On Day 2 of The Cable Show, I had an opportunity to tour the Orleans parish located to the North of New Orleans with Dave Walker of The Times-Picayune. We started in the northwest neighborhood of Lakeview, then moved in an easterly direction. Our direction seemed to parallel the extent of the levee damage and even the efforts to rebuild. Lakeview, a middle-to-high income community, is well underway in its rebuilding efforts. The majority of the homes along its levee have been refortified or rebuilt.
Continuing east, we arrived in the Gentilly neighborhood along the 17th Street levy. Here lies the middle class, modest homes built in the post World War II boom. As we toured the community, I began to see more clustering of occupied houses with two or three abandoned homes in each grouping. As with most neighborhoods, these homes pose a risk to the real estate values, not to mention the vermin infestations. The National Guard still patrols this area to prevent looting.
Another striking reminder of August 29, 2005 is still displayed on these abandoned homes. The National Guard’s spray-painted “X” posting, reporting body counts, dates checked and the National Guard’s unit. There is another set of painted markings from the SPCA on pet status. I imagine how difficult it must have been to leave a pet behind during the emergency evacuation. It is said that in some cases the National Guard coaxed residents out of their homes by offering an ultimatum: Either leave with us or use this Sharpie marker to write your Social Security number on the inside of your arm. This tactic proved convincing for most.
We finally made our way to the Lower 9th Ward which remains a difficult area to visit. It is said that this neighborhood is the soul of New Orleans – the home of musician greats like Fats Domino. Driving along the levee wall, you see a vast wasteland of slabs of concrete and pillars left behind to remind us of what had been. The grass & wildflowers grow waist-high & in some ways softens the harshness that surrounds us. In the field were troops of volunteers wearing brightly colored T-shirts and tending to grassy lots.
New Orleans’s folklore dictates that living near a levee requires that you keep an axe close by and for many on that awful day, chopping through the roof was the difference between life and death.
New Orleans was bruised and battered but those wounds are healing and there is hope for what lies ahead.
– Helen Dimsdale