Lonely struggle for Katrina survivors

"This is home," says Donald Sneed, standing in the yard of what is left of his house in New Orleans' poorest neighbourhood.

    Hurricane Katrina left a trail of destruction

    "I was born on this street. I'm 58-years old. I don't wanna go nowhere else. When I die, I want to be buried right here in New Orleans where I was raised."

    Unfortunately for Sneed, one year ago Hurricane Katrina changed his street and neighbourhood forever.

    All that is left of the city's once bustling Lower Ninth Ward is hundreds of blocks of destroyed and abandoned homes. In front of many are huge stinking piles of rubbish rotting under the sun. Last year's floods caused buildings to collapse, lifted houses off their foundations and left cars crushed under homes.

    Smoking a cigarette in front of the trailer he now lives in, Sneed describes how he escaped from the floods that killed about 1,500 people last year. Water rose quickly in the Lower Ninth Ward. When it was deeper than his waist, Sneed had no choice but to abandon his home and everything he owned.

    Donald Sneed's home was
    wrecked by Katrina

    "I stepped off my porch and suddenly the water was up to here," Sneed recalls, holding his right arm just below his shoulders. He waded over to a nearby house that had two floors, a rare thing in this poor African-American neighbourhood.

    He headed straight upstairs. "I only found out later the owner was downstairs, dead. She got caught and drowned." Like countless other New Orleans' residents, Sneed was trapped on a roof without food or water. After two days he was rescued by boat.


    In the days after Katrina hit on August 29, 2005, floods covered about 80 per cent of New Orleans. The water was 20ft deep in some places and took more than six weeks to recede.

    From his street, Sneed was taken to the relative safety of the Superdome. There he spent two more days in conditions he described as "a horror".

    For nearly a week, 30,000 evacuees crowded the stadium with its roof partially blown off. There was no power, little food and inadequate toilet facilities. Fights broke out and several people died.

    From the Superdome, Sneed was evacuated to Little Rock, Arkansas. Like other Katrina refugees, he tried to settle in, but unlike half of New Orleans pre-Katrina population of about 450,000, Sneed decided to move back to the city known as the Big Easy.

    "I wanted to come home. I didn't know nobody up there. I didn't know my way around."

    Ten months after Katrina, Sneed was one of the first people to move back to his neighbourhood. The government provided a trailer in front of his home on Delery Street.

    Sneed (L) feels lonely and 
    insecure in his neighbourhood

    His house had been gutted. All that is left inside the small brick shell is a filthy pink bathtub, light switches that do not turn anything on and the smell of mould. 

    But Sneed is one of the lucky ones. Most of the buildings in his neighbourhood were made of wood. Almost all of them will have to be bulldozed and rebuilt.


    One year after Katrina hit there is still almost no sign that anything has been done to clean up and rebuild the Lower Ninth Ward.

    The hurricane destroyed more than 130,000 houses in New Orleans. So far, less than a quarter of them are being rebuilt.  Most people in affluent neighbourhoods had flood insurance and are back in their homes. It is a different story in Sneed's neighbourhood. People there did not have insurance and cannot afford to rebuild.

    Washington has committed $125 billion to clean up and rebuild along the Gulf Coast. And $7.5-billion will go to homeowners who did not have insurance, but the grants have still not been given out to anyone in Louisiana.

    Even when the money does arrive, Sneed says his neighbourhood will never be the same.

    "I talk with my people, my relatives. They say they not coming back. They obviously has got adjusted and is gonna make their home wherever they are now living."

    Katrina's refugees have created new lives in cities such as Houston, Atlanta and Dallas. They have new homes, new jobs and will no longer have to worry about hurricanes.

    About 1,500 people died in the
    floods that Katrina unleashed

    New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward feels like a ghost town.

    "It's lonesome, I can tell you that much," Sneed says. "I ain't got no lady-friends… There's no neighbourhood, nobody. That's why I'm here right now, because there's nowhere to go, nobody to go see, nobody to be around."


    Safety is another concern. With his nearest neighbour blocks away, Sneed says he is scared at night. 

    "When it get dusk dark I go to the store, get everything I need. I come back and I go inside and that's it. I don't answer the door for nobody."

    Sneed says his car has been broken into and someone tried to steal the gas tanks that power his trailer's generator. He says he considered buying a gun, but he is afraid the police will arrest him.

    "I do hope some people come back, someone I could mingle with, talk with, be around. But right now I’m a loner"

    Donald Sneed,
    Katrina survivor

    The most destructive hurricane in US history swept through New Orleans in a matter of hours, but Sneed and thousands of people like him will be living with Katrina's legacy for the rest of their lives.

    Sneed survived the 200kman hour winds, flood-waters that reached the roof of his home and a government response that Sneed says was so incompetent he cannot find words to describe his anger.

    He is determined to rebuild his home and his life on Delery Street. He says he cannot imagine living anywhere else, but he admits life is hard. Before saying goodbye to the only visitors he has had in weeks, Sneed looks up and down his empty street.

    "I do hope some people come back, someone I could mingle with, talk with, be around. But right now I'm a loner."

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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