The Survivors' Street: 10 Years Of Life After Katrina NPR first visited Schnell Drive in St. Bernard Parish 10 years ago to speak with the Bordelon family as they rebuilt their home after Katrina's destruction. Unlike many, they're still there today.
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The Survivors' Street: 10 Years Of Life After Katrina

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The Survivors' Street: 10 Years Of Life After Katrina

The Survivors' Street: 10 Years Of Life After Katrina

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The other day, we stopped a car in front of a house. It was a house on stilts, a good 8 feet off the ground. We climbed the steps to the high front porch. We were talking with everyone who would answer the door on a single street outside New Orleans. It's Schnell Drive in Arabi, La. It went underwater after Hurricane Katrina.

Hello ma'am.

Ten years later, a visit to Schnell Drive shows what has changed.

Sorry to bother you, we're reporters from NPR, NPR National Public Radio.

The woman at the door at first declined to talk.

RUTH NUNEZ: Can you come back? I was eating boiled crab.

INSKEEP: The scent of that crab dinner came out of the house. But before we could turn to leave, she changed her mind. She talked, as did every person we approached. Ruth Nunez was living here long before the storm.

NUNEZ: So I'm back and here to stay.

INSKEEP: She built a house on her old lot after 2005, much higher to await the next flood.

We're standing on this high porch...

...Which gave us a view up and down the street.

NUNEZ: This street, 80 to 90 percent was elderly. And then since Katrina, we have children all up and down this street.

INSKEEP: People have moved back even though most of the houses are not raised up from the ground. We look down on it all from Ms. Nunez's porch as a passing ice cream truck went trolling for customers.

Before the storm, this county, known as St. Bernard Parish, was home to 71,000 people. A few years after the storm, far more than half were gone. Now the population is slowly growing. And Schnell Drive is home to newcomers, like the people repairing a pickup truck down the block from Ms. Nunez. The guy gunning the engine was Jose Depaula. He told us he was an immigrant from Brazil and that he moved to this area after Katrina.

Did you come because of the hurricane because there would be work here?

IGOR DEPAULA: (Foreign language spoken).

JOSE DEPAULA: (Foreign language spoken).

INSKEEP: His 17-year-old son, Igor, translated the story. The Depaulas lived in Boston years ago but only found restaurant work there. They moved to New Orleans after Katrina for better-paying construction work. And they weren't alone.

I. DEPAULA: You see that big house over there? That's one of our friends, Johnny. He's from Brazil, too.

INSKEEP: And then there's the house that flies a Brazilian flag. And...

I. DEPAULA: Third house down there is some people from our church.

J. DEPAULA: (Foreign language spoken).

INSKEEP: Their church down the street, which holds services in Portuguese. Census figures show this parish is far more diverse than it used to be. People are starting new lives on Schnell Drive. Some are even building new homes on lots where ruined houses were torn down. Consider the house and spacious yard of Raymond Gaspard and Tanya McCrory.

And what was on this lot when you got started?

RAYMOND GASPARD: That tree in the backyard right there.

TANYA MCCRORY: We bought the three lots right here in a row for $10,500.

INSKEEP: And on them, they built a white house. Under the eaves are frills reminiscent of older New Orleans homes.

MCCRORY: Like those things on the porch, they call those corbels. And the thing...

INSKEEP: Tonya McCrory gave us jars of honey. They were harvested from the bee hives out back.

Well, thank you. You can't just give this away, though. You must sell it. How much is it?

MCCRORY: Five dollars.

INSKEEP: Five dollars, I can pay you $5 for that.

In the end, they wouldn't accept a dime and kept talking, and attempted to show us their chickens, which were hiding under the back porch.

MCCRORY: (Imitating chicken). They're not stupid. It's hot out here, so they go hide.

INSKEEP: Raymond and Tanya's whole life together is the story of Katrina. They say they met just three weeks before the storm. Flooding destroyed Raymond's house in New Orleans. He was a fisherman whose boat disappeared in the flood. It turned up on a street after the water went down. In the aftermath, Raymond found work with a railroad removing trees from the tracks.

GASPARD: From Brookhaven, Miss., to Biloxi.

INSKEEP: And the job was just clearing the tracks all the way to Biloxi?

GASPARD: Clearing the track, running an excavator, swinging the logs off of the...

INSKEEP: Anything they needed done.

GASPARD: Yep.

INSKEEP: Tanya worked for a catering crew feeding utility workers. Eventually, they built a life together on Schnell Drive, a life built out of odds and ends. Raymond spent years renting out his boat, taking scientists out on the water after the BP oil spill. The couple's bees are swarms cleared out from other people's homes. Their 8-year-old daughter has her own beekeeping suit. They're still finishing their house amid the wreckage of the past here in Arabi.

GASPARD: I have enough photos of this area, after Katrina, I said I was going to write a book of the houses of Arabi.

INSKEEP: For example, the house that settled in a road when the water went down.

GASPARD: Middle of the street and someone took some legs and stuffed them with the witch's boot.

MCCRORY: Like on "The Wizard Of Oz?"

INSKEEP: Are they somewhere where we could look - get a few of them real quick before we go?

GASPARD: I can dig them up.

INSKEEP: We went inside the oversized kitchen, with its island down the middle. On a high shelf was a can of coffee from New Orleans' Cafe du Monde. On the floor was a bucket into which these beekeepers were draining a honeycomb. Tanya took a beer from the fridge, and we couldn't let her drink alone.

GASPARD: I think...

INSKEEP: And Raymond spread out his pile of photographs. They showed the wreckage of lives that had been lived here before.

GASPARD: Look at this automobile here.

INSKEEP: That is in - OK, the car is on top of a fence and resting on something else back between two houses.

GASPARD: So it either floated in or was trying to float out. That was on Alexander Street right there.

INSKEEP: Raymond knows if a great flood came again, his new house, too, could be ruined. He says he'd just rebuild, though water is on his mind. We were saying goodbye when Raymond and Tanya started talking about the Mississippi River that flows a bit more than a mile from this house.

Thank you, guys.

GASPARD: What's kind of nice about here, you get the horns on the river from ships - passing ships - on a foggy morning.

MCCRORY: Early - 4 o'clock in the morning (imitating foghorn).

INSKEEP: That got them thinking about water levels, which were high on the day of our visit. This conversation was like nearly all of our interviews on Schnell Drive. It was a little hard to end it. People had so much to say. Even after we departed, Raymond left us a voicemail.

GASPARD: Hey, Steve. This is Raymond. I failed to mention to y'all that Katrina was actually a blessing to me. It actually got me over the hump from being in debt. I don't owe anything anymore.

INSKEEP: He paid his debts with flood insurance from their old, ruined house. And the money he made clearing trees from the railroad helped to build this new one. Given time, he's come to believe the disasters of 2005 finally led him to moments of grace.

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