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New Orleans Repeats Mistakes as It Rebuilds

Unlike many homes being rebuilt in the New Orleans area, this one is being put on a raised foundation.
Unlike many homes being rebuilt in the New Orleans area, this one is being put on a raised foundation. (By Ellis Lucia -- Times-picayune)

Ed Blakely, the city's newly appointed recovery chief, begins work next week. He proposes that, once the Army Corps of Engineers issues reports this spring about which city neighborhoods are riskiest, some returning homeowners be offered the chance to swap their lots for others in less vulnerable locations.

"There is overwhelming evidence that people want to come back to a safer area," Blakely said. "But right now, no one is giving them that choice. They are only acting out of their own sense that they have to be housed."

Any drive around Orleans Parish or suburban St. Bernard Parish shows that people are coming back to even the hardest-hit neighborhoods, albeit sparsely, to renovate their flood-damaged homes.

In the Lakeview, New Orleans East and Gentilly areas of Orleans Parish and in most of St. Bernard Parish, neighborhoods are strange and desolate. Some homes and travel trailers are inhabited, but they are surrounded by empty houses and occasional debris piles. Returning residents say they wonder how long their neighborhoods will seem like ghost towns.

Rochelle Krantz, 64, and her husband are repairing their home in Chalmette. On the day before Christmas, their temporary trailer is adorned with a snowman and several Santa Clauses, but most of the surrounding houses are empty, and the post-flood gloom is pervasive.

"When we come out at night to sit, it's like a cemetery . . . very, very dark and very, very quiet," Krantz said. "We used to hear kids and cars going by. . . . Now, nothing."

Sometimes complete strangers, she said, come up to ask: " 'You're coming back?' And then they say, 'You're nuts!' "

But, she said, the house is paid for.

"We'll leave it in the good Lord's hands," Krantz said.

A few blocks over, Vincent Gangi, 54, a real estate broker, is restoring a large brick house adorned with Greek-revival statues.

"I just don't think it's going to happen again -- something like Katrina happens only once in a hundred years," he said. "By that time, I'll be dead."

The controversy over how to rebuild the New Orleans region began almost as soon as the waters receded.

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