Reporter's Notebook: Rebuilding New Orleans

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Tuesday marks the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Farai Chideya recently returned from her third trip to New Orleans, and she talks with Ed Gordon about the stories of survival and rebuilding that will appear on the show this week.

ED GORDON, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS AND NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.

Tomorrow marks the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's devastation of the Gulf Coast. We'll speak with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin about the state of the city now, and what lies ahead.

But first, we present the first in a series of stories on rebuilding efforts and the personal struggles in New Orleans and beyond. Here to give us an idea of some of the stories we'll be hearing about is NPR's Farai Chideya. Farai, good to have you.

FARAI CHIDEYA reporting:

Thanks, Ed. Good to be here.

GORDON: Hey, I know that this is trip number three for you down there. Talk to us about the differences from the last visit you made and what you're seeing today.

CHIDEYA: Well, the thing I was really most struck by was there was this kind of role reversal, where when I was there the last time and a bunch of other NPR reporters were there, the French Quarter was bubbling because it was before Mardi Gras. So there were tourists who had come back, the hotels had Spiffied up. Now, admittedly, this is the off-season, summer is the off- season because it is so hot, but the French Quarter was absolutely dead. But if you went out to the Ninth Ward, there were signs of life. At the sixth-month mark, the Ninth Ward looked exactly like it had right after Katrina. Now you see people living in the trailers, rehabbing their houses. In a weird way, the neighborhoods are now seeming to do better than the kind of touristy areas.

GORDON: One of the most poignant tales you brought us was the story of Brenda Morris, who many people remember lost her brother right after the storm. Almost a year later now, where is she?

CHIDEYA: Well, she's still living in New Orleans. She was able to move back. Her mother was also ill and unfortunately, due to diabetes, her mother's leg had to be amputated. Her children though are doing really well. She's got kids ranging from college age to sixth grade, and she's been able to enroll them in school and so - in that way at least, life is getting back to normal.

GORDON: What about the infrastructure down there, Farai, and all that goes on in just trying to logistically get around the town. I understand that things as simple as street signs aren't even up, so it's sometimes hard to even navigate your way there.

CHIDEYA: It is. I mean sometimes - you know, a lot of times myself and this time producer Devon Robbins(ph) were down there. And I'd say, what was that? Because on one side, the side we were driving on, there'd be no sign but sometimes there'd be a sign facing the other direction, so she'd have to turn around in the seat and try to look over her shoulder and she'd be like, oh yeah, that was our street, we missed it. We did a lot of U-turns.

And what really struck me the most is that the electricity goes off, the water goes off or there's no water. People are really living in a very rustic style, and you've got to give people a lot of props for doing that.

GORDON: Yeah. Farai, I will also look forward to new stories from you.

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