TOPICS > World

Far From Home

December 15, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


SPOKESMAN: Put your hands together and show him some love! Let’s thank God for Mayor Ray Nagin. Come on!

BETTY ANN BOWSER: The embattled beleaguered mayor of New Orleans is on the road, on a mission to bring Katrina survivors from all over the country back home.

MAYOR RAY NAGIN: What’s up, New Orleans! I miss y’all! The red beans and rice just ain’t the same without ya’ll! So we need y’all back quickly.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: In Atlanta where more than 40,000 families fled after the hurricane, the mayor gave this progress report.

MAYOR RAY NAGIN: Eleven hundred businesses are back up and operational and providing a wide range of services to our citizens; seven hundred and seven food establishments are open. So you can come to the city of New Orleans and get Popeye’s and you know, all sorts of stuff is open.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: But entire neighborhoods are still uninhabitable. Thousands of businesses are closed. Only two hospitals are in operation. And just a handful of schools are up and running.

And while the French Quarter may be party central once again, go just minutes away and this is what you will find. Nagin says what New Orleans needs is a massive infusion of federal money, perhaps billions of dollar dollars to rebuild the city.

MAYOR RAY NAGIN: The city is broke. We don’t have any money. There’s no revenues coming in right now. What we are doing is we’re begging and borrowing to anybody that will listen. I must tell you, when you come back to New Orleans, The Big Easy is not very easy right now. So come back fully understanding and expecting to have some challenges.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: But challenges were not what this audience of displaced people wanted to hear about. Many walked out early.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Did you get any answers today?

WOMAN: No, not one, honey. Not one answer.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Not one answer?

WOMAN: No, no.

GLORIA FRANKLIN: I am upset to the bone lady, you have no idea.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Do you want to go back to New Orleans?

GLORIA FRANKLIN: Of course I do. That’s my home. But I don’t want to go back under the circumstances where my water, lights, gas, all these things, I can’t have. And I’m going to go there and sit in the dark. I mean what am I going to do?

BETTY ANN BOWSER: FEMA representatives were another target of frustration.

JAMES HAMPDEN: The biggest problem with FEMA is they need to get their act together. You are throwing people in hardship when it’s not reason. It’s not necessary.

SPOKESMAN: We are trying to get everybody their housing assistance before that time comes.

JAMES HAMPDEN: Well they sent me a letter telling me, I got to pay my other sisters back, because I had insurance; I’ve already used the money, what the hell am I going to pay it back for?

SPOKESMAN: Sir, which zip code?

MAN: 70119.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: The reality is thousands of people now in Atlanta will not be going back to New Orleans and their new mayor knows it.

MAYOR SHIRLEY FRANKLIN: The fact is many people will not be able to return because jobs will not exist, because there is not enough housing. It just seems to me that we — we need to light a fire under the federal government and they are beginning to move in the right direction.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin’s campaign to get the federal government to help Katrina victims began while the city of New Orleans was still underwater.

MAYOR SHIRLEY FRANKLIN: I’m not really sure what we’re waiting for. Are we waiting for everyone to die? Or are we serious about an evacuation?

BETTY ANN BOWSER: But the evacuation came, and with it a flood of thousands of new Atlanta residents overnight. Atlanta kicked in $1 million of its own money which went to nonprofit organizations like United Way and the Red Cross. Now the city is begun to receive some federal money: $6 million from FEMA to help 1500 families. But the mayor says that’s not nearly enough.

MAYOR SHIRLEY FRANKLIN: Our calculations were that we would need tens of millions of dollars to help people get resettled. We need a 21st Century New Deal, a 21st century program that really helps to relocate, not necessarily just to Atlanta, but to Houston and San Antonio and Charlotte and everyplace else.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Most of the burden has fallen on nonprofits like MUST Ministries, which has helped 20,000 families since September. They have placed people in apartments, helped them find jobs, medical care and counseling. But director John Moeller says he’s worried what will happen to people still living in motels when their FEMA rent money is cut off next year.

THE REV. JOHN MOELLER, Director, MUST Ministries: We are bracing for the worst. And you know, these folks have been fortunate enough that over the last several weeks they’ve been in motels, they’ve been able to be in temporary housing. But we are fearful that they are going to fall into homelessness.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Susan Brock is one of the people Moeller is most concerned about. She and her four children are living in a motel room with two beds. Broke is working four hours a week as a school lunchroom attendant and she spends most of her afternoons on the computer at MUST Ministries looking for a job.

SPOKESMAN: They say it is a temporary position but it will last a half a year.


BETTY ANN BOWSER: Brock knows for now she must stay in Atlanta. But she misses her old neighborhood, especially her second floor apartment in Westwego.

SUSAN BROCK: It’s home. It’s nothing like home, like Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz”, and there was just nothing like going home. And sometime I do — I do my shoes and maybe we’ll go home, you know.

CHARLIE VAUGHN: We still may have that old New Orleans smell.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Hip-hop artist Charlie Vaughn isn’t going back either. He used to perform at the True Brew Cafe across the street from the New Orleans Convention Center. He wrote poetry and collected vinyl records at his downstairs apartment in the Holly Grove section. Now all that’s left are the memories in the flood-stained photos.

CHARLIE VAUGHN: That’s me doing my worst James Brown impression.



BETTY ANN BOWSER: Is there a best?


BETTY ANN BOWSER: In Atlanta, Vaughn has found an apartment temporarily paid for by FEMA and a job working nights at a Sheraton Suites hotel. But it’s not a life he’s used to.

CHARLIE VAUGHN: No matter what FEMA gives me or anybody else, it’s still not going to equal up to what they had. You know, I mean I had a place that was actually smaller than this. I had a job that wasn’t, you know, superb, but they can’t get me back what I had. I just want to be normal, and that’s one thing that everybody whether rich or poor, just wants. They just want to feel normal.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Although they are warm and comfortable staying with their daughter Paula and her family in an affluent Atlanta suburb, nothing is normal either for 74-year-old Melvin and 73-year-old Helena Jones. Their home in Pontchartrain Park, where they lived for 40 years and raised seven children, is completely destroyed. Their profitable business that sold New Orleans specialty gift baskets at the farmer’s market in the French Quarter is closed.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We will do what it takes. We will stay as long as it takes to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: And they want the president to make good on his promise on Sept. 15 to “do what it takes” to make the Crescent City rise again.

MELVIN JONES: George Bush stood up in front of the St. Louis Cathedral and said “Don’t worry. We’re going to help you. Things are going to get better.” And here we are over three months away from what happened back then and really nothing has happened, absolutely nothing.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Still with nothing but promises from Washington, the Joneses decided to go back to New Orleans a few days ago, with one of their daughters, Sakina, first to check on their “A Tisket A Tasket” business stall in the French Quarter.

HELENA JONES: It was just fantastic. And we know that in time New Orleans is going to come back. And A Tisket A Tasket will be here. I don’t know if Helena and Melvin Jones might be here but our children will. And they will carry on what we started.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Then it was on to Algiers, a section of the city that was not flooded, to a new temporary home, where they were met by their daughter-in-law, Lisa Jones.

LISA JONES: I’m in the process of cooking dinner.

HELENA JONES: Yes, indeed. Well, it smells like New Orleans with the potato salad.

LISA JONES: Got some hoghead cheese there. Have some cheese and crackers. Cook some fish and potato salad which is normally a Friday meal in New Orleans. You know?

BETTY ANN BOWSER: So New Orleans has two of its taxpaying business entrepreneurs back. The question now is: How many more will be able to follow?