Louisiana Residents Confront Trash Pileups

Jeffrey Holmes with discarded possessions; sign reads: 'Toxic Art: This Exhibition Will Kill You!' i i

hide captionBywater neighborhood resident Jeffrey Holmes emptied the contents of his flooded artist's studio into the median strip out front. "There's no other place to put it," he says.

Josh Rogosin, NPR
Jeffrey Holmes with discarded possessions; sign reads: 'Toxic Art: This Exhibition Will Kill You!'

Bywater neighborhood resident Jeffrey Holmes emptied the contents of his flooded artist's studio into the median strip out front. "There's no other place to put it," he says.

Josh Rogosin, NPR

Business owners and residents returning to parts of central New Orleans are finding limited sanitation service. Small mountains of garbage and hurricane debris line streets and fill median strips.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

As business owners and residents returned to parts of central New Orleans yesterday, they discovered that conditions in the city are still fairly primitive. Electricity is spotty, the water isn't safe to drink, and sanitation service is limited. Garbage and hurricane debris line streets and fill the median strips. As NPR's Robert Smith reports, officials are still trying to figure out how they're going to take out the trash.

ROBERT SMITH reporting:

The French Quarter of New Orleans is starting to reek. Those of us still in the city have learned to avoid certain spots--the open bottles of mayonnaise sitting on Royal Street, the hordes of flies around a certain bar on Bourbon Street. Only one man braves them all.

(Soundbite of garbage truck)

SMITH: Tyrone Brusty(ph) is the overworked garbage man for the area.

Mr. TYRONE BRUSTY (Garbage Man): One driver, one truck to do a city, keep up with everything? You never catch up. 6 in the morning to 7:30 at night--how long is it? It's a long day.

SMITH: And the smell?

Mr. BRUSTY: The smell, you can bear with, but it's the hours.

SMITH: Brusty is normally a carpenter, but he signed up for garbage duty because so many others have left. It's a sign of how rare garbage service has become in the city, but J.D. Landrop(ph), a bar owner on Bourbon Street, offers Brusty 40 bucks just to pick up the bar's trash pile.

Mr. J.D. LANDROP (Bar Owner): I don't want him to pass me up. You know, we're getting ready to get all the stench and the crap out of here, and whatever I can do to help get rid of it.

(Soundbite of garbage truck)

SMITH: There is no keeping up with the trash in New Orleans.

Councilwoman JACQUELYN CLARKSON (Democrat, New Orleans): Of everything else in this city, everything else is moving probably in record time except for sanitation.

SMITH: City Councilwoman Jacquelyn Clarkson says as each new business owner or resident comes back, the first thing they do is put on the gloves and get out the garbage bags.

Councilwoman CLARKSON: So they cleaned out refrigerators and they cleaned out debris in their patios, and it hasn't been picked up. We should not have allowed people to come in and do that if we were not going to follow up with garbage pickup.

SMITH: It hasn't been easy getting garbage service back to normal. Waste Management Corporation, which holds the contract for neighborhood pickup in the city, is also struggling with the aftereffects of Katrina. They're short on workers. Many of their garbage trucks are still stranded behind water. Waste Management's hoping to hire or ship in hundreds of employees. It's even building a tent city to house the garbage men. And then there's the question of where to put all of the trash once it's collected. New Orleans is starting to look at reserving landfills in other states. Until then, the hills of garbage are getting so big in some areas they're becoming landmarks in the city, like the pile in the Bywater neighborhood that includes the entire contents of an artist's studio.

Mr. JEFFREY HOLMES(ph): Some of it is art but all of it is trash.

SMITH: When Jeffrey Holmes returned to his flooded house, he piled every mold-covered item on to the grassy median strip in front of his house. You can see the destroyed paintings and sculptures, a microwave oven and food scraps. Holmes has labeled it with a sign that says, `Toxic Art.'

Mr. HOLMES: I don't want it on the sidewalk directly in front of my house 'cause, as you've noticed, the flies are just hellacious and there's just no other place to put it. As you can see, I've got tons of stuff here. I mean, it's got to get out of there.

SMITH: And so far Holmes is the only resident back in the neighborhood. Multiply that pile by thousands and you can get an idea of the challenge that New Orleans is facing. Holmes says regular garbage pickup is on Wednesday, but somehow he expects his toxic art to stick around a little bit longer.

Robert Smith, NPR News, New Orleans.

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