The Katrina Aftermath: Inside the Ninth Ward

If there are levels or “circles” of Hell as Dante suggested, New Orleans’ Ninth Ward must surely rank as one of the worst. National Guardsmen stand a grim vigil along the barricades that separate this area from the rest of the city. The stench of mold, rotting debris and decomposing corpses can be smelled long before the barricades are even visible. The quarantine area serves to protect the public as well as offering the little dignity available to the remaining dead. Even today — nearly three months after Katrina plowed through the area — bodies are still being pulled out of the wreckage of what was a once-thriving community.

Glimpses of the Ninth Ward
Monday, November 21, 2005 — NEW ORLEANS – For nearly an hour, the bus had been driving up and down the streets of the devastated Lower Ninth Ward, allowing those on board their first glimpses of the homes they had fled some two months earlier. When Leon Vaughn stood up halfway down the aisle of the Gray Line tour bus and began singing “Amazing Grace,” he quickly had a bus full of backup singers.

The city’s “Look and Leave” plan, launched Oct. 27, gives former residents of the Lower Ninth, who had scattered throughout the country in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, a chance to visit their sealed-off neighborhood even as cadaver dogs continue the search for bodies.

At the corner of North Roman Street and Benton, riders trooped off the bus to take a quick look inside an apparently untouched brick home, chosen by officials to demonstrate that there would be nothing to salvage from their own houses.

The predominantly black neighborhood was among the hardest hit in New Orleans by both Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, with parts sitting under water for as long as four weeks after the Industrial Canal levee broke.

Just beyond a military checkpoint at the corner of Caffin Avenue and North Claiborne Street, homes lay twisted, smashed together or reduced to piles of sticks. Others had been wrenched off foundations and deposited in the middle of the street, in a schoolyard, on top of cars – or even with cars inside them. Roofs had been left sitting on the ground, mattresses hanging in trees, recliners sitting on rooftops. Parts of blocks had been swept entirely clear of houses. – by Janet Rae Brooks, Special to the

Essentially, the residents of the Ninth Ward have lost everything that they didn’t carry out with them. Unlike the more “fortunate,” most will unable to comb through their destroyed belongings in hope of finding treasured items. They experienced the worst Katrina and the levees dumped into the city. After they “tour” their devastated neighborhood, they meet with FEMA officials, religious ministers and mental health professionals in a tent set up within the quarantined area to help them deal with the devastation and total loss.

While the former inhabitants will remember this scene for the rest of their lives, the National Guardsmen, local firefighters, FEMA personnel and Red Cross volunteers work and live in this nightmare every day. They brave physical dangers, disease, contamination and extreme emotional stress to do what they know must be done – to provide families with closure and to move towards the eventual rebirth of the area. Most of these men and women have no personal attachment to these homes or their inhabitants. They are the unsung heroes of the Katrina aftermath; they are the ones continuing the recovery and cleanup long after the cameras and news crews have left. They exemplify the humanity and hope upon which this country was founded.

And, Katrina’s lesson continues. Her wrath did not stop in New Orleans.

More Tomorrow . . . .

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One Response to “The Katrina Aftermath: Inside the Ninth Ward”

  1. Laurie says:

    Thank you for the view of what is going on there. I haven’t seen much in the news lately except for the rah-rah, supposed good news of things getting back to normal for Mardis Gras. The reality is for many people things might never be normal again.