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N'Orleans, one year later - the good, the bad and the ugly

In the Ninth Ward, a gas stations roof sits upended, atop several cars.
Photos by Stephen Dorian Miner

By Stephen Dorian Miner

July 19, 2006

Nearly a year after Hurricane Katrina and the ensuing floods devastated New Orleans, much progress has been made, yet much of the city remains in ruin.

While many have returned to re-build New Orleans, the Ninth Ward district remains a disaster scene.

But despite all the challenges, Habitat for Humanity and other oraganizations are making a difference. Known for its volunteer outreach projects - to build homes for the less advantaged throughout the country - Habitat for Humanity has an ambitious plan to help restore New Orleans to its former glory.

One project, on North Roman Street in Orleans Parish, had over 250 volunteers building homes from the ground up. A cooperative effort between Habitat for Humanity and World Changers - a faith based youth organization - brought specialists and young people together to build new homes.

"This is a partnership, sort of, with Habitat and World Changers," reported Hunter Douglas, instruction coordinator at the site. "We're organized into 20 work crews...this crew roof, this crew paint."

While both organizations provide volunteers for projects year round, each operates with different strengths.

"This job is unusual for us. We normally work person-to-person, house-to-house," Douglas said. "Here, we're building from the ground up."

While some houses have foundations and frames built others are nearly complete, and according to Douglas, families may be able to move-in within a couple of weeks.

And although adults, flashing specialties from wood working to plumbing, do more of he technical work, many of the teenagers, who paid their own way to volunteer their time, provide meals. The kids get an opportunity to do something positive and gain valuable experience helping others.

"It feels really good to help people out," said Johanna Huggins, 17, of Fort Worth, Texas. "It feels good to show people the city is not done and that there is a future for this city."

There's always hope when people come together to solve problems, but ayone looking at New Orleans for the first time may wonder if these areas will ever be restored.

Some neighborhoods still don't have power. Residents with unlivable homes are just receiving their trailers from FEMA, and others - lucky enough to be able to re-build their homes - can't get the trailers removed.

In the Ninth Ward, a gas stations roof sits upended, atop several cars. Trash lines the streets and homes are in neat heaps along the sidewalks awaiting removal.

Finger pointing has been common place since the disaster. Local property manager David Coxe said mismanagement at the most basic levels just made a bad situation worse.

"The water board is not run by a person who is neither a mechanic or an engineer, she [Marcia Saint Martin] is a public relations manager," Coxe said.

"Here you have one of the most sophisticated underground pumping systems in the world, next to Italy, and you have somebody who doesn't have the faintest idea about engineering."

Areas such as the Ninth Ward are difficult to maintain to begin with. Pumps - the same ones that failed during the storm - must constantly be running because water comes up through the soil, according to Coxe.

"It should be a rice patty," Coxe said. "They have to pump the water out continuously. Not an area that is sustainable."

On a tour with Coxe through the Lakeside District, it looks as if the hurricane hit last month. Condemmned homes are everywhere, empty of life and filled with destroyed belongings and furniture. Walls are ripe with mold causing an indescribable stench mixed with New Orleans' oppressive humidity.

Condemmed homes are marked with an 'X'.

The Kellys live at 6032 Memphis and are trying to sell their dilapidated home and move next door, into a house in better shape.

"My son hates my house so he wanted me to try and get something else," Cindy Kelly said. "But I like it so I said I'd try and sell, but just for one week."

This is somewhat typical according to Coxe. Although some houses are unlivable, or need extensive renovation, a home nearby may be habitable.

"Some didn't catch water, some of them did," Coxe said. A lot of houses lost their roofs and lost everything inside."

Fred Trenchard, an artist from New Orleans who now lives in Honolulu, said he hasn't come back yet because he isn't sure where he would live while he worked to repair his house.

"I could not get a blue tarp to cover the lost tiles on the roof, so the rain came in," Trenchard said.

With so much uncertainty, many people have not returned and may never return.

The Kellys at least have options. With a sarcastic chuckle Bill Kelly said, "Worse comes to worst, we just renovate it and live in it."




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