Moving House From Flooded New Orleans

Damage from Hurricane Katrina and the floods that followed have plagued homeowners along the Gulf Coast. One man returned to his home just to pick up a few things. Then, he returns to Baton Rouge, where he just bought a house.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

In New Orleans, it is still nominally a rescue operation, a search for survivors and a campaign to get them to leave the city. Our colleague Michele Norris is there, and yesterday she spoke to residents who intend to stay and those who are already trying to set up lives elsewhere, at least for now.

MICHELE NORRIS reporting:

For the past two days we've explored the New Orleans neighborhoods that were poor in economic terms but rich in other ways before the waters rose. Even with the crime and rampant drug dealing, the culture and history in these places was as robust as the local cuisine. And with no power or water, the holdouts who refuse to evacuate were getting by as best they could, like the three men we met yesterday in the Eighth Ward, who were cooking a can of carrots on hot asphalt.

Unidentified Man #1: We make do with what we got. That's our little stove right there. We heat our food up. I could just--I could eat that carrot right now, and I might eat some more tomorrow.

NORRIS: In our continuing tour of the city, we traveled west through downtown, past the Garden District to an area called Uptown, just six miles from the Eighth Ward, though it could just as well be in another galaxy. We traveled down St. Charles Avenue, a boulevard full of majestic, antebellum homes with ornate iron work and sherbet-colored stucco. The water that flooded the side streets have started to recede; tree and power lines were all askew. But even in a neighborhood known for its serenity, the silence here was striking.

(Soundbite of crows)

NORRIS: As the sun fell, the neighborhood was almost empty, save for the rumbling of National Guard and police patrols. But on Palmer Avenue we spotted a group of people who weren't wearing uniforms, men in jeans or golf shirts, residents who'd returned to their homes to claim cherished belongings. Parker Lacorn(ph) was standing in front of his property, a chateau-style home the color of cooked shrimp. His SUV was packed full--chairs on top and bikes on the back. And we followed him as he made one last trip through his 10-foot-high front door.

Mr. PARKER LACORN (New Orleans Resident): We were prepared to live here for a month with no power. We were going to bathe out of the pool and run the generator and had a freezer full of venison.

NORRIS: Parker Lacorn realized that staying was impossible.

Mr. LACORN: I think people are just realizing it's going to be a long time before they can come back here to live. And they've got to--they want their little pictures, and they want their china and their silverware and their memories. And they're going to take them wherever they live and try to carry on.

NORRIS: But my question is: As we drive around this neighborhood of beautiful homes, you don't see many people doing what you're doing now.

Mr. LACORN: Well, I think people are incapable of coming in right now. I think people are--they're scattered, they're fragmented, they're afraid. This is, in effect, a war zone. I came in by helicopter yesterday to go check on my factory and flew over the entire city, flew over my property here just checking for looters, really, because we were just afraid that, you know, the place was being ransacked, and then flew out to my factory, which is in the eastern part of New Orleans, where the eye went up right over that. And...

NORRIS: Tell me about your business.

Mr. LACORN: We make a 150-year-old product called Dr. Tichenor's Antiseptic. It was invented during the Civil War as a topical antiseptic, and it's an infection-fighting agent. It's been killing germs for 150 years, and my family's been making it for a hundred years. So if you get any of that nasty water in your hands, just wipe down with that. And it smells good and feels good, too.

NORRIS: Oh, I see. You make an antiseptic that kills germs. They're going to need a lot of this in this city right now.

Mr. LACORN: Well, actually we have pallet-loads in my factory that I'm trying to donate to the relief cause. Now if I could just get a truck out to New Orleans East.

NORRIS: And your employees, have you been able to contact them? Do you...

Mr. LACORN: Some. We've--just through anecdotal contact, we've been able to piece it together, but we're very, very concerned about many of our employees, many of whom live in the Lower 9th Ward in Chalmette and St. Bernard and New Orleans East. We're very concerned.

NORRIS: Fear is a very powerful force, a very powerful emotion. I wonder if it explains why so many people aren't coming back to check on their property.

Mr. LACORN: Oh, I think it's fear, but it takes a lot of wherewithal to get here. I was really here to look after my business, and it's just because I'm--we're trying to establish a life now in Baton Rouge until we can move back here and rebuild. I'm picking up a few things, trying to keep my wife sane back up in Baton Rouge.

NORRIS: How's she doing?

Mr. LACORN: She's doing all right. We bought a house today. So...

NORRIS: Not bad.

Mr. LACORN: My son's enrolled in school, and we're trying to make a life for him. And the people in Baton Rouge have just opened their arms to us.

NORRIS: Now, Mr. Lacorn, I can't help but notice that you do have a weapon on your hip. You don't normally carry that?

Mr. LACORN: No, I don't ever carry...

Unidentified Man #2: ...(Unintelligible).

Mr. LACORN: Yeah, OK, we're going to have to leave to get out of town. No, I carry it strictly because we got to protect ourselves. It's not concealed. It's just--it's out where anybody can see it.

Unidentified Man #3: ...(Unintelligible).

Mr. LACORN: All right. Sorry, folks, we gotta go.

(Soundbite of motor)

Unidentified Man #4: Be safe, guys.

(Soundbite of vehicle pulling away)

NORRIS: Lacorn was joined by three other neighbors, men also wearing holsters on their hips. They locked up the house, all but ran to the car and sped off in a caravan of SUVs to make the checkpoint curfew...

(Soundbite of horn; vehicles driving past)

NORRIS: ...families who have the means to quickly establish new lives and new homes. They vowed they would come back to New Orleans; they just don't know what they'll find when they do. From New Orleans, this is Michele Norris.

SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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