I go back.
To this place of flood waters and death. I go back every three or four months. Just to see how things are progressing.
The Lower 9th Ward was destroyed during the flooding after Hurricane Katrina. The levees broke. The levees that were built by the Army Corps of Engineers were not properly maintained. They probably weren’t constructed properly in the first place. So, the storm surge hit the walls from seemingly every direction. In total, throughout New Orleans, there were 57 levee breaks. Most were small. The two that the world saw were here, in the Lower 9th Ward, and in Lakeview. Both areas were inundated with 15 to 20 feet of water. Buildings were swept from their foundations.
Both neighborhoods were destroyed.
Lakeview has pretty much come back. The people there had fairly good insurance, money and were aided by the LRA because they could prove that ownership of their land and houses.
In the Lower 9th ward, not so much. Most homes were insured for replacement costs… in like 1925. Ownership was muddy because houses were passed down generationally with no succession documentation. This was, and is, a fairly blue-collar and poor neighborhood.
What do I see?
The neighborhood between St. Claude and Claiborne Avenues has come back. Sort of. Those buildings weren’t flooded as badly. Unlike the buildings above Claiborne, they remained on their foundations.
When you cross Claiborne, you have some development along the avenue. There is actor Brad Pitt’s “Make It Right” homes and scattered rebuilding. That’s it. There are few buildings that have yet to be demolished. There are foundations and a lot of land that has reverted back to nature.
The first is the rebuilt levee. The towers are the Claiborne Avenue draw bridge. The levee is much stronger now. And, it is properly maintained. It’s sort of locking the barn door after the cow escaped.
The second picture is a 12-year-old street sign. One of the city’s last priorities after the storm was replacing street signs. The people who tried to return to the Lower 9th Ward made their own signs. In some places, the city has replaced the signs. Even though Forstall is a kind of major street, this area is so far out in the brush that the city didn’t bother.
Finally, some owners try to keep their land maintained and the grass mowed. They have hope. They hope to sell their land. I have hope too. I hope that they succeed.
You knew this was coming.
There are no city services this far out in the neighborhood. No water. No electricity. Very few police patrols. And, I’m willing to bet that this seller has no proof of ownership. I know this because a few years ago a friend of mine, working for a local law firm, tried to vet some of this land. She believed the owners when they said this or that property was theirs. But they had no way to prove it. Even when she dug into the property records, all she could find was documentation of the original owner with no succession.
This land lies fallow. It will probably never be restored back to the neighborhoods that once were. Maybe the neighborhood reverts back to what it was at dawn of the 20th Century. Small truck farms. After all, farm direct to table is the thing now.