- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Returning residents despair for devastated ward

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) — Residents of New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward, a poor, mainly black neighborhood that lay submerged for weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit, returned home for the first time yesterday.

Paul Murphy returned to salvage mementos from his childhood, but instead was plunged into grief by the unexpected discovery of the body of his cherished grandmother.

Mr. Murphy, 22, said he thought his grandmother had been evacuated before Hurricane Katrina brought 12-foot floodwaters into the district.

“That’s blood in there,” he shouted as neighbors and a few journalists gathered outside the bright pink house.

His best friend, Irvin Gettridge, 26, collapsed into tears on the side of the road while the two awaited the arrival of officials, who carried away the body of the woman, who Mr. Murphy said was in her seventies.

Mr. Murphy, who has been living in Atlanta, said that footprints in the house made it look as if it had been searched at some point since the August storm.

A stream of cars, ambulances and relief vans began entering the area early yesterday morning under the watchful eye of National Guard troops operating roadblocks.

Some people came from as far as Texas and Arkansas, donning masks and rubber boots as they trudged down streets covered with mud and debris.

Many found only ruin in what remained of their homes.

“There ain’t nothing in there you can take,” said Ernest King, 28, pointing at a bright blue house his mother owns. Mr. King had hitched a trailer to his minivan in the hope of bringing some belongings back, but left empty-handed.

Deborah Hall met similar disappointment when she peered into the single-story white house where she was raised only to find that the living-room furniture and decorations had become an unrecognizable heap of water- and mud-soaked debris.

Although the floodwaters have receded, the foundations of some houses have moved, making them structurally unsound and uninhabitable. Many are likely to be bulldozed once the city goes ahead with reconstruction efforts.

“It is important for people to see their homes and move forward with the process of building a new future for their families,” New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin said in a statement released hours before the Lower 9th Ward was reopened.

Mr. Nagin and others concede that finding housing for the city’s 450,000 people, many of whom are scattered in shelters and settlement camps around the United States, is the biggest challenge facing New Orleans.

The city, which is out of money and has laid off thousands of municipal workers, is working with the federal government on a plan to temporarily house residents in hotels, makeshift trailer parks and on unused military bases.

It has also left open the possibility that whole blocks of homes may be condemned, a prospect that did not sit well with some.

“I will live in this house again,” said Andrew Sanchez, 47, who stood in six inches of mud outside the house he has lived in his whole life.

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