Such houses in New Orleans will have to be stripped to the studs and the wiring has to come out because if mud and gunk got in, it would short out the fixtures.

What’s the biggest problem here in Washington? Flooding from rivers, he said. “Case in point, in 1991, a storm caused all the levies to break in Mount Vernon that were built to keep the Skagit River up there out. All that area was flooded. But they rebuild. Most people, if their house is destroyed in a flood, mound up so they’re above the flood plain. New Orleans is all below sea level.”

What do you think of the suggestion that they rebuild New Orleans like Venice?

“No,” he said, and he’s visited Venice. “It’s too hot, too yucky. Venice doesn’t stay as hot and humid. New Orleans is all swamp. Everything bites, snakes, alligators. And it would probably wind up smelling as bad as Venice. Venice has an odor. There is a lot of flushing into the canals.”

What are they going to do with the debris from the bulldozed houses in New Orleans?

“A lot of houses will come down and there are a couple of ways of doing that,” Woods said. “They can bring in large chippers like the ones you see for creating bark. They can grind it all up. Or they can haul it all off in dump trucks although that’s time consuming.”

What’ll they do with all the stuff after they grind it up?

“Back in the old days in San Francisco and Houston, they made new landfill. What’s Denny regrade in Seattle? They bulldozed half of Seattle to build the waterfront.”

Is anything from the houses salvageable?

“If the house is burned, it’s all gone,” Woods said. “If it’s wet, it can dry. Rugs are gone 90 percent of the time. The rug pad is like a big sponge. Davenports with foam rubber the same. Ruined utilities can be recycled. You can salvage clothing, the the finer things, linens, silks, wools, all that’s gone. Most of the hard furniture, dressers, coffee tables, once they get wet they almost disintegrate. The glue’s gone. It breaks my heart to think of the gazillions of dollars in antiques lost once water got to them. They try to refurbish but in a lot of cases it isn’t worth it.”

Well, it seems to me that the answer to some of their problems is right there in front of them, i.e., what to do with massive amounts of debris and how to rebuild so they don’t have to sweat another flood in the future. Just grind up the houses that can’t be salvaged and use the debris as fill to bring the land to or above sea level.

If San Francisco, Houston and Seattle can do it, why not New Orleans?

Adele Ferguson can be reached at P.O. Box 69, Hansville, WA, 98340.

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