- The Washington Times - Monday, November 14, 2005

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Longue Vue estate, with its English furnishings, Turkish rugs, blown-glass chandeliers and oil paintings, is on life support.

Hundreds of yards of air-duct hoses run through doors and into cellars, trying to save the mansion from Hurricane Katrina’s long-lasting remnant: mold.

The storm flooded the flower-studded grounds, swamped the wine cellar and buried the gardener’s quarters in muck. Two months after Katrina, workers are at war with creeping moisture, trying to repel stench and rot from the Greek Revival mansion and museum in Old Metairie, a National Historic Landmark.

New Orleans — the perennially flooded city platted amid sea, lake, swamp and river — has always battled mold. But since Katrina inundated 80 percent of the city, moisture’s assault is beyond precedent, and a busy army of “mold remediation” crews have come from around the country to dry homes, businesses, schools and churches.

“We’ve had floods before,” says preservationist Daniel Brown Jr., “but nothing like this, where houses sat in water for two, three weeks.”

And it’s a race against time: The longer a wet building sits, the worse the mold gets.

The drying-out cavalry rolled in with an armada of trucks carrying miles of hoses, thermal imaging cameras and moisture meters. The crews talk enthusiastically about the properties of dew point, relative humidity and air circulation.

“When we were driving in, people were beeping their horns, giving us the thumbs up,” says T.J. Lock, a superintendent for the firm Water Out, which dried out the Longue Vue mansion.

At the Metairie mansion, trailer-mounted heating systems pump hot air around the clock to dry the soggy cellars while large dehumidifiers keep the temperature and humidity down in the upstairs galleries, the flower-arranging room, drawing rooms, library and ornate bedrooms.

“It was a swamp down here,” says Steve Vyrostek, a drying-out specialist with Water Out, as he walks through the gloom of a narrow passage in the cellar. The water had been higher than his head.

But now the floors are clean, there’s little sign of mold and it doesn’t even smell that bad.

The main portion of the mansion did not experience water damage, but moisture was still a threat in the soupy climate because the air-conditioning system went down.

“By the time we got here,” Mr. Vyrostek says, “the doors and other things were starting to expand, there was light evidence of microbial growth — mold — and there was evidence of cockling, or rippling, of paper and the upholstery was puckering.”

To battle the rise in humidity, Water Out supplied the mansion with a temporary air-conditioning system and slowly brought down the temperature and humidity.

The building is going to make it through just fine, Mr. Vyrostek says. As for the hefty price — tens of thousands of dollars — he makes no apology. His team saved the mansion a fortune.

“They were a rescue team,” says the Longue Vue curator, Lydia Schmalz.

Similar work is continuing all over the city.

At the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Gretna, where the roof was damaged, a machine sucks in outside air, warms it up in a furnace to about 220 degrees, and pushes it into the church. Inside, the temperature is saunalike. The idea is to get that moisture out of the wood by making it evaporate. Once the damp is airborne, fans keep the moisture-heavy air moving until it’s sucked outside.

“What we’re doing is creating a drying chamber,” Mr. Vyrostek says. “I always tell people to think of it as a clothes dryer.”

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