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Katrina Update: Bush's Friend in the Upper Ninth

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Katrina Update: Bush's Friend in the Upper Ninth

Katrina & Beyond

Katrina Update: Bush's Friend in the Upper Ninth

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Ethel Williams was 72 years old when Hurricane Katrina flooded out her house in the Upper Ninth Ward neighborhood of New Orleans. Today, she is 73. And though she has twice been visited by President Bush and been promised federal assistance, she still has not had her house rebuilt. And now Mrs. Williams' property might be condemned by the city.

NPR's David Greene has followed her story, and yesterday she took David back to her home for a look.

Ms. ESTHER WILLIAMS (Resident, Upper Ninth Ward, New Orleans): So this is it. This is it.

DAVID GREENE: Mrs. Williams's house is one story, painted green and white, and looking pretty much as it did six months ago. It's totally gutted. She noticed her two bathtubs sitting out in the grass.

Ms. WILLIAMS: I want them done over. I like those. I want them back.

GREENE: But whether Mrs. Williams will ever be back in her house is now a real question. This week the city taped a yellow notice up on a pillar on her front porch. Mrs. Williams asked her daughter Wanda to have a look.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Read it?

WANDA (Daughter): …of this property. The property is still not in compliance with the city code. You will be notified of a date and time to appear before an administrative hearing officer to determine if penalties or further legal actions will be taken by the city against your property.

GREENE: The sign said that if her house is considered blighted, the city has a right to seize it.

Ms. WILLIAMS: (Unintelligible)

GREENE: It was certainly hard to imagine when 10 months ago President Bush stood on this spot promising help from the federal government. When he came back again in August, he invited Mrs. Williams and Wanda to sit with him at a church service. Wanda says plenty of people in town don't like the president. She remembers what many of her friends were telling her when she sat with Mr. Bush.

WANDA: They wanted me to beat him up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: Mrs. Williams isn't having any of that, even though when she's in church or at the grocery store, she says, friends sometimes make fun of her.

Ms. WILLIAMS: They say things like, yeah, you like Bush, you see what he's doing to you, he ain't thinking about you. Stuff like that.

GREENE: When Mr. Bush gave his televised State of the Union Address last month, Mrs. Williams was watching.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yeah, I was looking at the speech, yeah; he didn't say anything about New Orleans, or anything.

GREENE: She says that's okay, and that Mr. Bush's pretty distracted these days by Iraq. Not that Mrs. Williams isn't frustrated. She's still living with Wanda across the river, and like thousands of New Orleans residents, she's waiting for rebuilding money from Louisiana's Road Home Program. She said her next step is to see if volunteers from Catholic charities can do enough work on her house that it gets by city inspections. But still, no anger at Mr. Bush.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Look, I'm not angry with him at all.

GREENE: Why not?

Ms. WILLIAMS: Well, one reason why I'm not angry is because I didn't look him up, he found me. You know, this wasn't something that I asked for and not getting.

GREENE: The president is scheduled to return to New Orleans next week, his first visit to the city in six months. The White House said it couldn't release details yet, and Mrs. Williams said nobody's contacted her. She says she's not looking for any more attention, but if the president wants to make another visit, she's not about to say no.

David Greene, NPR News, New Orleans.

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