SLIDELL, La. -- Doors are piled up in Staff Sgt. Ed Schneider’s driveway. The New York native kicked in the doors to his Slidell, La., home September 7 to gain access after the 15-foot storm surge brought on by Hurricane Katrina made the wood in the doors and the doorjambs swell.
“You never really think about how many doors you’ve got in your house, do you?” he asked, lugging yet another door broken off its hinges to the garbage heap.
Doors in your home may be something you take for granted, but for Schneider, the task of removing nearly 15 soggy, moldy, waterlogged doors was a harsh reminder of just how important even the most unimposing and subtle parts of our lives are.
“This is a lot worse than anyone expected,” he said, surveying the damage to his home and neighborhood, where nearly everything not elevated at least four feet off the floor was either washed away or soaked in the filthy, rancid water pushed out of Lake Pontchartrain by the category 4 hurricane.
Schneider’s neighborhood has its own levee system, huge earthen berms that surround the subdivision to protect it from just the sort of catastrophic flooding that occurred after Hurricane Katrina.
“This area is supposed to be a non-flood area, but the storm surge came over top of the levee,” said Schneider, an aircraft maintenance management team supervisor with 4th Marine Aircraft Wing Headquarters.
After hearing the battalion had set up its headquarters in a furniture warehouse in Slidell, Schneider said he knew where to go for help.
“Staff Sgt. Schneider showed up at [1/8’s battalion command post] and asked for a little help cleaning out his house,” said 1st Sgt. James F. Cully, company first sergeant, Alpha Co., 1/8.
Five Marines from Alpha Co., including Cully and the commanding officer, Capt. Nathan T. Perkkio, arrived at Schneider’s house to begin the extensive clearing and recovery work. Within hours, items accumulated over years of family life had been cleared from the garage and sorted into piles, categorized by the chance of salvaging them for future use.
“This is the maybe-save pile here,” said Schneider, motioning to one side of the driveway.
The maybe-save pile had things like hammers, screwdrivers and a large commercial grill Schneider was obviously proud of. In the opposing pile, the “garbage” pile, were stacked more sentimental but less sturdy mementos: stuffed animals, baby clothes, a rocking chair overturned by the rising floodwaters.
While the Marines did most of the heavy work, Schneider went through and gently packed chinaware passed down through generations.
“This stuff is priceless, they’re antiques,” he said.
This destruction marked a double tragedy for the Schneider family. While his wife and 6-month-old daughter stayed in Connecticut in the storm’s aftermath, Schneider was left to pick through the damage only months after losing their first child.
“With everything that’s gone on, this is just depressing,” he said.
The 10-month-old daughter they lost was still a fresh memory for Schneider. He and his wife had a chest of her favorite things: books, stuffed animals and other toys. They had stored it on the floor in the closet of their office.
“I’m afraid to open the door, because I know [the chest] is destroyed,” said Schneider.
It was a reasonable assumption. The water had swallowed up everything else in the house, overturning even the refrigerator and island in the kitchen. But the chest, large and ornate and decorated with a large Tweedy Bird sticker on the top, was not destroyed, after all. The contents inside were damp, but salvageable. Schneider set them out to dry in the sun.
Only a few short hours after finishing the garage, the Marines had cleared out all the furniture, ripped up and thrown out the soaked and stinking carpets, and cut out the wet, moldy drywall. The house had essentially been torn down to the concrete foundations and the underlying wood beneath the layers of drywall and paint in six hours, doing in a single day what Schneider said he thought would take a month or more.
The Marines’ efforts could be considered a repayment to Schneider for the time he spent volunteering. In the “save” pile was a volunteer fire department helmet with his nickname, “Mr. Ed,” on the front. He also donated his time to Habitat for Humanity, collaborating with the needy to help them build their own homes. Katrina destroyed some of those houses.
“I spent a lot of time on that house,” said Schneider of one home into which a large tree had fallen. “The lady who lived there with her kids was handicapped, so we built her a wheelchair ramp.”
It will be a long road to recovery for Schneider and his family. There are emotional wounds to be tended. There is also the extensive physical damage to the household that will take a long time to completely repair. On both fronts, the 1/8 Marines are doing all they can to help out a fellow leatherneck close the door on his most recent tragedy.