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

Mayor Ray Nagin, who was re-elected in May, has not yet announced which neighbourhoods should be forsaken and which will be rebuilt, complete with a full complement of municipal services, including schools, libraries, parks and fire stations. The issue is highly charged and politically dangerous: During the campaign, Mr. Nagin suggested that every neighbourhood could be rebuilt, something few planners recommend given the risk of future flooding.

"You're going to have to prioritize somewhere to start realistically having people come back, but because of his pandering to the population during his election campaign, Nagin now finds himself painted in a corner. Any move he makes, he's going to get battered, so he's decided just to not move at all," Prof. Brinkley said.

In the Lower Ninth Ward, a predominantly poor black neighbourhood that was flattened by the storm, Albert Florida sits on a milk crate on his porch.

He did all the gutting himself, punishing work for which he now wears wrist braces. His tiny white home with coral trim on the corner of Burgundy and Alabo Streets is now just a shell: studs, a warped floor, exterior walls and the roof where he spent two days without food or water waiting to be evacuated.

Like so many others, Mr. Florida didn't have flood insurance --he said he was told he didn't need it -- and his salary as a heating and cooling technician at a local university isn't enough to finance the restoration of the home he has owned for 11 years. He now lives in a FEMA trailer at a site set up by his employer; his ailing wife is a five-hour drive away near Shreveport, La. He desperately wants to move home, but needs help.

"Everybody's waiting on the same thing, getting government assistance," the 48-year-old said, as he smoked a cigarette in the rain.

In a city where so much of the post-Katrina response has been coloured by issues of class and race, the government's lethargy has compounded the disparities.

Without insurance or savings, low-income homeowners like Mr. Florida must wait to rebuild. Many don't even live nearby, making fixing up their properties all the more difficult, and unlikely. In the aftermath of the hurricane, poor blacks were more likely to be bused out of state, where they have since gotten jobs and rented apartments. Long drives back to New Orleans are expensive and time-consuming, especially since there is still so much uncertainty and some people are talking about turning their neighbourhoods into parkland.

Those with money, however, tended to stay closer to the city, had insurance and are better able to start rebuilding.

"Money's a big factor now and if you don't have none, you've got to wait it out and survive day by day like I'm doing," Mr. Florida said. "They got hit, too, but the rich and the wealthy come back quicker than the poor. The poor depend on whatever helping hand they can get."

Two doors down Alabo Street, Cheryl Luke sits in a beige pickup watching hired labourers gut the turquoise home she has owned for nine years. The debris spills from the sidewalk into the narrow street, and the stench spreads farther still. There are TVs, mattresses, a teddy bear, photos, the bed her mother died in and clothes still damp from the floodwaters. She counts 281 relatives past and present who have lived in the Lower Ninth.

"We've got a lot of history here, you know," the 55-year-old said, eyes scanning the neighbourhood. "This is our roots, this is where we live. We've been out here all our lives."

Ms. Luke's insurance payout was meagre. She has been living in New York, and saved up money to come back and have her home cleared. But it will take much more to make it livable again.

Across town in Lakeview, which was also devastated, there was no question that Mr. Newman would fix his four-bedroom, two-storey home at the corner of Canal Boulevard and Lane Street.

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