Strangest of all was the silence.
"No people. No dogs. Not even birds," the Rev. Doug Doussan recalled the other day. "Just gray mud, everywhere."
The floods of Hurricane Katrina had destroyed the interior of his New Orleans church, buried his parishioners' homes under water, and claimed little Gabriel, their angelic trumpet player.
Doussan, a Catholic priest, found Gabriel facedown in the sanctuary, swollen and discolored after weeks floating in the floodwater.
But thanks to the members of a Manayunk synagogue and their friends who took him under their wing - and then lost his wings - Gabriel is on his feet again.
Trumpet in hands, new wings in place, he's cleaned up and heading home to New Orleans.
"This statue was a treasure to us," said Doussan, pastor of St. Gabriel the Archangel parish in that city's devastated Ninth Ward.
Today, Doussan is due to step before Congregation Mishkan Shalom at 4101 Freeland St. to see for the first time what his Philadelphia friends have wrought on his young trumpeter, the herald of good news.
"The statue coming back to us restored is like the parish being restored, like the homes and the lives of our people being restored," Doussan said.
"That's the good news."
Today's 1 p.m. event is open to the public and will solicit funds for home repairs in and around St. Gabriel's parish. Doussan will also deliver today's homily at St. Vincent's 9 a.m. Mass.
Gabriel's improbable journey began last summer, a few weeks after 27 volunteers from Philadelphia's Interfaith Community Building Group headed south to clean out the rot and mold left by Katrina (no saint, she) and hang doors and install drywall in New Orleans' middle-class, African American neighborhood of Gentilly.
A volunteer force formed in 1996 to rebuild arson-damaged churches in Mississippi, ICBG's members hail largely from Mishkan Shalom and St. Vincent's R.C. parish in Germantown. They have been doing summer construction projects for worthy causes ever since.
On arriving in Gentilly in July, some congregants began cleaning and restoring houses. Others turned their attention to St. Gabriel's church, and by week's end had restored much of its sanctuary walls.
That should have been the end of it: a farewell supper, hugs and handshakes, and home to Philadelphia.
"Do you think you could fix Gabriel?" asked Doussan.
Carved 40 years ago in Ortesi, Italy, Gabriel's serene, adolescent face and slender torso showed half-inch splits along multiple joints. His hands were separated from his wrists. His trumpet was broken and copper-green. Paint was faded and flaked across the front.
It was a sorry state for the divine messenger, who in Jewish tradition told Daniel of a coming messiah, in Christian lore told Mary she was pregnant with Jesus, and in Islamic tradition dictated the Koran to Muhammad.
"We had no idea what it would take," recalled furniture-maker Peter Handler, a member of Mishkan Shalom and builder of the synagogue's Torah ark. "But we said, 'If you can get him up to us, we'll restore it.' "
Hugs and handshakes followed, the ICBG people headed home, and a month later the parish handed five-foot Gabriel over to a moving truck bound, they thought, for Philadelphia.
But the truck turned west, stopping many times before lumbering into Dallas. Then, Handler got "the call."
"It was the trucking company, very embarrassed, saying they had lost the wings," he recalled last week.
Arched dramatically above the shoulders and flaring out at the waist, each wing was removable and had been packed separately from the torso.
Handler, who had recommended the movers, was aghast, but told them to ship the statue to Philadelphia anyway. After the insurance claim settled in December, he called on Leon Zakurdayev, a Russian-born (and Russian Orthodox) sculptor and antiques restorer in the Northeast, to return their saint to glory.
Zakurdayev showed Handler and Brenman how to fill Gabriel's cracks with basswood strips and sawdust glue, and then turned to making new wings.
It would take two months.
"Each wing has to have its own personality," he explained last week. "If you make them mirrorlike, it would appear like machine work."
Working with color photos and an angel statuette, he and his wife, Svetlana, modeled the new wings on the originals while adding much more detail, carving hundreds of individual feathers and making the effect "more feminine," like the long-haired archangel.
After Haddonfield woodworker Philip Hauser made them a new trumpet, Handler and Brenman reattached the hands, and on April 20 turned young Gabriel over to Chestnut Hill artist Kathy Winter for painting.
"He looked like he had scars on him" from the filled-in cracks, Winter said last week, as she stepped into her studio on West Meade Lane. There, on a cream-colored cloud, stood the chestnut-haired angel, gazing Earthward, horn to lips, wings flared.
Winter chose a reddish ochre for the wings "for a stained-wood look," she said, and olive-gold for the robe "to harmonize with the horn."
Her husband, Joseph Winter, a retired sculptor-engraver for the U.S. Mint, had leafed the new trumpet in 24-karat gold.
"It's going to be hard to give him back," said Handler, who retrieved Gabriel from the Winters' studio Thursday.
"But we have a shared community now, relationships that will endure" across the 1,200 miles separating Manayunk from Chantilly.
"We're even thinking of asking Father Doug," he joked, "to be our rabbi."