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Bemidji man helps New Orleans clean up

Monty Eidem has a vacation destination recommendation -- New Orleans.

Yes, Mardi Gras was fun, he said, but the most satisfying aspect of the vacation was the week of Feb. 19 which he spent in St. Bernard's Parish gutting Hurricane Katrin-ravaged homes with Habitat for Humanity.

"My only motivation for this is there is such great need down there," Eidem said. "It's going to be five-10 years before they're back on their feet. The whole parish got flooded from 3 feet to over the roofs."

In the 42-square-mile St. Bernard Parish, formerly home to 67,000 people in 26,900 houses, 100 percent of the buildings are uninhabitable. About 2,500 people are living in FEMA trailers, 2,000 live in their own trailer homes and 1,000 are in a tent camp.

"It just goes on for miles and miles," he said of the destruction.

Eidem said volunteers for the Habitat for Humanity project pay their own way to New Orleans, but receive food and accommodations on cots in 16-person tents when they arrive. He said his crew cleaned six houses down to the studs during their volunteer week. At the time, 400 volunteers were working on cleanup, but 1,100 are on the job now, Eidem said, and Habitat for Humanity expects 2,000 volunteers to arrive next week.

Tools, haz-mat suits and masks are furnished, as well as meals in a chow line and lunches delivered to the work sites. The volunteers had to use portable toilets, but a shower trailer made freshening up after a day of hard work more comfortable.

"It was rewarding. Overall, it was a humbling experience," Eidem said.

He added that retirees, as well as people looking for a useful vacation, should think about volunteering.

"We had a couple of guys 70 years old on our team," he said.