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New Orleans Still Recovering One Year After Katrina

August 24, 2006 at 12:00 AM EST
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NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: People want to come home. They can’t put up trailers. You know, it’s just — it’s awful.

BETTY ANN BOWSER, NewsHour Correspondent: Hardly a day goes by without people getting together to grouse about what has not been done in their neighborhoods in New Orleans.

NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: We have a situation where there is inaction, there is indifference, there is a lot of arrogant attitudes about what we should be and how we should accept the no answers, the no progress.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: They are frustrated because, one year after Katrina, and in spite of promises of recovery from the city, state and federal government, the wheels of bureaucracy have turned slowly.

NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: Somebody needs to do something. They need to do something with the school. They have never gutted that school out or took anything out of that school.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Even today across the city, basic electricity, water and phone services are undependable. Piles of trash are still everywhere. The National Guard is on patrol because crime is on the increase. Meanwhile, the city’s beleaguered police department continues to lose officers who’ve left for greener pastures.

The slow road back has created stress across a matrix of neighborhoods in a city that, at this point, has an uncertain future. Historic Gentilly, a racially diverse, middle-class area, which is home to the first commercially developed neighborhood for African-Americans in the country, sat under eight feet of water one year ago.

NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: What do you visualize that could happen to change Gentilly for the better?

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Today, its residents meet regularly to talk about the vision they have for the future.

NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: To bring families back into the area; that is critical to our viability.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: But day-to-day life for those who have returned to Gentilly is like living on the frontier. There’s no functioning public school, no hospital, no library. Water mains regularly clog with garbage. Potholes abound. City services are practically non-existent.

Still, retired school teacher Lamona Chandler considers herself one of the lucky ones. After waiting for months, she now has a FEMA trailer to live in. Every day, she takes a walk to check in with neighbors to see how life is going.

LAMONA CHANDLER, New Orleans Resident: How you doing today?

NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: Pretty good. How are you doing, Ms. Lamona?

BETTY ANN BOWSER: She points out massive water leaks in city lines, leaving residents with inflated bills and low water pressure. She says the sewers don’t drain properly and there’s standing water everywhere.

NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: If you see flies and everything else there, this is a…

LAMONA CHANDLER: Environmental hazard.

NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: I’m saying.

Abandoned homes

Lamona Chandler
They're asking you to come back, but they're not doing anything to welcome you. That's how I feel.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: And, Chandler says, there are a lot of abandoned homes owned by absentee landlords that are creating blight and could foster crime.

NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: He refused to come back home and do anything with this property.

LAMONA CHANDLER: He's not coming back?

NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: He's saying he's not even worried about it.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Chandler says the city and state need to do more to restore basic services if they hope to lure people back.

LAMONA CHANDLER: How are you doing?

NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: I'm glad to see you back. How you all making out?

LAMONA CHANDLER: They're asking you to come back, but they're not doing anything to welcome you. That's how I feel. You know, and a lot of people are saying the very same thing. They say they're going to hold out until January and see if there's some kind of movement or some kind of improvement. But a year later, and we don't see the progress we would like to see.

SEAFOOD SELLER: Do you want ketchup with that?

CUSTOMER: Yes, that'd be fine, please.

SEAFOOD SELLER: Ketchup and hot, huh?

CUSTOMER: Yes, you're right.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Several blocks away, a glimmer of hope. Zimmer's Seafood has reopened to blockbuster business because its one of the few restaurants that's come back to the neighborhood. The take-out eatery is famous for its shrimp po' boys and homemade bread pudding, which owner Charleen Zimmer continues to turn out every day.

So how did you rebuild?

CHARLEEN ZIMMER, Owner, Zimmer's Seafood: Well, we started brick by brick. My husband and I worked here seven days a week for seven months straight.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: But still, challenges remain.

CHARLEEN ZIMMER: Every time the electricity goes off, if it stays off, we have to grab the ice, and go ice up all our seafood, and, you know, just take care of everything until it comes back on.

Lack of medical care

Charleen Zimmer
Doctors and hospitals, that's something we really need, because there's nothing. My mom and dad both have heart problems, and they don't want to come back until they get hospitals up for them.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Like a lot of residents, Zimmer worries about the lack of medical care, since an estimated two-thirds of the city's medical professionals have not returned.

CHARLEEN ZIMMER: Doctors and hospitals, that's something we really need, because there's nothing. My mom and dad both have heart problems, and they don't want to come back until they get hospitals up for them.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Two miles southeast of Gentilly is the Lower Ninth Ward, the neighborhood most devastated by Katrina and the one with the most notable lack of recovery. Once a lively, low-income African-American community, today it is a vast wasteland, houses still crumpled in piles where Katrina left them one year ago.

Most of the area still has no water or electricity, no telephones, not even enough basic services for FEMA to set up trailers. And in the areas where trailers have been set up, the water is undrinkable.

Few people have come home to do even the most rudimentary clean up. Bo Field is dispirited and hasn't even begun work on his barbershop, once a place where men in the Lower Ninth used to come for a hair cut and to socialize.

BO FIELD, Barbershop Owner: Anybody that came, you know, it was open arms. We used to have some good times in here.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: As he drives through the area, he says it looks frozen in time and will stay that way unless there is a massive infusion of money from some government agency.

BO FIELD: When you look at this neighborhood right here, the way you're looking at, and, really, the only reason that you can really say what's wrong -- what's wrong is money. The people do not have the money to put these houses back the way that they're supposed to be. That's the bottom line to it.

Broken promises

Bo Field
I've been here since October, and all I've ran into is a lot of B.S. That's all I ran into. And I had people that stood up and look us dead in the eye, keep telling you the same story over and over.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: The city has not said what it plans to do with this part of the Lower Ninth near the Industrial Canal flood breach. Some 2,000 houses have been condemned because they are in imminent danger of collapse. The Army Corps of Engineers is in the process of demolishing them and hauling away the debris.

GWEN ADAMS, New Orleans Resident: This was just the driveway. Here was the garage.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Last week, Gwen Adams' home came down, something she thinks was unnecessary because the house was still on its foundation. Now she wants to be compensated for her loss.

GWEN ADAMS: Up until a week ago, my house was still here and I had hope. I said, "Well, maybe we can rebuild on that particular land." Now I have to start all over from the ground up.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: What are you going to start over with?

GWEN ADAMS: Nothing. I have nothing right now. I don't know.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Adams is hoping to qualify for money to rebuild somewhere in the New Orleans area under a federally funded but state-run program called The Road Home. The program, which began just last week, will give homeowners up to $150,000 to rebuild. Any compensation they received from FEMA or the Small Business Administration will be deducted from that amount, along with any monies they've received from their insurance companies.

But when officials met last week with residents to explain the program, frustration bubbled over. People said they've heard these promises before.

NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: Can you give us an estimate date on when all this is going to happen? It's been almost a year, and people are just up in limbo.

BO FIELD: I've been here since October, and all I've ran into is a lot of B.S. That's all I ran into. And I had people that stood up and look us dead in the eye, keep telling you the same story over and over.

NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: The governor doesn't intend to give you any bull.

Alternative plans

Michael Friedlander
You can definitely tell that adults are a lot more stressed out than they were before the storm. I mean, just how they act and their manner and everything.

CAROL HECTOR-HARRIS, The Road Home Program: We're not going to mislead you. Nobody in this program is going to mislead you. And listen: We do know that we're bumping up on a year now. And everybody has been going through this, that and the other and more. And we're not going to put you through more.

NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: You haven't done anything yet to fix that school down there.

CAROL HECTOR-HARRIS: We don't do schools.

NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: We need to wrap this up.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Even on the other side of the city in affluent uptown, with its storybook historic homes and boutiques, there is stress and uncertainty. Like so many other neighborhoods, progress here can be measured by what people have done for themselves.

Residents organized brigades to pick up trash, get rid of abandoned cars, and help local businesses get going again. Uptown, as its name suggests, is on higher ground and did not suffer extensive flood damage. But one year after the storm, it is still in a recovery mode.

Linda Friedlander owns a high-end gift shop on Magazine Street, the kind of mom-and-pop operation that before the storm made up 85 percent of the city's businesses. Many still have not reopened, and large numbers of those that did are now having to close down again.

LINDA FRIEDLANDER, Business Owner: My business relied on 50 percent tourism, 50 percent locals before Katrina. And right now, there is no tourism, so that's out. And then 50 percent local, we lost a huge amount of our population, so that went down.

And then the people who are left who do have the ability to buy are psychologically kind of frozen in the sense that they don't want to spend money on products or art or higher-end when they don't know what's going to happen.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Friedlander is giving it four more months. If business doesn't improve, her family may have to move from the city they love so dearly. She says, whether rich or poor, black or white, stress is the tie that binds everyone in New Orleans together these days. Even her 14-year-old son, Michael, has picked up on it.

MICHAEL FRIEDLANDER, Son of Linda Friedlander: You can definitely tell that adults are a lot more stressed out than they were before the storm. I mean, just how they act and their manner and everything. And a lot of kids I know are stressed out, too, because, I mean, a lot of things are different. They can't do all the stuff they normally would have.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Michael and his younger brother, Brian, try to make things normal, but it's hard. A lot of their soccer buddies are gone with their families to other cities. Soccer games, once on an outdoor field, are now indoors, because the old field is now filled to the brim with FEMA trailers.

It's just another marker of how everyday life -- whether it's in uptown, the Lower Ninth, or Gentilly -- has been transformed by an unwelcome guest named Katrina.

RAY SUAREZ: Tomorrow, we'll have a Spencer Michels report from the Mississippi Gulf Coast.