In response to Hurricane Katrina, NCPTT offered technical assistance and guidance to those in charge of preserving the cultural resources of the Gulf Coast region. At the invitation of FEMA, two NCPTT staff members were embedded in the Joint Field Office (JFO) preservation task force. NCPTT Architecture and Engineering Chief, Andrew Ferrell joined in October 2005 and was followed by NCPTT Materials Research Program Chief, Dr. Mary Striegel in November 2005. Both have worked with FEMA and the Louisiana State Historic Preservation Office on preservation issues.
In this journal are brief summaries of these NCPTT activities in the field, as well as assistance provided from afar for preservation efforts in the Gulf Coast.
Week of November 6, 2005
by Mary Striegel
I arrived at the Baton Rouge Joint Field Office (JFO) on Sunday afternoon and felt like a deer in headlights. The JFO is an amazing center teeming with the activities of more than 2,500 personnel. On Monday, I met Alan Aiches, the FEMA principal contact for collections. Other NPS staff detailed to the Historic Preservation Section of FEMA included Al Levitan, a wood conservator from the Harpers Ferry Conservation Division, and Blair Davenport, a curator from Death Valley National Park. Rounding out our team was Katherine Zeringue, a collections specialist and local hire for FEMA.
Our first week we got our feet wet with a kick-off meeting with the City Park Improvement Association and site visits to Dillard University in New Orleans and Fort Jackson in Plaquemines Parish. Our job is multipurpose – to assess the conditions of collections, to advocate for the collections, and to provide conservation guidance to the affected organizations.
Week of November 6, 2005
by Mary Striegel
Our travels to Plaquemines Parish evoked a variety of mixed emotions – awe, disbelief, sadness. The power of nature cannot be underestimated. It was hard to understand how whole communities could be turned into rubble. Much of Plaquemines Parish south of Port Sulphur was completely devastated.
We formed a five-member strike force and were deployed to recover and salvage museum collections located at Ft. Jackson, Louisiana. The fort was initially submerged by the storm surge from hurricane Katrina. Waters eventually subsided to a four to five foot level. Flood waters entered two museum exhibit rooms located just inside the main entrance (salley port) to the fort. The collections were underwater for at least six weeks and were buried in a mix of mud, brackish water, and debris.
We purchased supplies and set up cleaning stations. With the help of dedicated Plaquemines Parish staff, we carefully removed the collections that were scattered on the floors and were left in broken and flooded cases. We began the long process of collection stabilization by bathing objects in fresh water to remove mud and deposited salts. Next the objects were gently scrubbed with soft toothbrushes, rinsed and dried. Finally, the collections were wrapped or bagged in breathable storage bags and prepared for transport to a temporary storage facility.
Week 2 – October 17, 2005
Reflections on the Historic
The exhausting pace continues in New Orleans for NCPTT staff member Andy Ferrell. Up-close surveys of historic areas and red tag (unsafe to enter) structures have begun. Among the many questions generated in the field: Is the historic judged solely on what is seen from the street? Does hurricane or flood damage make it difficult to judge the historic? What if exterior alterations obscure the original structure? At what point do such changes equal remuddling? The local, state and national historic districts of New Orleansuse varying criteria to evaluate what is historic.
Andy has been working with representatives of the Louisiana Division of Historic Preservation to answer these questions from the perspective of National Register eligibility and compliance with Section 106. With the reopening of city offices, this week was an appropriate time to coordinate with New Orleans preservation partners as well. The first task was to compare field notes and photos from the various surveys undertaken.
Meanwhile, more residents continue to return to clean, sweep and maybe even spray paint a message on their home: “I’m not leaving. I ♥ New Orleans.”
Week 1 – October 10, 2005
Getting Started in New Orleans
Working up to 80 hours per week with a rotating team of preservation experts and local contacts, NCPTTs embedded staff member at the JFO (FEMA Joint Field Office) Andy Ferrell covered much ground. After an orientation on FEMA’s environmental and preservation protocols, Andy spent three days in New Orleans, visiting a number of historic sites and districts. He has participated in wind shield surveys in Bywater and the Garden District to look at buildings that the City of New Orleans has marked with red tags (uninhabitable), or are in danger of being red tagged, to judge the historic integrity and condition of these structures.
“While some buildings were destroyed by the winds, floods and fires, the overwhelming majority of the buildings probably do not look very different than before Katrina arrived,” he said. However, he noted he has yet to visit the hardest hit areas. Throughout those parts of New Orleans that he has visited, Andy was inspired to see how much cleaning and repair work is already underway. Technical issues Andy has consulted on include rapid air drying technologies and mold elimination strategies for historic structures.