Local New Orleans TV station and website WWL-TV has a story written by reporter Bill Capo that is posted on one of their site. The story begins:
Tsunami relief workers shocked by 9th Ward tour, say they expected more signs of recovery
Two leaders of the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights who have spent the last 18-months helping victims of last year’s Tsunami took a walk through the Lower Ninth Ward Friday.
Their reaction was one of shock, because they said they expected to see more signs of recovery from Hurricane Katrina.
“We think of America as being this fabulous, powerful superpower, and it’s exactly like Third World situations,” said Tom Kerr.
“In my personal opinion, I think you should have done much, much faster. It should be much better than what I have seen today,” said Samsook Boonyabancha.
Capo also writes:
”Later this summer, a group from New Orleans east and the Lower Ninth Ward will travel to Indonesia to see what they can learn about the recovery efforts from the tsunami in some of the world’s poorest countries.”
Early on in the drive we started seeing homes that had their front doors wide open, although it was clear no one was living there or had lived there since Katrina hit. Looking into the houses I could see that the walls had all been stripped of drywall, showing empty spaces inside broken up only be the 2x4 wooden framing timbers that made up the house’s skeleton. This was something else I didn’t understand at all.
It turns out to be another piece of the story that I, living outside of the New Orleans area, haven’t seen or heard from the major news outlets.
If homes weren’t damaged by the rising flood waters they were often damaged by the driving winds and rains from the hurricane. People who evacuated sealed their homes up tight, expecting to be back in a few short days. Instead, when they were shipped out to other states their homes, typically had some sort of water damage inside. These houses then became prime breeding havens for black mold. Black mold causes a variety of illnesses and can eventually lead to lung cancer. Once it infests drywall it cannot be cleaned off or removed. The drywall itself has to be removed from the house and carefully destroyed.
So houses were stripped bare to the frames and the wood was treated with a fungicide to try and save the house.
We saw several homes that had not only flood damage but also extensive fire damage. I couldn’t understand how or why someone would choose to commit arson in an already devastated, poorer area.
Our guide informed us that it wasn’t arson, but a problem with people trying to reclaim their homes and live in them again. Without power, they were having to depend on candles for light at night and charcoal and/or propane for heating water and food. All of those open flames indoors, such as the indoors are, were causing problems with house fires.
Areas like the ones where many of these images in this series were taken were in a modest, middle-class, African American neighborhood. These were family homes, with playsets in many of the backyards and damaged toys amid the piles of trash in the front yards.
One of the subtle ways of keeping these residents from returning is to take the problem of open flames as being the source of house fires and scaring the fire insurance companies with fears of widespread claims from the area. As a result, people who own what’s left of these homes cannot get fire insurance on their houses. Without fire insurance, they cannot secure the loans necessary to rebuild.
What disturbs me the most about all of this is the subtle way in which a number of different factors all come into play to keep the former residents out of the city.
Take the city’s response to the Ninth Ward, for instance. While I was in town for the conference there was a motion made to cease all public transportation to and from the Ninth Ward. The reason given was economic: it was a cost-cutting measure that would help the cash-strapped city.
The implications of that motion, however, were far more devious. Many residents of the Ninth Ward were extremely poor. Employment for these residents was typically not found in the Ninth Ward but in the downtown area of New Orleans proper. Most of these people were renting, not owning their homes, and most could not afford cars but, instead, depended on the city bus system to carry them into the city and back home again.
If you’re trying to deny a community the ability to reclaim their lives, eliminating their ability to get to work is one sure way to help with that process. No transportation, no job, no income, no way to support yourself and your family.
There are piles of trash on most city blocks in the flooded areas. It’s difficult to tell exactly how long some of the piles have been there, but it’s probably safe to say that there hasn’t been any sort of scheduled pick up of trash in months and months.
Every now and then the rain comes and tries to wash the piles clean.
FEMA offered trailers to many of the residents in the flood-damaged areas. We were told that many residents said “yes” to the offer but have never lived in them. I guess it makes it look like you’re still involved with your property if you have a FEMA trailer in your front yard.
We saw many trailers in the urban areas that our guide questioned. He was doubtful anyone was actually living in them. There were certain outward signs of life, or the lack thereof.
This one, in a more suburban area, was definitely lived in.
There was only one sign of someone trying to rebuild throughout the entire afternoon’s tour of the area.
This was it.
The roofers were Hispanic. If there is a lasting cultural shift in the city of New Orleans that Katrina has brought it’s the huge influx of Hispanics into the area. They’ve moved into the area in droves, the men willing to do the construction work that is needed all over the city and willing to do so for the moderate pay the contractors and sub-contractors are willing to offer and they’ll do so in the intensive heat and humidity that New Orleans’ climate has to offer.
This has caused problems of it’s own. many African Americans are finding it hard to reclaim jobs or find new jobs due to the large numbers of Hispanics that have moved in for those jobs.
The face of New Orleans is literally changing. And with it, comes a whole new set of racial tensions.
This huge billboard, visible from the freeway, seemed to sum up a lot of what I saw up to this point in our trip.
Yes, there are sporadic signs of hope here and there, but the amount of work necessary is best described in huge, bold block lettering that’s visible for miles.
A friend of Bonn’s, Aquart, has been sending out links to stories from a variety of sources that are usually not covered widely (if at all) by the major media for years now. The story I quoted at the top of this entry came from her. Once I read it I knew I wanted to lead off with quotes from the story -- and that I wanted to tell this friend about my images from the area.
She wrote back to me late Saturday night and offered to post a link to my blog and the images on the Democratic Underground website.
I greatly appreciate the nice things she had to say about my writing and images and to suggest to a much wider audience that they take a look.