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New Orleans Resident Returns Home

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All Things Considered has followed New Orleans resident Sharon White since Hurricane Katrina. After Katrina, she returned home to find her New Orleans East house damaged by floodwaters. She returned in March. She talks about life in the city and about Hurricane Gustav.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

As Tropical Storm Hanna heads toward the Atlantic Coast and Hurricane Ike turns to its east, residents who fled Gustav last weekend are returning home, among them, New Orleans East resident Sharon White. You'll remember we first met Sharon White three years ago at a shelter in Baton Rouge.

Ms. SHARON WHITE: My property is under water right now. And I'm going to rebuild (unintelligible). And I'm going to make it bigger and better. And we're going to get it back together.

NORRIS: Easier said than done. It was weeks before White could even get back to her house, months before she saw any insurance money or rebuilding funds. At one point, her house was robbed of new copper pipes. She was living at a friend's house until March of this year. Finally, she moved back home.

On Sunday, Sharon White was getting ready to install new kitchen cabinets when New Orleans was evacuated for Hurricane Gustav.

Ms. WHITE: It was like Katrina all over again except I was prepared. When I left for Katrina, I thought I was going to be gone a day or two. It turned out to be two and a half years. It took me back both coming home. Driving in, you could see a lot of areas actually had a lot of damages (unintelligible) and everything, trees just snapped. Lafayette, Lake Charles, Baton Rouge got some posts that still don't have lights.

I mean, I came home, I have light. I am so excited because - you know, I didn't wanted to go to nobody. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't wish what happened to me to nobody. But I said, Lord, not us again because they - you know, they were really worried about the East.

NORRIS: Sharon, I just want to ask you about the mood in the city. One of the things I wondered about as Hurricane Gustav bore down on Louisiana was how the city and the surrounding parishes would hold up psychologically. I mean, it must be so difficult to go through this almost three years to the day…

Ms. WHITE: I know.

NORRIS: …that Hurricane Katrina hit.

Ms. WHITE: Oh, my God. I know. That's what - I just took me to drive and I just prayed, you know? Because I said, Lord, I don't want to - I lived in this car. I lived in my car three years ago for about three days before I found that shelter you found me in. And then, I have a double fear. I was like, okay. If the hurricane don't get us when everybody evacuate, the criminals might come in and take little you left. But it didn't happen. Thank God.

NORRIS: So, you're back, you have water and power. And people didn't come in and strip your copper or your new cabinets that you put in?

Ms. WHITE: No. They didn't take - I still have my TV, my little, you know, all your little things that you worked hard for. You know, I just bought brand new plants to fill in boxes.

NORRIS: So, now, that you're back in your house, I want you to do me a favor because I've actually, I've been out there. I visited your home. Last time I was out there, you're there on a corner lot and your house was gutted down to the walls. There was nothing in the house.

Ms. WHITE: Nothing. Nothing.

NORRIS: The appliances were pulled out. You had to replace the windows. You had to replace everything.

Ms. WHITE: Yeah.

NORRIS: You've come quite a distance. Could you quickly describe what it's looking like right now?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WHITE: Well, it's a home again. I am still doing some stuff in here, but I have windows. And I remember you - it's - for some reason, I still remember there was something you asked from me. You said, when I looked up and there was just empty wall there, nothing there but the ceiling. And I said, I still have ceiling fan. I have that ceiling fan. And I got one of those like a Bahama one, a blazer, like big leaves.

NORRIS: So, when I was there, I looked around your home. And I just - I saw a lot of emptiness.

Ms. WHITE: Yes.

NORRIS: And you fussed at me and you said, no, no, no, I see possibilities here.

Ms. WHITE: Yeah. Yeah.

NORRIS: I see window treatments and new cabinets.

Ms. WHITE: Mm-hmm. And that's what happened.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WHITE: And then when - I'll tell you, I cried like a newborn when I first turned my electricity on because I hadn't had lights in my house almost three years. So, believe it or not, I'm here now. I have my neighbors on the - I have four people around me now. My neighborhood is actually - we're, I would say we're about 85 percent complete. There's two houses on my block that's not - that don't have people in it.

NORRIS: Sharon, we're hearing that a lot of people have not come back to New Orleans East, that there are pockets…

Ms. WHITE: Oh, yeah.

NORRIS: …of families have come back…

Ms. WHITE: Mm-hmm.

NORRIS: …but there are several stretches.

Ms. WHITE: Mm-hmm.

NORRIS: And in some cases, almost an entire block where families haven't come back.

MS. WHITE: Right. But that's not here. You know, you drive often to another area, you got a whole block not complete. But I'm talking. In my - I would say five block radius, we're like 85 percent.

NORRIS: Do you think you had something to do with that, your sort of can-do spirit and determination to come back to your house?

Ms. WHITE: I wish I can take the…

NORRIS: Was it contagious?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WHITE: I wish I could take the credit for that. But you know what I think it is? People just not ready to give up on their property in the city yet. You know, not granted. We get the water that we got with Katrina ever again? I'm not going to rebuild. I'm going to sell my house and do it somewhere else because I'm not getting any younger, any healthier. So I have to do what I have to do for me and get myself on something a little more stable.

NORRIS: Sharon White, it is always good to talk to you. All the best to you. Welcome home. Good luck with the last bit of construction that you have to do and we'll look forward to talking to you again.

Ms. WHITE: Thank you, Michele. And thank your listeners for me and for everything they did and contributed to my house and my story.

NORRIS: That's Sharon White speaking to us today from her home in New Orleans East.

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