AP photographer laments a patch of his native New Orleans missing out on the Katrina comeback

By Gerald Herbert, AP
Friday, August 27, 2010

An elegy for a place left out of Katrina comeback

NEW ORLEANS — In December 2005, I drove back to my native New Orleans for the first time since Katrina and gaped at the miles of abandoned homes and destruction. Five years later, I’ve come home to live and work permanently in a city that’s upbeat and rebuilding.

But there’s a sad corner of the city where recovery doesn’t seem to be coming, where homeowners are stuck in a half-destroyed world. It is New Orleans East, a once-gleaming suburban area along Interstate 10 that had the state’s biggest mall, neat lawns and rows of single-family homes. I remember as a boy being driven by mother across town to that shopping center, Lake Forest Plaza, which opened in 1974 and even had an ice skating rink.

Though the mall and much of the rest of New Orleans East had long since lost its luster, I was still shocked when I first drove through three months after the storm and saw the upended cars, the toppled walls, the middle-class dream turned to rubble.

Now the debris is gone, but there are derelict buildings everywhere. Small hotels and gas stations are boarded or fenced off. Methodist Hospital is abandoned. Blighted houses are drearily interspersed with the well-tended homes of those who returned. It makes me sick and sad for the half of the population who came back, numb to the ghost town around them.

Neighbors, nice people, come out with a welcoming smile. They ask excitedly if I plan to buy that abandoned property next to theirs and fix it up. The truth is, these properties will never sell. Who would buy a home where a sense of community has been swept away?

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