Saturday, November 10, 2012

Volunteers still arriving

Yesterday, I was taking a walk along the top of the levee all the way to the Domino Sugar refinery in Chalmette. It was a gorgeous day with warm sunsine and a refreshingly cool breeze. The day before I had seen two blue herons, a white pelican and a bunch of monarch butterflies. It's still a habitat for wildlife.

I walked briskly past a man who was wearing an apple green "Sustain the Nine" T-shirt. As I passed him, I said:  "Like your shirt." I assumed he was a 9th Ward neighbor. But he told me he'd bought it at the office of the Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development, an agency located at the back of the Greater Little Zion Baptist Church on Chartres Street.

He was here helping to rebuild a woman's home, which was toppled seven years ago in the flooding after Katrina. A volunteer from Virginia, this is his first time in New Orleans. Others in his work group have come to the 9th Ward seven times to help.

A college friend asked me last week how the 9th Ward was coming along. Not too good, I said. If you drive from my house to Claiborne Avenue a short distance away, you pass many abandoned homes still with the marks left by the National Guardsmen searching for bodies. The land slopes down from the river and the homes were submerged deeper and deeper the further north you go. If homeowners did not have flood insurance, they probably evacuated and never returned. Some people waited years for help from FEMA and didn't have the resources - jobs where they continued to receive paychecks - or other places where they could temporarily live. They worked service jobs that went away when the tourists and conventions stopped coming.  All their family members' and friends' homes were also destroyed.

Another friend who lives in Palo Alto, Ca., asked why people live there? Well, they are poor, for one thing, and it was a solid community. Also, the area wouldn't have flooded if the Corps of Engineers hadn't first dynamited the Industrial Canal and then rebuilt the walls improperly. That wasn't the residents' fault.

It is interesting now to listen to news reports about Hurricane Sandy. Journalists confidently say that other cities have rebuilt after such disasters - take New Orleans, which is better than ever. That is true to some extent as many aspects of the city have improved over several long, slow years. But some neighborhoods are just the same. Sure, there are a few enclaves of rebuilding. My little Global Green development, for example, Habitat for Humanity, Brad Pitt's "Make It Right" and Preservation Resource Center homes. But most of the 9th Ward is still struggling along with pot holes in the streets, no grocery store and limited public transportation.

I don't know why people don't get what happened here in the 9th Ward. Maybe the events were too complex or too gruesome to want to understand. Maybe it is too difficult to think about like those poor Haitians who get hit every year - if not by hurricanes, then an earthquake.

New Orleans still needs help, y'all. It's a special place and deserves your support.

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