THE CREW of HMS Montrose experienced two contrasting sides to life in New Orleans during their recent visit to the city.
The Plymouth-based frigate was a guest of the United States Navy to help celebrate the bicentennial of the War of 1812.
But amid all the pomp and ceremony surrounding the celebrations, the sailors took time out to support projects which are helping the community continue to recover and rebuild after Hurricane Katrina, which wreaked large-scale destruction across the city seven years ago.
Damage is still evident in some areas and the citizens of New Orleans have continued to work tirelessly through a number of charities to reconstruct homes, parkland and leisure areas while assisting the community, some of whom are still homeless.
The men and women of HMS Montrose volunteered to work with ‘Hike for KaTREEna’, an organisation which grew initially from one woman’s determination to hike the length of the Appalachian Trail and, on her return, plant a tree for each of the 2,175 miles she had walked to help replace those torn up by the storm.
While still planting trees, the charity has also broadened its remit to rejuvenate public open spaces and more than a third of the crew swapped the ship for the parkland of Lakeshore Drive to help them do just that.
The Lakeshore was one of the worst-hit areas in the city, bearing the brunt of the broken levees and remaining underwater for the longest period. Previously an area of relaxation where New Orleanians would enjoy days by the shore, roads are still closed and public buildings are in a state of disrepair.
The three-day stint involved 25 sailors donning overalls to carry out a variety of tasks to help reinstate the area as a usable public space. Working alongside counterparts from the US Coastguard, the Canadian Navy and the US Navy’s construction corps, the Seabees, the sailors supported several initiatives.
Led by Lieutenant Rich Bell, the ship’s Flight Observer, they represented a broad cross-section of the crew and brought a wide variety of skills - engineers built new park benches, while those used to keeping the ship ready for action tackled the huge task of de-rusting, priming and painting the large public shelters and buildings along the lakefront. After three days’ hard work, the sailors transformed the shelters into gleaming white, welcoming structures; built new solid-wood park benches and restored public toilets and snack areas.
Lt. Bell said: “It has been a real pleasure to help out Hike for KaTREEna and also to work with our international colleagues. The sailors here have seen first-hand the magnitude of the problems caused by Katrina, and it’s fantastic that we’ve had the opportunity to make a real contribution to the city that has welcomed us with such enthusiasm over the past week.”