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Dispatch from New Orleans: Needs of Lower 9th Ward put my own remodeling plans in perspective

Neworleanslowerninthward_2Following the builders show last month in Orlando, I drove over to New Orleans to check out the damage from Hurricane Katrina and the failure of the levees. I’d never been to New Orleans, but my husband had lived and worked there for 15 years.

Ever since the tragedy more than two years ago, I’ve wanted to get to New Orleans and show my support by dropping off some money (in exchange for hotel rooms and food, of course).

And the city did not disappoint. We stayed at an old hotel called Le Richelieu in the delightfully raunchy French Quarter, within walking distance of more restaurants and coffeehouses than we could possibly try. I walked on the levee along the Mississippi River to an Imax theater where I watched a movie on the disappearing bayous.

Our moods sank when we drove over to the Lower 9th Ward, which flooded with up to 10 feet of water when the levees failed.

Street after street after street of rotted and molding and destroyed vintage homes was hard for a home-lover like me to look at. Suddenly those heartbreaking images we saw on TV came to life. These were the houses where people died in their attics or suffered for days on their roofs. I couldn’t help but cry.

And while we expected to see throngs of workers erecting new houses, there seemed to be very little going on. A few houses were occupied, a few were being worked on, but most seemed to have been abandoned.

One highlight was seeing a U-Haul truck backing up to what looked like a newly renovated house with the owner on the front porch, cheering on the fellows who were hauling her stuff back into the house. It looked to me like she was back home. And it put my own little remodeling plans in perspective.

A lot of work needs to be done. Here are some groups doing it:

Historic Green (helping one neighborhood rebuild March 8 to 23)
Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation
Global Green (Brad Pitt’s involved with this one)
Habitat for Humanity

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