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FROM TRASH COMES A LOCAL TREASURE.

Byline: Judy O'Rourke Special to the Daily News

Dave Hall did such a good job overseeing trash pickup in Santa Clarita, his bosses whisked him to Louisiana to help pick up the mess left by Hurricane Katrina.

There, mounting curbside piles of trash are a beautiful sight to the Palmdale resident, former operations manager for Blue Barrel Disposal in Santa Clarita and now a route manager in the Antelope Valley for parent company Waste Management Inc.

``It means someone has come home. They've started to clean up their house,'' said Hall.

Many homes that were severely waterlogged during Hurricane Katrina and Rita and a resulting levee break have been gutted, their moldy entrails heaped at the curb.

Houston-based Waste Management is one of the trash companies that serves the hurricane-ravaged area. The company serves about 21 million North American residential, commercial and government customers. More than 100 million tons of trash are dumped in its landfills each year.

Hall transferred to the Antelope Valley job just two weeks before leaving for the Gulf Coast, and he's been there ever since, with just one short visit home.

He arrived in New Orleans a couple of weeks after Katrina struck. Brian Brining, Waste Management's district director for southern Louisiana, had his hands full.

``I had lost my home, my camp (cabin), pretty much everything I own,'' he said. ``After the storm, I needed to find time to pick up the pieces - if there were any. Dave appeared one day to take care of the day-to-day things I would take care of.''

Brining's home was in St. Bernard Parish. For days after the hurricane touched down, he was trolling around in his boat, rescuing people from rooftops and ferrying them to higher ground.

Hall, 48, rises before the sun most days and returns - sometimes 18 hours later - to sleep on an air mattress wedged in Brining's district office cubicle.

Waste Management had reserved 150 hotel rooms to house its employees, but they were co-opted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Hall said. Lodging was offered in trailers parked at the company's landfill, but Hall said wandering alligators and the odor were deal-breakers.

He ended up staying in a hotel at Canal and Bourbon streets in New Orleans that was jammed with a couple of hundred wooden bunk beds stacked three tiers high. Employees from three companies shared the space.

``They had built showers in a loading dock area,'' Hall said. ``You couldn't drink the water, and at night, the snoring was in 5-D surround sound.''

The company's Raceland, La., offices are about 40 minutes west of New Orleans. Hall's territory covers Assumption Parish, St. John Parish, St. James Parish and the surrounding areas.

Hall often heads out at 4 a.m., logging 300 to 450 miles a day in a company van or pickup truck, six or seven days a week.

He transports helpers to and from New Orleans and makes sure everything runs smoothly. He supervises trash routes for drivers who have returned to New Orleans, and for the company's out-of-town drivers who flocked to the scene to help out. The temporary workers are from West Virginia, Connecticut, Ohio, Michigan and Nevada.

Damage from the disaster has been estimated at up to $130 million.

Brining appreciates his new co-worker's doggedness.

``He has been an integral part of operations to keep them up and running while I'm trying to get my folks and my family taken care of,'' Brining said. Brining now lives in a camper on the company's premises.

Hall has seen a lot in the last couple of months, but what sticks out in his mind now are the singles or pairs of refrigerators, parked one or two to a home. They are a common sight, their dead motors rusted out from saltwater exposure.

More than 36,000 refrigerators have been dumped at one landfill. An Army Corps of Engineers employee told Hall he expects the number to reach 500,000. Workers drain cooling fluid and oil from the motors, then ship the crushed metal carcasses to recyclers.

Sometimes the junk conceals a prize. An $1,800 stash was found in one freezer.

As a break from the demanding work schedule, Hall visited home for a long weekend around Halloween. He and his brother-in-law decorated the house for a combination Halloween party and birthday party for his daughter Darlene, 11.

Hall's family, which also includes wife Tina, 38, and son Michael, 8, are carrying on in his absence. He talks to the kids twice a day, in the morning and at night. His wife had some reservations about the assignment, but they quickly vanished.

``He called me and asked me what I thought about it,'' she said. ``I told him I was a little scared. The more I thought about it, the more I realized it was a good opportunity.''

She called back and told him if he had not already volunteered, he should. She realized most people cannot disrupt their lives to follow their hearts, but his work offered the chance to do something very special.

Hall will soon bid goodbye to the fried alligator, alligator gumbo, boiled crabs and jambalaya prepared with great skill by Brining. Though he missed spending Thanksgiving at home, Hall expects to return by Dec. 1.

Through the months, Hall and Brining have become friends. Hall plans to return sometime for a fishing trip. Before Katrina, the two could have stayed at Brining's cabin on Grand Island, which was accessible only by boat. All that's left of it are a few pillars.

With all he has lost, Brining is still pretty optimistic.

He was born and raised on the bayou and said he plans to die there. His family has fished commercially for generations.

``We fully expected something like this can happen one day,'' he said, remembering a 1965 storm, when he was 9.

``We were blessed enough to be rescued by other folks,'' he said. ``We had nothing left.''

The homes around Brining's were all destroyed by Katrina. He has bought another home, but hopes to return to his old one, which he is rebuilding, in a couple of years.

Hall appreciates his co-worker's big heart, and his time-tested philosophy: ``You can either cry all day or smile. I'd prefer to smile.''

Judy O'Rourke, (661) 257-5255

judy.orourke(at)dailynews.com

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(color in SAC edition) Dave Hall of Waste Management has spent nearly four months in Louisiana, helping to clean up the storm-ravaged area.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 27, 2005
Words:1084
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