After a weekend of hurricane news in the northeast, attention turns back to New Orleans on the sixth anniversary of Katrina.
Last week I made a new friend, a fourth-generation New Orleanian who has heard and told a lot of stories about this city while driving her yellow cab. I told her I’d only been in New Orleans for a year; she interrupted me to ask, “have you been to the Ninth Ward?” I had not.
She took me to the Ninth Ward yesterday, on the eve of the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall in New Orleans. We also went to the area surrounding the 17th Street Canal, the breaching of which flooded the city.
I’m a fairly new transplant to this city, and I didn’t feel like I could contribute anything worthwhile, at least not in words, but I found myself struck by how much time had passed. When you are inside an abandoned house, it is easy to feel like time has stood still, that the winds have only just stopped blowing everything out of place.
But the exterior says otherwise. So much life had grown all over these houses – both outside and inside – that at times I couldn’t even see the front door through the leaves or make out patterns under the layers of dried mud.
So much life but the most important lives missing – the people who lived inside and made these houses their homes.
Some residents came over to tell me their stories and their neighbors’ stories. Others just laughed and shook their heads at me from their porch.
I tried to focus on my pictures, but the whole time I struggled to fight off the embarrassment and the out-of-body feeling of witnessing them witnessing me witnessing them.
There is always time for recovery. A grocery store and a high school are in the works, and the city just received a federal earmark to repair roads in the area. Hopefully these will help drawn people back into the neighborhoods to further revive the area.