Wednesday, April 26, 2006


New Orleans: April 25

It's been a long, eventful day. I arrived mid-afternoon from New York with my photographer partner on this story/assignment, Michael Weintrob. After a tasty crawfish and raw oysters lunch in Metarie, we drove to the 17th St. Canal, where one of the main levees broke when Katrina hit last September. Nothing we'd seen on TV and in photographs or read prepared us for the total devastation of the Lakeview neighborhood that abuts massive Lake Pontchartrain. Block after block of houses are completely trashed, boats and cars and trees littered about like common garbage. Abandoned houses - 99% of what we saw - are marked with the letter X. If no one was found dead in the house, an 0 is stray-painted below. Posters and banners fly from porches: "Hold the Corps responsible!" " "Allstate paid $10,113.39 on this house for storm damage"... And lettered in front of a church: "He has risen and so will we"...

At the Allstate house at 6926 Belair St., two brothers are looking after it for a friend. The bottom of the house is a wreck, but the second floor is pretty much in tact. Watermarks on the exterior reach 8 feet high. The house smells something awful. I hold my nose as we walk around it. The floor is soft but not about to cave in. All kinds of household items, like a refrigerator and couch, are strewn about.

"Let's get out of here," Keith McMullan says. "It stinks in here."

"Ain't bad as what it was," Cecil McMullen counters.

They're drinking beer, but don't feel sorry for the McMullan brothers. They have a Hummer parked in the driveway.

They say the house, which belongs to to Eric Moscaw (he's currently in Idaho), was worth $500,000 before Katrina. They estimate its current value at $200,000. I couldn't see anyone paying $20, 000 for it. They think the area will make a comeback in 7 years. I seriously doubt that prediction.

Perhaps 1 in every 100 house in Lakeview is being worked on. Some people are living in trailers on their property, but there's no electricity. It's a ghost town.

We drive away, our minds blown. To the east, large areas along the lake like Chalmette, Alibi and the infamous 9th Ward are equally decimated. We plan to head over there on Thursday.

We've decided to take a day trip tomorrow to Lafayette, about 110 miles east, for the opening day of Festival International, which is a fancy name for the local cajun fest that coincides with the first weekend of Jazzfest. We've both always wanted to tour bayou country, so that's our plan.

We have a fabulous New Orleans dinner at Jacque-amo's in the Uptown section. The seafood cheesecake is to die for.

However, it's unsettling to live it up one one side of town while other parts of New Orleans are frozen in time and will never dig out from Katrina.

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