ATLANTA (AP) — Barbara Bonseigneur looked to her hometown mayor yesterday for a reason to return to New Orleans and help rebuild the battered city and home she fled ahead of Hurricane Katrina.
She didn’t get one.
“There is nowhere to buy food or get gas. It’s chaotic,” said Miss Bonseigneur, 50. “Bringing us back to living in poverty is not a new beginning. How can a city that’s broke help New Orleans rebuild?”
New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin spoke in Atlanta and pleaded with his former constituents to come home. While most in the frustrated crowd said they were eager to do so, the same question kept coming up: “Home to what?”
“I love my home. That’s my roots, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to return,” Jerrelyn Verrett said.
Though she has returned to New Orleans three times since Katrina, she said respiratory problems have kept her from inspecting her home in Gentilly Woods, near Lake Pontchartrain. She said her neighborhood has flooded 10 times since she moved there 37 years ago, and she had little confidence it could or would be protected from future flooding.
Miss Verrett was one of the calmer speakers at yesterday’s two-hour meeting — shorter than similar meetings Mr. Nagin held in Houston and Memphis, Tenn., in recent weeks. Many former New Orleans residents now living in the Atlanta area yelled questions at the mayor and were angry when he did not have the answers or the authority they were seeking.
Betty Gaynor says she is leaving Atlanta — for Houston, not New Orleans. The 65-year-old chastised Mr. Nagin, who is from her neighborhood in the 6th Ward, for allowing Mardi Gras to be held this coming February.
“Why would he have carnival? Carnival is mostly for the white folks,” she muttered.
Mr. Nagin told the crowd of more than 2,000 that he was working for a better New Orleans, including stronger levees, economic opportunity for citizens, restoration of utilities and an improved education system.
“The Big Easy is not very easy right now,” he said, predicting that citizens who return would be in for six months of hard work before the city experiences a five- or 10-year construction boom.
Mr. Nagin encouraged residents to begin the rebuilding process on their properties and to voice their concerns to legislators.
Miss Bonseigneur, who works for an insurance company, said she cannot seem to make any progress toward getting her home rebuilt. After the town-hall meeting, she headed back to New Orleans for an eighth time to meet inspectors.
To James Anthony, New Orleans has looked like a ghost town the three times he has gone back to visit his home in New Orleans East. Splitting two rooms with his wife, two children and two grandchildren in Atlanta is better than going back, he said.
“I feel like he’s coming down here to say he’s doing something,” Mr. Anthony said of the mayor, “but this is more of a ploy to get the workers to come back.”