Baton Rouge, LA – Although all of the records and artifacts most vital to the Archdiocese of New Orleans were saved Hurricane Katrina struck Aug. 29, many of the individual parishes’ sacramental records were lost or badly contaminated as most everything else in the hurricane ridden areas of the South.
Charles Nolan, archivist for the New Orleans Archdiocese, and his counterpart in the Baton Rouge Diocese, Emilie Leumas, have been working vehemently to save the recovered records. They are hopeful that they can revise a new approach to preservation procedures for moldy documents.
“All the sources we know of on a national level (pertaining) to records recovery for conservation when things are wet say to do (certain things) within the first 48 hours,” Leumas said. “Well, our records have been wet for 48 days or more, and there is no playbook for this.”
“But when this is over, we will be able to talk at national meetings about what we did,” Leumas told the Clarion Herald, New Orleans’ archdiocesan newspaper. “It will create an entirely new chapter in restoration guides.” Mold is becoming a national epidemic that is often ignored by many until they become too ill they can no longer deny its consequences.
A Proactive Approach
Records from nine Catholic parishes have been sent to Louisiana State University and are undergoing a procedure that freezes a document at minus-20 degrees Fahrenheit for 72 hours to try and abate the mold. Nolan and Leumas will then clean and preserve the records on microfilm. Even one moldy book can cross-contaminate a ‘clean’ place so the Archdiocese has been very resourceful in this proactive approach.
“The most valuable records, things like the old church wardens’ records that go back to 1756, and valuable photographs that we have from the (Hilaire) Belloc collection, we got out of the (Ursuline) convent immediately,” Nolan said. “So we have not lost any of the historical records so far.”
“The pastors who took their records with them when they evacuated before the storm or took the records to a safe place, those records have come here” to the archives at the Catholic Life Center in Baton Rouge, Nolan said. “Thankfully, many of the pastors in St. Bernard (civil parish) did that so we will be able to save very much of that parish’s history.”
He said the archdiocese has to develop a policy to safely send away sacramental records when there is a mandatory evacuation for an impending disaster. “The lesson learned from this is that it could happen again, and if it does happen again, how do we prepare for it and prepare for it better than we did this time,” Nolan said.
He estimated that about 98 percent of all sacramental records have been backed up and most are saved on microfilm. New Orleans is the only diocese in North America (“and maybe all the Americas”) that also records weekly church bulletins on microfilm, Nolan said.
Nolan, who lost homes in New Orleans and on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, called Leumas “my guardian angel” for offering the assistance of the Diocese of Baton Rouge archives and staff, taking charge to save some of the New Orleans records and making key contacts to get the restoration process started. Most people are not nearly as lucky and they will unlikely suffer the consequences.
The Sad Reality
This is often the case for the average hurricane victim, who receives no financial or support assistance as mold and the deadly pathogens that occur have been sadly ignored by any governmental organizations. In fact, no mold restoration is provided by the government, despite the fact that it has been proven to cause asthma, bleeding lungs, digestive disorders, and even neurological problems. There is one exception to this financial assistance; however, as government officials often receive total mold remediation in government facilities, such as George W. Bush received $300,000 to have the mold removed from the Governor’s Mansion in Austin in 1999 and the Whitehouse in 2004. Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana had mold removed at the Governor’s Mansion this year $500,000. This was all paid for by the United States citizens.
Somehow, there obviously appears to be a miserable double standard among the average citizen and so called “important people.” MHS believes all people are important and deserve equality but it is not a perfect world. This is probably one of the biggest failures of the United States Government as they continually downplay this epidemic, and even fail to assist sick hurricane victims as they are unable to work and generate taxes to pay for all of these government officials’ mold removal jobs
Many hurricane victims are homeless and desperately awaiting temporary and permanent housing. Unfortunately, the no bid contracts that were awarded to several private companies by the government to ‘restore’ the moldy environment and provide safe housing have little to no experience in mold remediation or prevention. Removing and prevention of mold requires stringent skills and training. Cutting corners is common as the last 10% is often the most crucial. Time will tell, but most are skeptical and distrusting of what is occurring all over this country, for obvious reasons.