ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel and we're producing much of the program this week in New Orleans. That's where I am right now with a room full of New Orleanians. Imagine this for a moment: imagine that a natural disaster strikes your neighborhood. You leave your home and head for safety out of town.

For months, you live here and there, depending on the kindness and the competence of your government, your insurance company, your family, and your friends. Six months go by, maybe you move back in, maybe you live in a trailer, maybe you're still living out of town, but the landmarks of your neighborhood, supermarkets, gas stations, the hospital, the schools, the churches are still shuttered.

(Soundbite of people talking)

The people who have joined us here for a kind of town meeting don't have to imagine any of this because this is what their lives have been like for the past six months. They are residents of a quiet road of private homes and duplexes in New Orleans East. It's called Honeysuckle Lane and we have been following their fortunes and misfortunes on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED since September. We're at the Dong Fhong (ph) Bakery in New Orleans East. It's a Vietnamese bakery. It's one of the first and still very few businesses to reopen in this part of New Orleans. Let's meet the people whom we're going to hear from in this part of the program.

First, Bob Zellar (ph).

Mr. BOB ZELLAR (Resident, Honeysuckle Lane): I'm Bob Zellar, I live at 40 Honeysuckle Lane in New Orleans East. For a while, we were put up in the Doubletree Hotel and now we at the multi-trailer site at my place of business at New Orleans International Airport.

Mr. JOHN BROWN (Resident, Honeysuckle Lane): My name is John Brown. I lived at 26 Honeysuckle Lane. I'm living in a little city in Louisiana called Angie, Louisiana.

Ms. CYNTHIA TOWNSEND (Resident, Honeysuckle Lane): I'm Cynthia Townsend. I live at 27 Honeysuckle Lane and I've been staying in Dallas, Texas ever since.

Mr. LIONEL BASNECK (ph) (Resident, Honeysuckle Lane): My name is Lionel Basneck and I live at 35 Honeysuckle Lane. Been there for about 12 years. We evacuated to Houston, Texas. Right now, we're renting a house near the University of New Orleans until we can get our house back to where we need to get it.

SIEGEL: And your wife, Jusinda Basneck (ph).

Ms. JUSINDA BASNECK (Resident, Honeysuckle Lane): Jusinda Basneck, 35 Honeysuckle Lane.

Ms. JOY ARNO (ph): Joy Arno at 45 Honeysuckle Lane. We're back in a FEMA trailer on our lot.

SIEGEL: So you're not exactly in your home, but you're at your home.

Ms. ARNOW: We're at our home.

SIEGEL: And Mr. ARNOW.

Mr. ERIC ARNOW (Resident, Honeysuckle Lane): Yes, I'm Eric Arnow of 45 Honeysuckle. I didn't get no water in the house at all. I got water damage from the roof that leaked.

Ms. JOANNE MCKINLEY(ph) (Resident, Honeysuckle Lane): I'm Joanne McKinley from 48 Honeysuckle Lane. I experienced mold and about two feet of water and my house is gutted now about four feet.

SIEGEL: Now, Gaye Hewitt you're an honorary member of Honeysuckle Lane. You're address is actually on Kern, but it backs on Honeysuckle.

Ms. GAYE HEWITT (Resident, Kern): I'm on the corner of Kern and Honeysuckle. We stayed in Houston for six months until we just recently moved back to the naval base across river in Algiers, and that's where we are in a hotel.

SIEGEL: If we had all been talking right after Katrina, let's say, and you had imagined where we would be come Mardi Gras, Bob Zellar, would you assume things would be as up in the air as they are right now? Would you assume things would have settled out by now.

Mr. ZELLAR: With the vastness of the devastation, I don't think there's building material or skilled craftsman that could restore this whole city within the next five years. So, I didn't expect much change, and I don't expect much change.

SIEGEL: Eric Arnow, are you surprised?

Mr. ARNOW: Yes, I feel more optimistic about it. I mean if you off and running doing it yourself, you're going to get it done. If you sit waiting on the government, you see what everybody here being FEMAtized as is. And, I mean, if you sit on the fence you're not going to get anything done. You gotta --

SIEGEL: FEMAtized is now a New Orleans verb --

Mr. ARNOW: Exactly, right, right.

SIEGEL: What does FEMAtized mean?

Mr. ARNOW: I mean, you just got it from all branches of the government.

SIEGEL: Joanne?

Ms. MCKINLEY: FEMAtized to me is feeling that you get that, okay, am I going to be put out, you know, where do I go, it's really disheartening because I was a New Orleans Public School teacher and they just stabbed us in the back.

SIEGEL: You were all fired.

Ms. MCKINLEY: We were all fired, laid off, fired, no pink slips. I heard that we're going to get one, but you know, I just feel like I've spent 15 years of my life, you know, being a teacher, doing something that I love and all of sudden I'm no longer that and I didn't have any backup. It's just been horrible, you know, to say that you've given up 15 years of your life and then just stabbed in the back.

SIEGEL: And nowadays it's very commonly said that when New Orleans comes back to life, its school system should somehow be radically different and in no way resemble what it was before. That everything should be charter schools and newly organized.

Ms. MCKINLEY: I think that they definitely have to come back with public schools. I don't think everything should be chartered schools.

SIEGEL: Let me move on to another question that seems to have, well that all of you have had to deal with, not just public authorities but the insurance industry. Lionel Basneck, your encounter with the world of insurance.

Mr. BASNECK: To date we haven't received a penny from our flood insurance policy yet. Adjuster came maybe six weeks after the storm, he did his process or whatever, and we're still waiting for the money. I'm out of pocket right now repairing my home. The money's on its way, but I don't know what the problem is.

SIEGEL: Are there any success stories with insurance? Yes, Cynthia Townsend?

Ms. TOWNSEND: I waited for my insurance. I had to call Almighty from upstairs and once the insurance commissioner got involved, got my check FedEx'ed to me. I have all my money.

SIEGEL: I'd like to hear from all of you how you address the big overarching question which is: you can see your house, you can figure out how much repair it needs now, what has to be done to it, but then it's part of a neighborhood, its part of the city which presumably should have commerce and services and schools and police protection. Do you see it coming back? Are you confident that your part of New Orleans East, Mr. Basneck, is going to be there and it's going to be alive again?

Mr. BASNECK: Yes. I'm optimistic about it, especially being close to the lake area, seems like that area is starting to come back because there was minimal damage on that side.

SIEGEL: We're just talking a couple of streets away from you, you drive away from the lake and you see strip malls, and every storefront is gutted and closed except for, I think, the Eastover Market is open and one of them, otherwise, there's nothing there.

Mr. BASNECK: Yes, it's depressing.

SIEGEL: But you're hopeful about it?

Mr. BASNECK: Yes.

SIEGEL: John Brown, do you think you're coming back? Are you confident in New Orleans East?

Mr. BROWN: I'm confident in New Orleans, but as the way things look, I don't think I'm coming back because my father, he was a minister and he said that New Orleans would go under water and he wanted to prepare us a place to live. They had built this house and I didn't have any idea it would come to pass, but it did come to pass and now I'm living in the house and it was a blessing.

Mr. ARNOW: I can understand your point what your father said about the flooding and all, but where are you going to go? You're going to have earthquakes, fires, you name it, you're going to have it, so where you going to run to? That's what I don't understand. You know, when we first got to San Antonio the people just kept, well come and live in Texas.

Ms. ARNOW: They just couldn't understand why we would want to go back to New Orleans, and I kept saying, well, it's my home, it's where I want to go, it's where I belong, it's what I know. And I said anywhere in the world there's always some kind of a natural disaster that happens and people deal with it and they cope with it. So we're going to deal with it, we're going to cope with it, and we're going to go back home.

Mr. ARNOW: Because if you actually think about it, it wasn't Katrina that done the damage, it was the breaching of --

Ms. ARNOW: The levies --

Mr. ARNOW: -- those locks.

Ms. ARNOW:Yeah.

Mr. ARNOW: Nobody done anything.

SIEGEL: So you're saying this was an unnatural disaster that --

Mr. ARNOW: Exactly and the people fail to realize this, but who's at fault is the government because we're paying money to the government to protect us, and they're not doing it.

SIEGEL: What do you say to people from other parts of the country, who may indeed live in tornado alley, or in Florida in the path of hurricanes, but they say look, you live in an area that was wetlands until 20 years ago and you're asking for it. I mean, yes, Cynthia.

Ms. TALLIS: For years we have always had printed in the newspaper to prepare for hurricanes, do your preparations. So now, it's not just to prepare for the hurricane, but now we need to prepare for a disaster. If we're going to live here in New Orleans, we have to prepare ourselves.

SIEGEL: One of your neighbors, Judy Talman (ph) who can't be with us because she is with her kids in Las Vegas this week, she told us, she used the phrase, if we've got to homestead in our own neighborhood, we'll do that. That's where --

Unidentified Man#1: Bottom line.

Unidentified Woman #2: We always said even if our home was flooded, we were definitely going to come back and rebuild and we're here.

Unidentified Man #2: New Orleans is where I want to be.

SIEGEL: You're from New Orleans --

Unidentified Man #2: Yeah, right.

SIEGEL: -- Gaye Hewitt?

Ms. HEWITT: My husband and I bought our house 16 years ago. We were fresh out the police academy and we were looking for some place to raise our kids. And when we found that neighborhood, all the houses that are there now, were not there. It was a big wooded area right behind us and Bob was the man that was always jogging down the street --

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HEWITT: -- and my kids always said oh, the man jogging down the street just passed, and that's how we grew up. Our kids grew up with Bob's daughters and my kids, when they first said that the area was flooded, the first thing they said, we have to go back. And I'm so proud of them that they want to be here and help rebuild and make it stronger. That makes my decision to stay even much stronger. And the fact that our neighborhood is so closely knit together -- I mean, if our kids do something wrong, the neighbors have permission to just chastise if you have to.

But it's a family area. It's not something that you just go to work, you come home, and you lock your door. If something happens to someone, everyone is there, and we all stick together. And I think that's the best part of Honeysuckle Lane. That's what makes it home.

SIEGEL: Bob Zeller, when you were jogging by, you were keeping an eye on everybody? You were going to repot them if they do anything wrong?

Mr. ZELLER (New Orleans Resident): The neighborhood is secluded. It's two cul- de-sacs off the main drag. There's no walk through. And the neighbors, like both Eric and (unintelligible), the neighbors kind of look out for each other. In the last 22 years that I've been there, there hasn't been much crime at all back there.

SIEGEL: There hasn't been much crime in the 22 years that you've been there.

Mr. ZELLER: At all.

SIEGLER: What about the past six months?

Mr. ZELLER: Well, I've been burglarized, looted, like 21-K'ed, like the police department says, three times now, three or four times, and the last time they kicked my back door in and stole my towels.

Unidentified Woman: I've been vandalized. My son has a car in our backyard under the carport. Someone broke the glass in. They threw house paint on the car, stole all the radios out. My daughters and I were cleaning out the home one day and someone was across the street using a hammer on the back of a neighbor's car, and we had to go over and assess that situation. But it seems to have calmed down now since the houses are empty. But we still keep an eye out.

SIEGEL: Until Katrina, there was not too far away from your street a big hospital, Methodist Hospital. It doesn't seem to be coming back. That not only costs jobs, but it leaves you without a nearby emergency room. Are there doctors? Are there dentists around? Are there people whom you can go have the needs taken care of there?

Mr. ZELLER: Well, believe it or not, say like in [unintelligible] everything is 30 minutes away. I mean, you can get on the interstate, 15, 20 minutes you're at Charity Hospital, any hospital in the city. Charity is not open right now, but I mean, Tulane or one of them. So you're basically looking at the same thing. But if you sit there saying to yourself, well, there's no medical facility, if you continue with the negative, you're not going to get anything.

If you want to get to the hospital and you got transportation, you can get there in 15, 20 minutes on the interstate.

Ms. HEWITT: There is a clinic. Methodist does have a clinic by the hospital in the parking lot that you can go to. I'm not sure what the hours are. But there is something there for the people in the area in case you have an incident that they can treat. Now, if it's an emergency, you would have to go to Tulane. But there's a little trailer or mobile home, whatever you want to call it, that's out there.

SIEGEL: Gaye Hewitt, thank you. We're talking with a group of New Orleanians who live on Honeysuckle Lane, a street in New Orleans East that we've been following on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED for months. When we come back, I want to ask you if you can share with us some lessons that you might have for people who haven't lived through something like Katrina and what you've learned about what happens when our lives are in distress.

We'll talk about that when ALL THINGS CONSIDERED continues.

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