A few good men
September 23, 2005
Hurricane Katrina has produced its share of tragedy, but as always in the midst of misery, stories of human kindness cast a flickering light in the darkness.When Tom Marshall, a longtime local, heard that his brother-in-law’s house in Slidell, La., (across the Lake Pontchartrain causeway from New Orleans) had been badly damaged by Katrina, and that a quote of $32,000 in cash had been tendered to clear away uprooted trees before the claims adjust or would venture into the house, he decided to help out.He called some old friends who were also longtime valley residents – two guys who’d years ago worked under him at Snowmass clearing ski runs and another well-known handyman – and asked them if they’d go with him to Slidell to get the trees off Tim and Sue Flarity’s house.They all agreed immediately, no questions asked.
The four men – Larry Rameil, Norbert Anthes, Hal Hartman and Tom – set off for Louisiana, 1,600 miles away, towing a trailer of equipment, water and air mattresses, on Monday, Sept. 12. They reached Slidell the next day and went to work.They got a crane to lift the 100-foot-tall white pines from the roof of the house and the garage, sawed the trees into lengths and piled them neatly in the devastated yard. They laid tarps over the holes in the roof, and made the house safe for the claims adjuster, so the Flaritys could put in a claim for the flood and wind damage to their once-gracious brick Colonial home.On top of that, Tom, who owns a sheet metal and heating company, fixed the air conditioner in the house as soon as the electricity was back on, to keep the mold at bay.It wasn’t the physical labor, Tom said, that bothered them, it was the high humidity and 100-degree temperatures.
The four men stayed in a house belonging to a friend of the Flaritys, who had temporary digs in the same house, along with several other orphans of the storm. None of them can stop talking about the kindness and hospitality of the people they stayed with.”To actually drive around Slidell, to look at the devastation, was indescribable,” Tom said. But it was the emotions of the people as they dealt with the damage to their lives that impressed him: “Someone standing next to you looking at what they’d lost.”What struck them all was the pervading stink. In the muggy heat, with no electricity, food had rotted. Inside houses, draperies and carpets and sheet rock were soggy and moldy. There were piles of foul debris and mud and downed trees everywhere. A restaurant that had stood beside a scenic bayou was now a few sticks floating on the tepid water. Houses had been picked up and moved two blocks, others totally destroyed.One bright spot – there were five large trucks outfitted with complete kitchens handing out free breakfasts every morning, run by Mennonite volunteers. Without power or operating grocery stores, food was hard to come by.
Interestingly, there was no evidence of any government entities, local or federal. People helped one another.Hal Hartman’s most poignant memory was of a couple they passed near the coast where the devastation was total. The man was an amputee, trying to get around on crutches. He and his female companion appeared stunned, staring at a few two-by-fours, all that was left of their house. The scene was heartbreaking.What the four men from Aspen could offer the people of Slidell were their strong hands and backs, their exceedingly sharp chain saws, but most of all their empathy, their compassion and a positive spirit.The team of four is home now. You can be sure they’ll have more stories to tell.