A visit to New Orleans clarifies

Devastation in New Orleans The holidays: a time when most families come together and give thanks for what they have. And while visiting my family in the recently decimated New Orleans area, it was apparent that I had a whole lot more to be thankful for than I realized.

Even three months after the dynamic duo of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita bludgeoned Louisiana with their powerful winds and rain, some areas were still without electricity. In some of the hardest hit areas, like St. Bernard’s Parish and the 9th Ward, all intersections were assumed four-way stops. Many homes were still boarded up and vacated; it’s unclear how many will remain that way.

When touring the 9th Ward, the smell of mold and decay was heavy in the air. Mold from the houses and decay from the food that was thrown out — not just in the streets, but full refrigerators and freezers that were taped up and left on the sides of the road. Mounds of trash were everywhere, too. Workers had begun to clean it up by putting it into a large, centrally-located median, but we’d go by a supermarket and there would be a line of trash similar to a snowbank — a block long and 8 to 9 feet tall. Buildings (including businesses and schools) had been Xed when the National Guard came through looking for bodies. The two numbers on the sides represented codes for each search unit, while the top number was the date the house had been checked, and the bottom was how many bodies were uncovered. I only saw a couple that had a number on the bottom; however, I saw many houses where the pet rescue had found dead cats, dogs and birds left behind by their owners.

We came across a cemetery. Concrete, above-ground graves housing concrete coffins had been blown over by sheer wind force. There was one flipped completely upside-down. Yet another was being held up on one end by a single tombstone. Many crypts were open, but all were empty; just one cement coffin remained. We continued south, but eventually we had to turn around. The road just didn’t go anywhere anymore; the wetlands had gobbled it up during Katrina.

The French Quarter was a ghost town — even on Friday night. One local told us to “have a good time while in New Orleans” because only tourists are in the Quarter at night, when most everything closes by 5 p.m. Only one in every four shops was open. Bourbon Street was a little more lively, but I only saw two strip clubs. Part of the problem was a lack of workers. Some businesses were open and ready to operate; however, there were no places for people to live.

While driving past the large mounds of trash sitting outside flooded homes, I couldn’t help but wonder about how something like this really makes you question what’s important. As I watched a family sift through their trashed home, the teen-aged boy stared right back, his mold mask dangling around his neck. Beside him, his grandfather, mother, brother and father carried out damaged items to the curb; it gave a whole new meaning about being with your family during the holidays.

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