STEVE INSKEEP, host:
A New Orleans neighborhood destroyed by Hurricane Katrina was finally opened yesterday. Hundreds of residents were allowed back in to see their homes for the first time since August. The city's Lower Ninth Ward is the last section to open, though it remains ruined and without basic services. NPR's Anthony Brooks followed one family home.
ANTHONY BROOKS reporting:
They began arriving first thing yesterday morning at the corner of Caffin(ph) and Claiborne avenues. National Guard soldiers checked residents for ID. Red Cross volunteers handed out gloves, masks, coolers, ice and water. There were insurance adjusters, FEMA officials and Jerry Sneed from the New Orleans Office of Homeland Security. Sneed said it was important to finally let these residents back to their homes, even if there'd be little to find.
Mr. JERRY SNEED (New Orleans Office of Homeland Security): The water was above the roof on most of these homes for an extended period of time. So as I've told them many times before, they're going to find absolutely nothing salvageable in those homes. The albums and everything are gone because it was under water much, much too long.
BROOKS: Many of these residents had toured their neighborhood by bus, but yesterday, they could finally try to get inside their homes. They could stay for the day and had to leave by sundown.
Ms. HELEN WALKER: My name is Helen Walker. I'm here to get in my residence. I have not been able to get in since the 29th of August.
BROOKS: Helen Walker is 63 years old and has lived here for 28 years. As she steers her car through the Lower Ninth Ward, this low-lying neighborhood of small, mostly wooden homes looks like a war zone with houses smashed to bits and others heaved off their foundations like toys.
Ms. WALKER: It's really devastating to come back and look at something that you have worked for half of your life, and it's all gone. All I want for them to do is try to show me that they are going to help me to get back on my feet. 'Cause I have--my home was brand new when I bought it.
BROOKS: Since Katrina struck, Helen Walker has been living with friends and family in Mississippi. She says she applied for a trailer home from FEMA more than a month ago but has heard nothing since then.
(Soundbite of tapping)
BROOKS: At the end of Caffin Avenue, Helen Walker's small brick house is badly damaged but still standing. Her brother Jake uses a crowbar and hammer to force open the metal security gate and break down the front door.
(Soundbite of door being broke open)
Ms. WALKER: I just can't believe it's so--oh, no.
Unidentified Woman: Don't cry now.
Ms. WALKER: No, no, no, no.
BROOKS: Although she's known for weeks that her house was probably ruined, this is the first time Helen Walker has actually seen what it looks like inside. Jake and Helen Walker's daughter Zena(ph) try to comfort her.
JAKE (Helen Walker's Brother): I just got everybody's to stay out of trouble. I need it to try and hang on--can't do a damn thing with that.
ZENA (Helen Walker's Daughter): Everybody.
Ms. WALKER: Oh, nothing--see, there is nothing that our house been like this. Does it have to?
BROOKS: Inside, everything is upside down, shattered or covered with damp, black muck. Wearing black rubber boots, Helen Walker spends much of the day trying to salvage what she can, which is very little--a china bowl, some jewelry and a framed picture of her son Darrell(ph), who died 10 years ago.
ZENA: You got a picture. That's what you needed right there.
BROOKS: Helen Walker says she'd like to stay and rebuild, but like many in New Orleans, she's waiting to hear from city officials if that will even be possible. On this day, coming home was difficult.
Ms. WALKER: Right now I am very, very saddened. Had not the water stayed as long as it did in my home, I would have something that I would be able to save. But as it is now, I have nothing, nothing at all.
BROOKS: Anthony Brooks, NPR News, New Orleans.
INSKEEP: This is NPR News.