New Orleans’ 9th Ward Recovers|From Years as ‘Obliterationville’

NEW ORLEANS (CN) – Five years since Katrina and doors all across New Orleans still have crosses painted on them. The crosses have a date – the day the rescuers first arrived to the neighborhood after the storm. Another number represents the number of bodies found inside. The eeriest houses after the storm were those whose front walls were pulled clean off. The furniture inside might have remained in place, dusty under remnants of pulled-down attic molding, and then next door, no sign of even the foundation where once stood a house.

      Perhaps the eeriness of flooded neighborhoods was better stated by actor Brad Pitt: “It was, like I said, a blank canvas. It was Obliterationville. It was a blank, blank, blank canvas. A house sitting on top of a house on top of a house sitting on top of a station wagon with a boat jammed through it. It was, you know, shocking devastation.
      The place looked like a giant eraser had come in and just erased away those homes. You know, these weren’t just houses. These were people’s lives shattered. Families in pain, memories washed away, just obliterated.”
      In 2006, Pitts’ nonprofit Make It Right Foundation commissioned 13 architecture firms to design affordable, eco-friendly houses. The foundation so far has built 30 of them in the Lower 9th Ward, at the spot where the Industrial Canal levee breached August 29, 2005.
     “The Lower 9th had become a clean slate,” Pitt said. “Everything had been washed away. So quite naively – and I know I’m naive – I said let’s start at ground zero, the very historic neighborhood that got devastated by Katrina. … The Lower 9th is the iconic spot of Katrina.
     “It’s where the levees breached. It represents a marginalized people stuck in a manmade disaster. … Let’s face the facts: Shoddy Army Corps levee work was the culprit behind the 2005 flooding of New Orleans. …
     “But, lo and behold, the Lower 9th is now the greenest – I don’t even like the word green – it’s the most high-performing clean neighborhood in the world, according to the Green Building council,” Pitt said.
     “The corps caused the disaster, not the hurricane,” said Joseph Bruno, lead attorney in the case that resulted in a groundbreaking verdict against the corps of engineers for the failure of the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet shipping channel following Hurricane Katrina.
      In his verdict last November, U.S. District Judge Stanwood R. Duval Jr. ruled the corps’ negligence with respect to the failure of the channel was responsible for the catastrophic flooding in the Lower 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parish.
      “It probably wasn’t the soundest economic decision to make [to take the federal government to court over the flooding],” Bruno said. “Did we think we would win? We wanted to at least publicize the corps’ negligence.”
     “We wanted to demonstrate to the world that the corps of engineers needs some serious revamping,” he continued, “that the Army Corps of Engineers today is not the same corps that built the Panama Canal.”
      Ninety-eight percent of the houses from the Industrial Canal that separates New Orleans’ Upper and Lower 9th wards through the end of St. Bernard Parish dozens of miles away were washed away by the flood. That means just 2 percent of houses were left standing.
      At the St. Bernard Community Center in Arabi, a town just past the Lower 9th, I waited to speak to the Executive Director (Volunteer) of the center, R.M. “Iray” Nabatoff.
      Iray’s vision for the center when he began constructing it in 2006 was to meet the multiple needs of people struggling to rebuild their lives after the storm. The center provides a food pantry, a media lab with computers, printers and fax machines, a laundry facility, a clothing bank, weekly distribution of hot meals and with a separate distribution to the elderly, family outreach and free yoga classes.     
      In the past six months the center’s food pantry has given 141,000 pounds of food to 4,711 people.
      The center was starting to see a decline in need. But then the Gulf of Mexico oil spill happened. Since then, Iray is on the hustle to get not just more food and resources but also a larger facility to house the center.          
      In the month following the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon and the beginning of the oil spill that has deeply impacted thousands of St. Bernard Parish fishermen, food distribution increased by 25 percent, according to the center’s statistics.
      Iray stopped by for a minute but was off again with an important call.
      As I watched people handpicking food of the food pantry’s shelves and carting their boxes to “check out,” Wayne, a former oysterman, gave me a recipe for shrimp.
                    . . . . .

Wayne’s BBQ Shrimp Recipe

     You need:

Sliced canned pineapple
BBQ sauce with brown sugar and honey (do not make your own BBQ sauce – it’ll take you forever – just make sure when you buy it at the store its got brown sugar and honey)
21/25 size shrimp (“Gulf shrimp! Don’t buy them import shrimp. Thems trash. I know what a shrimp tastes like. Got to be Gulf.”)

     What you got to do:

Peel the shrimp
Cut the bacon in thirds and wrap it around the shrimp
Lay shrimp down; put a toothpick through the middle
On the inside curve of the shrimp put in a chunk of pineapple
(“You got to use a open grill. No tinfoil”) Lay the shrimp out on the open grill
Flip the shrimp every minute and a half and every time you flip it, hit it with the sauce
Keep a spray bottle because you gonna have some serious fire. Just spray it down and keep flipping, and every time you flip, hit it with the sauce.
                    . . . . .

     Now it is seven p.m.
     Along North Claiborne in the 9th Ward, on the sidewalk in front of a tall fence a kid played the trombone. It isn’t unusual in New Orleans, a kid playing a trombone on the side of a street. But I happened to have my camera so I pulled over.
      The kid was pretty good. The woman one porch over gave this vibe like he was her kid and she’d come out to the porch to hear him play. Or maybe it was like he was her kid and the very last thing she wanted was that racket in the house. But he was really pretty good. Actually, it was probably just so hot in the house it was so much nicer to play out on the street, and I kept listening to the notes rise and fall, even as I walked back to the car, watching the sunlight change across the houses.

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