New Orleans, Open for Inspection

This week many business owners were allowed back into New Orleans. Friday some homeowners from the oldest areas of town were allowed to stay... but water and sanitation issues are a daunting problem.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This week was a week for homecomings in New Orleans. Many business owners were allowed back into the city on Thursday. Yesterday, homeowners in some of the oldest areas, including Uptown, were allowed to stay if they wanted. NPR's John Ydstie has more from Uptown New Orleans.

JOHN YDSTIE reporting:

Just a few blocks north of St. Charles Avenue and the exclusive Garden District, is a neighborhood of modest but well-tended homes. On 7th Street(ph), Joe Gaylord(ph) is helping his Aunt Dora Williams(ph) clean her house. There's no real damage here, just a very smelly refrigerator.

Mr. JOE GAYLORD (New Orleans Resident): We got all type of pine oil, bleach, and we washed it down, scrubbed it down, open up the window, let the window air out, mopped the house with some Lysol so the smells will go through, and you know, it's pretty much smelling better now.

Ms. DORA WILLIAMS (New Orleans Resident): Yeah, yeah, mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

YDSTIE: The light is actually on over the dining room table. This is one of the few areas of the city with electricity, and Gaylord is a little disappointed that more people didn't come back yesterday to start the cleanup.

Mr. GAYLORD: Really, truly, the people need to get back and start cleaning up their houses because there ain't nobody going to clean their houses the way they going to do it theirself. We could have everybody rolling by December if everybody were to come back and just pitch in and give a hand.

YDSTIE: But Gaylord and Ms. Williams aren't staying. Even though they've got power, the water is not safe to drink, and food and gasoline aren't readily available. So they're headed back out of town before nightfall.

Just across South Claiborne Avenue, Lily Matthew(ph) and her husband have managed to get into a still-restricted neighborhood. They're meeting an insurance adjuster at a rental property they own on 4th Street.

Mrs. LILY MATTHEW (New Orleans Resident): I think the water was up to about four or five feet in the house. My grandfather built this house.

YDSTIE: He did. My goodness.

Mrs. MATTHEW: That's right. I have a home downtown in the Gentilly area. It's completely lost. At my age, what am I going to do, starting over?

YDSTIE: What are you going to do?

Mrs. MATTHEW: Well, I have to talk to my husband about that.

YDSTIE: Her husband, Nelson, thinks it's time to leave the city. He's had a look at the damage through the window of the two-story wooden house.

Mr. NELSON MATTHEW (New Orleans Resident): Disastrous, deplorable, unredeemable. It's gone, my friend. New Orleans gone.

YDSTIE: The doors of the house are locked, so the Matthews and insurance adjuster Jack Rankin(ph) of Colonial Claims get in through a side window. Rankin is sweating through his blue shirt as he scrambles in.

Mr. JACK RANKIN (Colonial Claims): We gained entry.

YDSTIE: It's a mess inside.

Mr. RANKIN: Well, the water just floats anything that'll float, puts it in a pile, and then the mold comes. Some of it looks like artwork. This just looks pitiful.

YDSTIE: The house is a total loss. Unfortunately, the flood insurance policy is worth only $12,000. A wind policy may contribute a little more. Rankin has seen worse. He's worked 16-hour days for three weeks, and he's clearly moved by the experience.

Mr. RANKIN: It's pretty discouraging, but I'm going to tell you what. When I first called folks in the first week that had lost everything, they lost not only their homes but their heritages, and their businesses were gone. They cried. But I'm going to tell you what. Today, a month later, those same people on that same phone call are not the same folks. The people I talk to are coming home, and they're just going to--there's going to be folks sitting on the porch, talking and good food smelling, and you're going to be hearing music. All that'll happen. And it's time to come home.

YDSTIE: And more people will be coming home next week. Wednesday, the city will be open to all residents except those from the devastated Ninth Ward. John Ydstie, NPR News, New Orleans.

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