In New Orleans, Wariness About Rebuilding Again
Sunday, August 31, 2008
NEW ORLEANS, Aug. 30 -- Charlene and A.J. Barre quickly rebuilt after their home in the New Orleans Lakeview neighborhood was flooded in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina when the city's levee system gave way.
But if the levees fail again, they will not return to start over again.
"We won't stay, and that's scary because New Orleans would really be in trouble," Barre said.
The Barres' decision to abandon the city if it floods again illustrates the knife's edge on which New Orleans is teetering as Hurricane Gustav pushes its way through the Gulf of Mexico.
If there is a repeat of the devastating flooding that overwhelmed this coastal city and killed 1,800 people, say residents and business owners in this mostly middle-class community, they're gone for good.
"I would not come back except to get what I could salvage -- that would be enough for me," said Gerald Levin, who owns a shoe store in Lakeview. He lost everything in the flooding and reopened only last year.
Since Katrina devastated the city, it has undergone a gradual, painful recovery.
It has regained population, which stands at about 70 percent of the pre-Katrina level of 450,000. School enrollment is climbing, and joblessness is low. Tourists have returned along with the raucous drinking on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter.
But only a small fraction of residents have returned to some neighborhoods, including the Lower Ninth Ward, Gentilly and Eastern New Orleans. Those people have moved and probably will never return, city officials say.
One in three homes in the city is vacant or abandoned -- the highest level in the nation, according to the nonprofit New Orleans Community Data Center.
Mayor C. Ray Nagin (D) said Saturday that New Orleans does not expect Gustav to bring Katrina-like flooding that would force the city to start over yet again.
"We have invested significant amounts of money into preparation, and we are not anticipating the kind of flooding we had in Katrina."