Returning to the Ruins of New Orleans

Possessions scattered by floodwaters and robbers litter the floor of the Smith family kitchen. i i

Possessions scattered by floodwaters and robbers litter the floor of the Smith family kitchen. Joshua Levs hide caption

itoggle caption Joshua Levs
Possessions scattered by floodwaters and robbers litter the floor of the Smith family kitchen.

Possessions scattered by floodwaters and robbers litter the floor of the Smith family kitchen.

Joshua Levs
Chiquita and Selwyn Smith in front of their home in the Esplanade Ridge neighborhood of New Orleans.

Chiquita and Selwyn Smith in front of their home in the Esplanade Ridge neighborhood of New Orleans. Joshua Levs hide caption

itoggle caption Joshua Levs

The floodwaters have been pumped back into Lake Pontchartrain, and New Orleans residents are slowly returning to their city to see what happened to their homes — or if their homes are still standing at all.

Reporter Joshua Levs has followed the saga of Chiquita and Selwyn Smith since they evacuated their home before Hurricane Katrina hit, and documented a bittersweet homecoming.

The couple and their three children have already set up a new life in McKinney, Texas, an 11-hour drive from New Orleans. What they found on their return was a neighborhood in ruins, and a house that no longer felt like a home.

In their Esplanade Ridge neighborhood in the mid-city area, streets are still blocked by fallen trees and debris — and in some cases, toppled homes. The first floor of the Smiths' two-story duplex was flooded, and after forcing the warped door open their worst fears were realized. Their possessions were scattered across the floors, and the stench of rot was overpowering. Mold was everywhere.

"The house is still standing, but in poor condition right now," says Selwyn. "So which is worse? I guess if it was torn down, then I wouldn't have to tear it down and start all over."

Chiquita says after six weeks of so much drama — first worrying about their relatives, then moving to Texas, then just last week moving into a new house — she feels drained of all emotion. We've been angry, cried... We're just numb right now."

The Smiths had already decided not to move back to New Orleans, and this trip reinforced the decision. Chiquita says the city she knew and loved is gone.

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