New Orleans still swims in Katrina’s wake |

New Orleans still swims in Katrina’s wake

CAROL ROSHTO-SMITHspecial to the daily
Special to the Daily

NEW ORLEANS Seventeen months after Katrina’s devastation, New Orleans remains a city divided.The French Quarter and the tourist areas have almost returned to normal. The annual carnival season is under way in New Orleans and the French Quarter is abuzz with activity. The recovery in the tourist area is going well.Elsewhere, progress is slow. Many residents are still homeless or living in FEMA trailers while they work to make their homes livable. Trash collection is inconsistent in some areas. Citizens are still without proper instruction on staying healthy while removing mildewed drywall. Other New Orleanians are waiting to rebuild their homes because of distrust of government. They are frightened their government will not properly rebuild levees. Despite the destruction around them, citizens have regained optimism. They are upbeat and hopeful.

Mrs. MonteleoneMrs. Monteleone, a resident of the Lakeview neighborhood for more than 40 years, is optimistic, concerned, mournful and angry all at once. Lakeview was one of the hardest hit areas, and one levee break was only blocks from her home. “I miss my neighbors – everyone was so nice,” Mrs. Monteleone said from the shell of a house that was once her home.Mrs. Monteleone lost everything during Katrina. Lake Ponchartrain filled her home with polluted water. It reached as high as her ceiling fans. The entire contents of her home were lost, including prom pictures of her children along with every memento from her 84 years. “I thought that I was safe here,” she said. “I was not even required to have flood insurance! I never dreamed anything like this would happen, but you have to look at the good side.”

Mrs. Monteleone then asked, “Did you see my ring Janet (her daughter) found in the mud?” She looked so proud to have recovered something. The ring had been given to her 66 years prior by her now-deceased husband.She proudly continued, “Janet dug through the mud for days to find it inside my house.”Considering the situation in her neighborhood, Mrs. Monteleone was fortunate. She did not intend to evacuate for Katrina, but left upon the pleading of her children. Some of her elderly neighbors were removed by helicopter after Katrina struck.

Trying to rebuildMrs. Monteleone is one of many lifelong residents of New Orleans who has been able to see the positives amidst the destruction. She is waiting to rebuild. She wonders whether she will qualify for “The Road Home” – an assistance program affectionately called “The Road to Nowhere” in New Orleans. Ostensibly, the program is supposed to help people like Mrs. Monteleone return home, but like many other assistance programs in the area, distribution of the funds is a major problem. With almost 300,000 homes destroyed, many people have applied for assistance, but less than 1 percent of checks have been distributed. Mrs. Monteleone’s children pitched in to gut her home, and she is able to live with a daughter while the family decides their next step.One of my neighbors in Breckenridge asked, “Why can’t these people clean their own houses?” It is a fair question. The labor involved, however, is toxic, time-consuming and backbreaking. Only the most insured, healthiest and wealthiest families have been able to accomplish this goal. My neighbor did not understand the heart of the problem. Who works for a paycheck to feed the families of residents while they work to clean their own homes? For some homeowners, depending on damage and the amount of water and debris in the home, the labor can take up to four to six months. Refrigerators and appliances must be properly disposed of in a place where trash collection is not consistent.

Can you imagine returning home and finding your home like a swamp? A car is on top of your home; you need a crane but there are none available. People for 90,000 square miles need cranes. Clean up without assistance is nearly impossible.From the ground upGrassroots organizations are there to help people who can’t muster the resources to help themselves. Common Ground Relief is a 100 percent volunteer workforce operating in the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina. The group has been aiding in gutting houses, helping distribute food and clothes, lending tools, and teaching people to remove debris safely.Matt Sabin leads the organization in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. After completing college, he had planned on volunteering in New Orleans for a couple of months before starting law school. He said, “I just could not move on seeing the need here.”

Many young volunteers have given their time and labor, and slept in gutted houses without heat or air conditioning to help the Americans displaced there.The Common Ground office and relief center is exiting the demolition phase and entering the reconstruction phase. Please visit or, or call Sabin at (504) 312-1731 if you have any ideas or a desire to help. The organization needs skilled construction worker volunteers and every type of household item, from power tools to diapers. Many people in this area have asked about alternative ways to help and this is a true grassroots organization. Giving to Common Ground Relief is a great way to circumvent the bureaucracy that has slowed the recovery in New Orleans.It’s a great way to give directly to Americans in need.Carol Roshto-Smith lives in Breckenridge, and has many ties to family and friends in the New Orleans area.

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