When we visited New Orleans in 2006 we refused to take a ‘Katrina Tour’ for many reasons. The first reason was the tour companies were the ones who would benefit instead of the people who had lost everything. We also didn’t want to be rubberneckers viewing other people’s pain and loss. We had seen enough on tv – we didn’t need to see it with out own eyes while the affected tried to pick up their lives again. Having driven in from the east – we saw the piles of wreckage in the middle of the streets, the buildings smashed to pieces, the signs of destruction everywhere. We didn’t want to go into the worst of it and take pictures. To us it would have been like walking through a war zone and taking souvenirs. It would have ripped out our hearts and handed them back to us as minced meat.
Now – in 2008 – the word was out that they were rebuilding and renewing New Orleans. Eco-friendly houses were being built in the 9th Ward by people like Brad Pitt and Mike Holmes (he of the huge muscles and overalls). The other day I saw that Dan Ackroyd has added his name to the list of people who are helping rebuild. When I came across a write-up of a tour being given of one of these houses in the 9th Ward I decided it was time to take a deep breath and go have a look.
We started by attending an art show in a park found in the Upper 9th Ward. As we headed out we came across this - storage(?)area. When we first drove past I didn't know what I was looking at. When my brain and my eyes finally connected, I asked The Man to turn around so I could take some pictures. This is what we saw.
A police car graveyard for the vehicles that had been destroyed in Katrina.
We then followed our handy GPS to the little park where the art show was being held and parked along the side of the street. As we got out of our car, a woman with 2 little boys came up to us and asked us for any change to help one of the little boys who had lost his parents in Katrina. The Man unloaded his pockets into her container and they all beamed at us as the woman dashed tears from her eyes and I had to brush away mine too. The woman then crossed the street and approached another man who was just about to get into his car. I heard him angrily tell her that he hadn’t worked for 2 years and didn’t have any money. He then got into his new BMW and drove away. The woman patted the little boys on the head and held her head high and continued on – throwing us a smile and a nod as they walked away.
I’ve wondered many times since about that man. Had he told the truth? Was the new car his FEMA money purchase? Was the colour difference an issue for him? Perhaps he had been inundated with requests for money since Katrina. Or was he just a jerk. I’ll never know.
As we drove around the Upper 9th I fell in love with all the different styles of houses and the colours they were painted - the obvious love that had been put into decorating them.
Some of the houses had been freshly painted and the evidence of the house inspections after Katrina had been painted over. I’m talking about that famous huge X with the numbers or words written in the corners to show the house had been searched by someone after the hurricane and broken levees. Other houses had left the X as a symbol of their pride that they had endured. Some even decorated around it!
From the Upper 9th we then ventured into the Lower 9th Ward in our search for the eco-friendly house. Of course we got there too late (not pointing any fingers here) and we had to be happy to drive around the outside and imagine what was inside. We drove around the streets then and I took some pictures. Some of the houses were intact and beautiful while others stood vacant – their windows blank, shutters hanging, roofs with holes in them or gone, the lawns turned into a small overgrown field. In some places the front steps led up to – nothing – only sky.
All you could see was a pad where the house had stood proudly once upon a time. A whole neighbourhood looked like it had been washed away and all that remained was the overgrown earth and cement.
As we drove around we smiled at the people who were tearing down and rebuilding. They looked happy and sad at the same time and my heart ached for them. I wanted to tell them that but I didn’t want to intrude – didn’t want to add my heartache to theirs.
We drove past Brad Pitt’s famous houses that now sported signs on the front lawn that said they were private residences. They were – amazing. I’m sorry that I don’t have a good pic of them but I didn’t want to look like a vulture as we gawked at them.
Since I’ve returned home I’ve read 8 books about Katrina and New Orleans. They opened my eyes even further to the devastation of Katrina and all it entailed. I cried as we drove around the Lower 9th Ward – and I cried again and again as I read what these people and this city endured. For anyone interested in reading more about this – I’m going to list the titles and authors of some of the books I read.
The Great Deluge – Douglas Brinkley
Lost In Katrina – Mikel Schaefer
1 Dead in Attic – Chris Rose