Sunday, November 9, 2008


Impressions: Rolling Into New Orleans, Three Years After Katrina

Road construction everywhere, orange barrels lined up like toy soldiers. New bridges being built. Some roads resurfaced, others resemble washboards, crumbling, truck bouncing under me like a bucking bronco. Yee-haaa! Ride 'em, cowboy!!!

7:30 A.M., CST. Morning "rush" hour?? Traffic is light, ten, five, three miles out of town, becoming heavier only as I enter the inner city/downtown area. Definitely not what it once was, in pre-Katrina years. Starting to see abandoned buildings, ripped-up roofs, some still covered with blue tarpaulins. Glass broken out in forelorn-looking windows. People once shopped here, ate here, lived here. Not anymore. By some estimates, roughly half this city's population is gone -- moved elsewhere. Houses off the freeway -- waterline marks on some, and on a few, the infamous red 'X' marks, denoting that someone died there, now slowly fading in the Louisiana sun.

Passing the Louisiana Superdome. The Saints are playing there again now, and it's been refurbished, from the human mess left there when the levees went down. Downtown N'awlins is still intact. Blown-out glass now long replaced in most of the structures. French Quarter still alive, as it should always be. And the famous restaurants have remodeled and rebuilt, open for business again. Normality has resumed here, for the most part, but there are still signs here and there. Abandoned warehouses and shops, some with storm damage still visible. But there will always be a Mardi Gras in February -- as there always should be -- just fewer visitors nowadays.

Jefferson Parish, on the west side of the Mississippi, where my load delivers. This area was one of the hardest hit, back in 2005, and it still shows. Abandoned houses and buildings, mixed with small mom 'n pop businesses that have reopened, especially the bars. Reckon they all needed a drink or two, or three, after that one hit! Alcohol still flows here like the river, just like it always did. I pass an entire abandoned residential block. Faded siding, bare joists showing in the roofs of some, like a pine skeleton, more blown-out windows. I slow down a tad, taking it in, and I feel very sad. It is impossible to view those sights without being moved emotionally. People lived there and their homes, years of life there, memories and dreams vanished in the great wind that blew through this place. Gone in the space of a few hours. Now the reminders sit, rotting away in the sun. It is sobering. It is touching.

Being unloaded and looking out of the passenger side window at the levee on the riverbank. They move a lot of water through this town. They always have and always will. An employee tells me that this levee held, as all the river levees did, but the storm surge topped it. Eight feet of water was once where I was sitting, 3 years earlier. Millions in damage, he told me. Brand-new appliances ruined and unsellable. Junk. Insurance covered it all and the premiums doubled. But they stayed and re-opened. The look in his eyes said it all: This is home and always will be. Storms come and storms go, but home is always home. He knows the risks, but is willing to take them, for the sake of that sense of home. Can't blame him a bit. Roots are roots. And trees will grow back again.

There will always be a New Orleans; it's impossible to imagine America without it. There will be many changes, but this city is slowly rebuilding itself.

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