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Operation Southern Comfort still going strong

Volunteers from Operation Southern Comfort build a house in St. Bernard Parish, La. The Liverpool-based organization has made 35 trips to the Gulf Coast to help rebuild areas ravaged by Hurricane Katrina; founder Norm Andrzejewski is now organizing trip number 36.

Volunteers from Operation Southern Comfort build a house in St. Bernard Parish, La. The Liverpool-based organization has made 35 trips to the Gulf Coast to help rebuild areas ravaged by Hurricane Katrina; founder Norm Andrzejewski is now organizing trip number 36.

— Norm Andrzejewski understands how people could forget about those affected by Hurricane Katrina.

“I understand how a person could do that,” Andrzejewski said. “There are so many catastrophes out there. Look at what [Hurricane] Irene has done up here. But the need is still there.”

Andrzejewski is the founder and driving force behind Operation Southern Comfort, an all-volunteer organization dedicated to building and repairing homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. It’s a project of St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church in Liverpool, which affords it non-profit status and the ability to get tax-deductible contributions and administrative support.

Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005. It was the costliest hurricane in American history and among the five deadliest; the death toll stands at 1,836 with 705 missing and presumed dead. The economic impact on Louisiana and Mississippi may exceed $150 billion. The storm’s effects were compounded by later hurricanes – most notably Rita, Ike and Gustav – which further damaged areas that had yet to be repaired.

Even now, six years later, parts of the Ninth Ward – the poorest section of New Orleans – lay in ruins.

“You can’t miss number of slabs where homes used to be,” Andrzejewski said. “They’re flattened. They’re just gone. They were either blown away or demolished in the months and years after the storm.”

The city did go through and raze many of the shacks in the Ninth Ward, Andrzejewski said, because many of their occupants didn’t return after the hurricane.

“A lot of people were in a rental situation, and when they were evacuated, they said, ‘That’s the end of that,’” Andrzejewski said. “I’d say the Ninth Ward is about 50 percent back. I don’t know how many more will come back.”

In nearby St. Bernard Parish, La., where Operation Southern Comfort (OSC) has built three houses and is working on a fourth, Andrzejewski said the figure is closer to 80 percent.

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