Saturday, October 29, 2005

A Tale of Two Cities

While some residents of badly flooded neighborhoods like Lakeview and Gentilly forge ahead with plans for rebuilding, the people of the Ninth Ward take a farewell tour of their ruined neighborhood.

Ninth Ward residents were offered bus tours of the homes ravaged by Hurricane driven floods this week, with many of those quoted in the T-P saying they would not return to the area.

From the window of a Gray Line tour bus, Elaine Picot got her first look Thursday morning at what Hurricane Katrina left of the Lower 9th Ward home she had rented for the past decade.

"I'm gone. I'm through," said Picot, 45, who fled the 5000 block of North Johnson Street before the storm with two changes of clothes and little else.

"No, indeed. Once you been back here and lost everything, you don't want to go through that again."

Strangely, the same story falls into the trap of describing the Ninth Ward as "[a] poor, almost exclusively African-American neighborhood losing ground to crime, blight and neglect long..." Yet the area has one of the highest rates of home ownership among Blacks in the city. Ms. Picot is also quoted as saying she moved to the the Lower 9th in the hopes of finding a quiet spot away from the city's street violence.

The continuing confusion of the character and future of the Ninth Ward isn't the second city the title speaks of. Even as those residents despair of every returning to their homes, other areas of the city are equally adamant that they will rebuild.

At a town hall meeting earlier this week, Mayor Nagin "expressed surprise when a Lakeview resident said some residents of the southern part of that badly flooded neighborhood already are back in their homes and at work on repairs."

That wouldn't surprise anyone who's been reading the posting at the online Yahoo forum Rebuild_Lakeview. Residents there, who had their own angry meeting with officials last week, are busily discussing how their neighborhood can be brought back.

Lakeview is one of the lowest areas of the city, with flood maps placing the elevations below sea level at as much as ten feet. Flooding by brakish lake water through the 17th Street Canal levee breech was extensive, with water reaching the second floor of some homes, residents report. While the standards to which homeowners have been held have not yet been release, Nagin indicated that some residents might have to raise their homes as much as five feet. (There is a presumption that the levees mitigate some of the flood hazard, so that Reconstruction need not be above sea level).

Nagin's surprise may be based in part on what city officials are telling him. In a meeting with residents of another heavily flooded area of the city, City Director of Safety and Permits Mike Centineo, who lives in Lakeview, told residents that he understands their plight firsthand since his home was flooded. If water was as high as the eaves of the house, it's "a no-brainer" that the house is a tear-down, the T-P reports on NOLA.Com.

The most interesting part of the above story about Gentilly is the number of elderly residents who say they want to return. Delia Anderson summed up their feelings: ""I love this town. It's in my soul. It will kill me to leave it."

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"And when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcome, but when we are silent we are still afraid. So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive." -- Audie Lorde

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