Parish Residents Get Short Window to Return Home

In suburban New Orleans, thousands of residents from Jefferson Parish try to get back to their homes. Evacuees from that community were given 12 hours to retrieve belongings and check on loved ones. Highway 61 was so crowded that many people sat in traffic for five hours or more.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

For the first time yesterday, some residents were allowed back into the suburbs of New Orleans. Evacuees from Jefferson Parish, a community on the west side, were given 12 hours, from 6 AM to 6 PM, to retrieve belongings and check on loved ones. To enter the area, people were instructed to use Highway 61. It was so crowded that many sat in traffic for five hours or more. NPR's Alix Spiegel has the story.

ALIX SPIEGEL reporting:

The Harris family began their drive to the city around 7:00 yesterday morning, 12 people crowded into two cars. While stopped at a gas station, Felicia Harris(ph) said that she was really anxious to get home so she could collect her high school diploma. And when her fiance, Dee Ross(ph), was asked to describe which item of emotional value he most wanted, he didn't hesitate.

Mr. DEE ROSS (Fiance): My mom.

SPIEGEL: Ross' mother had decided to wait out the storm, and Ross was frantic because now no one knew where she was.

Mr. ROSS: Well, I'm going to go to her house and hopefully she's still in there. But if she's not there, that's a whole 'nother set of problems I got on my head. It's been hard, real hard.

SPIEGEL: Ross said that on the long drive in, he'd been fretting about what had happened to her. His mother lived in a neighborhood called Algiers which had mostly escaped flooding, but there were other things to worry about.

Mr. ROSS: All kind of thoughts, man. I don't know if she's--'cause, like, the neighborhood where she stays, it's not Mayberry, you know? I'm just dying to get there. I'm dying to get there.

SPIEGEL: But Ross knew that it would be a long time before he even got a chance to search for his mother. The twelve members of the Harris family lived in three different houses in Jefferson Parish, and they had decided to check on those before going to Algiers, which is technically not within the area that people were permitted to visit. Hours after their stop at the gas station in mid-afternoon, they finally pulled into the first home, and Felicia Harris and her father rushed from the car to inspect the damage.

Ms. FELICIA HARRIS: Ooh, Daddy, look at the tree.

Felicia's Father: Whole thing's gone. Whoo, Lord. That tree gone!

SPIEGEL: An oak in the backyard had been completely uprooted and moved several feet. Dirt dangled from its roots. But other than that, Felicia said there was little damage to the house.

Ms. HARRIS: It's fine. The water--the carpet is wet, though. That's about it, the carpet and...

Mr. ROSS: You saw the mildew.

Ms. HARRIS: It stinks and there's mildew. But other than that, it's fine.

SPIEGEL: As the family stood outside their home, a neighbor who had stayed came up and told one of the kids, 16-year-old David Harris, that in the chaos after the storm, the police had shot seven people in the neighborhood. It was a rumor that no one could confirm, but David said that he was worried because the day was getting late and he had heard that the police didn't want people out after dark.

DAVID HARRIS (Teen): And they just draw down on everybody. And they see, like--you not supposed to be moving around here. You supposed to get your stuff and go back, you know what I'm saying, out of New Orleans.

SPIEGEL: In spite of the hour and work in front of them, the family seemed relieved to find so little damage, everyone except Dee Ross, who paced the street thinking of his mother.

Mr. ROSS: I guess everybody happy to be home. But like I said, everybody know where their mom at. I don't know where my mom at. You know?

SPIEGEL: The family quickly packed the car and set off for their next check. It seemed likely that Dee Ross would not be able to find his mother before the 6:00 deadline and would have to live with the kind of uncertainty that many of the residents of the city will continue to face in the days to come. Alix Spiegel, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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