Katrina versus NOLA: One Year Later  

IamWetFire 53F
739 posts
8/29/2006 12:44 pm

Last Read:
9/20/2006 3:07 pm

Katrina versus NOLA: One Year Later

It's hard to believe it's been a year. I sat in horror, knowing so many loved ones were in the path of this monster, but unable to help. Never in my life have I wanted to go home so badly.

The first images of my mother-in-law's and sister-in-law's homes with flood water to the eaves of the roofs was nightmarish. (As shown in the avatar picture to the left) As more news coverage of death and destruction accompanied by unspeakable suffering came from the stricken region, the world held its breath.

There was far too much impotent finger-pointing and blame-shifting and not enough help for the people. Cops abandoned their posts en masse and the criminal element preyed upon a city on its knees.

Now a year later, there are still far too many homeless and displaced by the Katrina-enforced diaspora, but casinos and tourism begin to flourish again. As if no lesson was there to be had by the city being nearly wiped from the map, it continues to be about money, power and crooked politics. Pity.

Katrina Victims Still Struggle to Find Way Home

"I had never seen people die around me. That was devastating to me. That bridge really put the icing on the cake. Staying up there, laying on the concrete, many nights I cried. I didn't let nobody see me cry, but it was nothing nice." Jerry White, recalling the time he spent stranded on the Broad Street overpass after Katrina

All Things Considered,
August 27, 2006

Travel Highway 90 and I-10 from Biloxi to New Orleans and evidence of Katrina's destructive power is obvious: Ruined houses on deserted streets in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, and scoured concrete slabs that once were beach homes on the Mississippi coast.

In one quiet neighborhood in East Biloxi, Miss., there are some signs of recovery. Lee Smith is sweating through his shirt on a step ladder in the wilting mid-day heat.

He's one of nearly 300,000 people displaced by Katrina who are still unable to go to bed at night in their own homes, but he's closer to that dream that most. Thanks to volunteers from a church group, his new house has a floor, four walls and rafters.

Smith says he hated to see the volunteers return to Seattle. "We wrote scriptures on all the walls in here," he says. He reads from one of the writings, echoing Psalm 89: "I will sing of the loving kindness of the Lord forever."

Short on Aid in E. Biloxi

It's easy to conclude, as you tour the Gulf Coast, that the great calamitous stories of the Bible may have had their beginnings in events like the monster storm surge that flooded more than 6,000 homes in Biloxi alone, the majority in low-income East Biloxi.

Now the challenge for Smith and others is finding the money to re-build. Smith didn't have flood insurance. He's already spent the small amount of money he got from a homeowners' policy and FEMA. Now, he awaits more rebuilding money that is supposed to be distributed by the state.

"They tell us one thing and do another," he says. "They said that people would be receiving money in two weeks. That was last month. Nobody got anything. Then they come up with the mortgage company going to get theirs off the top to pay all your bills off, and whatever's left, you get."

Many devastated residents of East Biloxi don't even qualify for the rebuilding funds. Each state makes its own rules, and so far Mississippi's program that provides grants up to $150,000 leaves many people out -- especially poor people. New flood guidelines call for some houses here to be elevated 10 feet or more. FEMA provides grants of up to $30,000 for that.

But sitting beside her FEMA trailer, on the empty lot where her home used to be, Cora Reddix says, for her, elevating is not an option. At 86, she has arthritis and is missing some toes. She fears she wouldn't be able to climb the steps to an elevated home.

In fact, the new elevation guidelines could force many old folks who populate these neighborhoods to sell out to developers or casino interests. Already, casinos have bought up some of the ruined property in Biloxi.

Hope on the High Ground

Of all the locations hammered by Katrina a year ago, the most hopeful story can be found on the high ground in New Orleans along the Mississippi River.

Tourists are returning to the French Quarter. Most of the hotels and restaurants are open. The Convention Center has bookings. Almost all of the premium office space in the business district is occupied, and the Port of New Orleans is nearly back to normal.

About half of New Orleans' pre-Katrina population is back, mostly crowded into this high ground along the river. That means small businesses here are back, too.

Ned Henry runs a small animal hospital in Uptown, a few miles upriver from the French Quarter.

"We're busier now than we were before the storm," he says. "That might be because people have moved from the low ground up to the high ground. I'm not sure. But I think around here, a lot of businesses are doing fine. If they were able to open up after the storm with little damage, they're doing OK."

Henry's business didn't flood, and neither did his home.

"But I have a lot of friends who lost a lot," he says. "Some people lost everything. And the stress of that, I think, is affecting everybody here... I used to just read the comics in the newspaper. Now I run out to see what the front page news is."

Staying Put in the Ninth Ward

In the Lower Ninth Ward, the smallest sign of normal life is savored. Jerry Williams, a man with white hair and sad eyes, is rehabbing his flooded duplex on Todd Place. But he's exhausted.

"Financially I can't go any farther. I'm mentally drained," he says. "And you still look around and say, 'Well, I really haven't put a dent in here.' I have floors to do. I have doors to put up..."

The road home for residents of this devastated neighborhood is filled with obstacles. The huge debris fields near the catastrophic breaches in the Industrial Canal have been largely cleared. But some areas here still don't have electricity and sewer service. Many blocks in the Lower Ninth have no returnees.

Williams is among a few making progress. New sheetrock hangs on walls that withstood six feet of water. There's new electrical wiring behind it. But it took dogged effort, about $9,000 in insurance and FEMA money, and all of his savings.

"I just paid for my home in April," Williams said. "It's mine now. It took years and years of paying. So I don't have much choice. Do you think I have much choice? Do you know somewhere else I can go?"

He rejects the notion that he could try to sell and move elsewhere.

"I've been here for 23 years," he says. "This is my home. I hope that penetrates to everybody in America. You live where you live, I live where I live. You love where you love. I love where I love. I love New Orleans. I have always loved New Orleans. I don't want to go nowhere else. I'm sorry."

Williams' cousin, Terry Coleman, once lived a few blocks away in a little white shotgun house. The small porch still has Katrina mud on it. His mother built the home -- one piece of lumber at a time -- during World War II. Now it's ruined.

As he surveys the scene, Coleman points toward the lone person back on the street -- two doors down -- and says he's not sure it's worth rebuilding.

"Worst case scenario is to have it piecemeal," he says. "You see in this situation here, it's only one person back in this whole block. He doesn't own the property, his mother [does]. He's not going to be here forever... So that means that the only person that's here is a squatter."

A Refuge in Gentilly

At St. Gabriel the Archangel, in the Gentilly Woods area of New Orleans, worshippers gather in a church that has become a refuge for Aria Bocage, a 26-year-old mother of two. She and her husband are picking up the pieces in this devastated neighborhood.

"You step into the doors of the church, it's like nothing ever happened," Bocage says. "But soon as you step outside, you look across the street, you see the homes are still battered."

Each Sunday, Mary Gold Hardesty notices "eight or 10 people" newly returned to the neighborhood. For her, the resurrection of St. Gabriel from the flood is a sign that her middle-class, largely African-American neighborhood will be reborn, too. In fact, all but two of the homeowners on her cul de sac off Mendez Street are back.

With the help of a Small Business Administration loan, Hardesty got a quick start on her one-story brick house in February. But she's disappointed with the progress since. She gave the contractor a $90,000 down payment, but the house remains gutted.

"They ask me for money every day they call," Hardesty says. "But that's not $90,000 worth of work in there."

Troubles with contractors and a shortage of skilled tradesmen have slowed the return home for many of Katrina's victims.

An 'Inspiration' in Lakeview

West of Gentilly, across City Park, is a largely white neighborhood called Lakeview. Middle-class and upscale homes here were flooded by a huge breach in the 17th Street Canal.

Glenn Stoudt, a member of the Lakeview Civic Improvement Association, notes progress over the past several months: "You've got roofs on houses, you've got some lawns cut, you've got people that have rebuilt..."

Still, a third of the homes in the neighborhood have not been touched since the flood.

Not so Jan and John Lockwood's place on General Haig Street, which features fresh paint, gleaming hardwood floors, new kitchen appliances... and no trace of the flood waters that filled the rooms for more than a month. Immediately after Katrina, John Lockwood stood in ankle-deep mud in his own home.

But Jan Lockwood says their home cleaned up nicely:

"Once you get that out, the old molded sheetrock, all the old sofas that were all corroded, then you could see studs, and then you get it cleaned, and then you could see some potential."

The Lockwoods were the first family on the block to move back in.

"In January when we moved in, everything was gray and brown," Jan Lockwood recalls. "And he planted the rye grass, and it was green and lush, and he went and got his lawnmower, and people would pass by... they said, 'You're like an inspiration.'"

"The progress we've made has been mostly because of her," John Lockwood says of his wife. "She'd throw herself in front of the truck to stop them. We want electricity! This, that and the other."

"Well, you have to be a little aggressive," Jan Lockwood says.

And tenacious. In 1957, 40 members of Jan Lockwood's extended family died during Hurricane Audrey. She barely escaped. She says she's a survivor. And Lockwood says she's confident the repairs and improvements to the levees mean New Orleans is more secure now than it was before Katrina.

'Have to Let New Orleans Go'

In a corner of Houston's giant convention center, mothers with children in tow are looking for help. They're among at least 111,000 Katrina evacuees still living in Houston. Tymica Trotter-Hurst, 30, lived in the Cooper housing project in New Orleans, near the Superdome.

She's still adjusting to life in Houston, and she's still in search of a job. In New Orleans, she was a medical records clerk and a nurse's assistant. Now, like more than half of the evacuees in Houston, she and her three children depend on FEMA for housing assistance.

She's pleased that despite the trauma of Katrina, her children have done well in Houston's schools, even though their classes are more challenging.

She has no plans to go back home to New Orleans.

Miles from the bustle of downtown, in a gated community for seniors, Jerry White has decided to stay in Houston, too.

"I have to let New Orleans go," he says.

White was a law clerk. Now he keeps busy decorating his FEMA-subsidized apartment. He was emotionally devastated by the hurricane. He was evacuated by boat from his Mid-City neighborhood, deposited on the Broad Street overpass and spent three days and nights there, with almost no food or water. Convicts from the Orleans and St. Bernard prisons were at the foot of the bridge.

"That's something that I never thought or dreamed I'd have to go through in my life," he says. "I had never seen people die around me, and that was kind of devastating to me... That bridge really put the icing on the cake. Staying up there, laying on the concrete, many nights I cried. I didn't let nobody see me cry, but it was nothing nice."

White says when the helicopter lifted him of the Broad Street bridge, he said goodbye to New Orleans forever.

"To think about New Orleans is a nightmare to me now... I have to look forward to a brighter day," he says. "Got to let the past be the past. I had good years in New Orleans, wonderful years. But it's gone."

How long it will take for Katrina's victims to find their way home -- geographically and emotionally -- remains to be seen. It's clear that for many, the journey is far from over.

Source: NPR

rm_Kalhoun4u 57M
13 posts
8/29/2006 3:28 pm

I understand, still not sure where some friends are. And have family that still have blue tarps on the roof south of there.

IamWetFire 53F

8/29/2006 3:46 pm

I know what you mean, Kalhoun. My ex--Leon "Toad of Darkness"--went down there earlier this year to help his mother go through what was left of the two family homes--the two side by side in that picture; he grew up in the smaller one with the little red daisy on it, his grandfather built the shotgun house next door by hand himself.

Leon brought back photos. It was indescribable. They even found a dead body in his mama's house the first time they went down right after St. Bernard Parish was opened back up. They have no idea who it was. There were also animals impaled on the tops of the chain-link fences out front. And of course it was a total loss. The water got all the way into the attics so 100% write off as you can imagine. The houses have been bulldozed by now and his family have moved up here. I just don't know how they're going to fit in, but they can't go home.

Praise God Rocky and Carlos' didn't get washed away, too! I don't know if I could have stood that. The world's best baked mac and cheese and legendary Wop salad. One bright note in a deluge or horrors.

NPR is doing stories all this week, interviewing folks in the area, and those who've been displaced. I recommend it!

Thanks from dropping into the Grotto, Kalhoun. Good to have you here.

rm_Kingcat4U2 66M
2799 posts
8/29/2006 5:30 pm

Very nice job. That had to be devastating.
I loved to go to New Orleans, in so many
ways it was such a beautiful city, with
a character unlike any other. Even though
I've seen the news reports and all, I can't
imagine what it must look like now, not
to mention all the changes everyone has
endured. Best wishes to you and your family.

marathonman45202 54M
6640 posts
8/29/2006 5:33 pm

Check out [post 487870].

IamWetFire 53F

8/29/2006 11:23 pm

Thanks so much for dropping in KingCat and Marathon! If I'da known ya were a'comin' I'da baked ya a King Cake!

New Orleans--and in fact the entirety of Louisiana--in like a foreign country, a sovereign entity unto itself. I have so many great memories tied to that city. I went into the Navy from the MEPS center there--that's where Leon and I met. He was my group leader to boot camp, of all things. It was our military home of record the whole time we were married.

The city had become a pit and a hellhole years ago. Too much money poured into bullshit casinos and tourism and none left over to educate and lift up the enormous populace of the unseen underclass. Seeing those--my people--left like animals to fend for themselves. . .for in truth, when you're that poor, just where the hell did Nagen and his cadre of nincompoop incompetents think they'd evacuate to!?!?!?!? And it was his butt-buddy palm greasers that got that bastard back in office, not the "popular" vote. But do not get me started.

How do you rebuild when you've got nothing and lost everything and the only thing your government cares about is gearing up for Mardi Gras?


I try not to think of how it must look now. Those narrow streets and shotgun houses out in St. Bernard. The 9th Ward. All those grand historical homes over in the Garden District. The hole in the wall, Mom 'n Pop places we used to hang out for poboys and Italian food and the ambience only those palces can have. Like Mandina's and Rocky & Carlos' and dozens of others tourists never see.

In that picture above, it's hard to make out but Ma and my sister-in-law lived directly across the street from Jackson Barracks. . .the National Guard depot. All that crap. . .sort of tannish looking objects lying all helter-skelter. . .those are those huge NG troop carrier vehicles. This was the first image I saw of St. B and I literally cried until I puked when I pulled this from Google Earth. Knowing that was the family homestead. . .and being nearly 2000 miles away with no way to get home, and not a damned thing I could do to help if I could go.

If ever there was a part of America that desperately needs our help and our prayers, it's the Crescent City.

Thanks again, gents, for dropping into the Grotto to share your thoughts!

kyplowboy22 63M

8/31/2006 3:31 pm

What an absolute stunning post here, Wet. My first wife was from NO, and I spent some time there myself. I can't imagine what it must be like now. It will never be the town I knew again.

I think it is far reaching of some to put all the blame on the government for the tragedy there. How can you prepare for Armageddon? But there are definately lessons to be learned in the aftermath about a massive recovery effort like this has been. I wonder if the first rule of order should not be to execute all the current politicians and disaster officials in place for allowing these crimes against humanity to take place. And continue to take place. The tragedy to the human spirit from that is far worse than anything a hurricane can do. I can only find solice in my belief that there exists a special place in the bottom of hell for those that will capitalize of the broken backs of their own people. "Money users and Money changers" are mentioned throughout the book I speak of as those seeking to "pass through the eye of a needle". I can only pray that their efforts in this are visited on them in kind. I have every confidence that they will be.


rm_AnOddGirl 58F
3469 posts
8/31/2006 4:41 pm

My side of living thru Katrina

A Year in Review Dateline Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Thanks for the support!

IamWetFire 53F

9/1/2006 7:25 am

I'm with you, KPB. Line all those money-changers up in Jackson Square and hang them. Then, get social welfare-minded people in there to help THE PEOPLE.

The stuff that came out afterward about what those bastards did with Federal funds earmarked for the prevention of just such a disaster makes my blood boil. Here's just one example: several million of the levy funding was misdirected into the building of an overpass and exits for one of the newer casinos!!!

That tells you all you need to know about what the mindset is down home. As if tourism wouldn't go on without all the bells and whistles. New Orleans is like Paris or London. People are going to go there to see and be seen, come hell or high water. . .literally. And you can damn well believe the money brought in by those effing casinos isn't going into improvements for the city or into the pockets of the "little people."

And for those Americans that don't understand that we do have unrelenting poverty in this nation, they need to go see the 9th Ward and the high rise projects across the river in Algiers. Holy God. I don't know how Nagen and his bunch can do the things they do, then stand up and whine about it being the Federal government's fault for everything that happened. Monies the Feds have sent in there have been redirected to tourism-related crap for decades. All the while the levies haven't been taken care of and the wetlands barrier is being steadily and terrifyingly eroded away.

And tourists have no idea. None. They sip their cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde and eat at Commanders Palace and never, ever see the heart and life's blood of that city. . .it's people. . .or their suffering.

And OddGirl, thanks so much for sharing that link with us! What heart-wrenching posts!

IamWetFire 53F

9/2/2006 2:36 pm

I have to agree with you there, Spunky. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Whenever I seriously consider our Federal system (and State and City, for that matter), I think of the final days of Republican Rome. Same BS, different century. What started out as a government by and for the people has turned into a cabal for the wealthy and their butt-buddy interest groups. Scandalous. And voting someone else into office does no good. By the time they get to that level, they are the whores of the system, beyond all redemption and hope.

To quote Francis Walcott from Deadwood's 2nd Season, "I am a wetched sinner beyond the hope of forgiveness or redemption, but at least I am not a Government official."

Thanks for dropping in again, Spunky. Always good to see you here in the Grotto!

gettinbigger2 66M
56 posts
9/3/2006 3:43 am

Thank you, IamWetFire! I started a blog today about my first trip to LA, in 1971! It is hard to imagine that I have been going there for over 35 years and keep going back! New Orleans is my second home!


IamWetFire 53F

9/6/2006 12:50 am

Hi GB2! And thank you for dropping into the Grotto to share your thoughts.

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