Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Where Things are Today

The lower ninth ward was the most devastated neighborhood in New Orleans last fall. It remains that way, largely abandoned and in terrible shape, but things are improving. The levee breach area has been largely cleaned up, and crews are constantly working on infrastructure. When I visited in March, I couldn’t decide if it looked more like a war zone or a landfill. Vets who have been to Iraq and Bosnia say the levee breach was worse: rushing water smashed houses apart and washed them away, leaving nothing but the cement slabs. Debris was everywhere – cars piled six vehicles high; children’s’ shoes, old record collections, bicycles half-buried in the mud. Most of this has been cleared away, leaving a large field with the cement slabs and potholed roads. It’s hard for first-time visitors to see, but having been here six months ago, I am encouraged. It’s a large improvement – although if you live in the neighborhood, you might not see it that way. One man told me things aren’t getting better; all he’s got left of his house are the steps. Whether or not the yard is clean really doesn’t help him, I suppose.

One good sign is the increased traffic at our distribution site. We used to hand out around 200 bags of supplies from 10-2; the past couple weeks have seen us handing out around 250 bags and running out as early as 1. Today, we were actually out around 12:30, which shocked me! (Admittedly, we set up an hour early.) All in all, it’s a good thing: this means more people are returning to the neighborhood, and to the city, to work on their homes. This doesn’t surprise me; in March, many people told me they were waiting for hurricane season to end.

The news the Mayor likes to tout is the water: officially, the entire city of New Orleans now has running water, safe for consumption, and water pressure is at pre-storm levels. This is true as far as it goes, I suppose. The last neighborhood without water, a section of the lower ninth, had it turned on this month, but many of those residents tell us they still don’t have water, or roll their eyes and say sure, but it’s disgusting. You don’t see their comments in the news, do you? Either reporters don’t think to talk to them, or they’re largely ignored given everyone’s desire for a good story. My guess is that the city pipes are back up (albeit leaking horribly and wasting lots of water underground), but that local connections are still in bad shape. There’s water, and it’s fit for consumption by deer, but still tastes too awful for any human with dignity.

The rest of the city is pretty much the same as the ninth ward – devastated, but coming along, albeit slowly. The mayor has FINALLY established a central city office for recovery. I told you about the wonderful shot in the arm the Saints have provided. Restaurants are reopening in droves. Sadly, however, over half the city remains without electricity, an eerie site if you drive or fly by at night. A recent population study shows not too many more people have moved back in the last couple months. Many homes remain ungutted, whether in Orleans or St. Bernard Parish (county), even as the parishes start demolishing these untouched homes. Some people are still waiting on their FEMA trailers. I talked to one man yesterday who’s trying to rectify his situation out in Chalmette, but doesn’t understand all the FEMA paperwork he has to slog through (I pointed him towards Common Ground Relief, which helps with such things).

My friends Bob and Marty are coming down from St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho next month. My guess is that Bob, having seen Pass Christian, MS last year, will be excited by the progress, but that Marty, having not seen any of K’s destruction, will be horrified and saddened by overall conditions.

No comments: