Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

A year later, 'New Orleans is rotting away' Add to ...

Bob Newman's handsome brick house is a beacon of hope for a city still very much on its knees. Two rocking chairs sit on the veranda. The lawn is manicured and the shrubs are covered in pink blooms. And behind stately white columns, the lights are on.

This is Mr. Newman's dream home: He designed it himself, and then watched it go up on the same corner lot where he spent his childhood. Construction finished just 15 months before hurricane Katrina unleashed flooding that submerged the house and half of New Orleans.

Soon after the waters receded, Mr. Newman and a team of tradesmen spent months gutting and rebuilding the entire first floor. He and his wife, Louise, moved back in late February. Each day, their home looks more like it did before the storm.

"It feels good," the 65-year-old small-business owner said as he worked in his garage one evening this week. "We're pretty much 100 per cent now as far as everything that's necessary, but I've still got a lot of things to do."

Most of the other residents in the Newmans' mostly white, middle-class neighbourhood of Lakeview haven't come back yet, and many never will. Next door, there's a For Sale sign in front of a white house that still bears a three-metre-high rust-coloured water line. The paint on the bungalow across the street is peeling and the lawn is overgrown with waist-high weeds. The red brick manor beside it is an empty shell.

The storm devastated much of New Orleans on Aug. 29, 2005, and a year later, parts of the city still resemble a ghost town -- largely, many critics say, because the rebuilding process remains stymied in government inertia.

New Orleans is a tale of two cities. Areas largely spared by the storm, including the posh Uptown district and the historic French Quarter, carry on as if the hurricane never happened. People go to work, stores are open and cars clog the streets.

But in flooded neighbourhoods, which were disproportionately poor and black, it looks like the storm hit just weeks ago.

In the ruined areas, tens of thousands of homes are empty, and many haven't even been gutted of the rotting debris the floods left behind. Power lines dangle on the streets, businesses are boarded up and schools are still closed. Electricity, gas and sewage services have not been restored in much of the Lower Ninth Ward. Bodies are still being found.

"They're not functioning urban neighbourhoods," said Douglas Brinkley, a history professor at the city's Tulane University who wrote a book about the hurricane. "New Orleans is rotting away."

New Orleans' population is now estimated at about 225,000, about half the pre-storm figure of 484,000. However, about 150,000 New Orleanians lived in neighbourhoods that sustained little damage and there has been an influx of workers. It is unclear how many owners of badly damaged homes have come back, a key indicator for the city's viability.

"As far as we can tell, there's been very little return, other than to neighbourhoods that were pretty much spared by the flooding," said John Logan, a professor and urban sociologist at Rhode Island's Brown University who conducted the first in-depth demographic analysis of the storm's impact.

In fact, 12 months after many residents lost everything, homeowners have still not received government rebuilding assistance, seen as a crucial step toward repopulating the city because many lacked flood insurance. Just this week, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco announced a new application process for those wishing access to as much as $150,000 (U.S.) in aid. The funding, which is bankrolled by a $10-billion federal allotment, is expected to start flowing next month.

By contrast, Mississippi residents started receiving cheques last month. The delay in Louisiana, where the damage was more widespread, is partly because Ms. Blanco is putting more strings on aid to encourage homeowners to rebuild in the state.

In New Orleans, the recovery is being slowed even further by the city's lack of action.

Single page
 

In the know

Most popular video »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories