New Orleans Update Host Ed Gordon talks to NPR's Farai Chideya about her recent trip to New Orleans and the upcoming stories she's prepared for News & Notes on the city.
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New Orleans Update

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New Orleans Update

New Orleans Update

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ED GORDON, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon. Before we get to the roundtable, we want to talk with NPR's Farai Chideya. She's been in New Orleans revisiting some of the places and peoples, and we're going to talk about the story she reported about six months ago. She joins us now.

Farai, welcome. With Mardi Gras going on, a lot of people looking to New Orleans right now. Talk to me about the biggest difference you saw while you were down there versus six months ago.

FARAI CHIDEYA reporting:

Well, the biggest difference is in the business district, of course, where there's all the tourism money to be made. A lot of the hotels that had the windows shattered looked great, and the businesses looked great, and you know, even the Super Dome doesn't look too bad, but once you get out into the residential neighborhoods, it's same old, same old. It's destruction, total destruction.

GORDON: There, of course, is a concern that once Mardi Gras goes away, we're going to see the same old New Orleans, in terms of the residents that are living there. I know you had an opportunity to talk with some of them, what's their feeling?

CHIDEYA: They don't like anybody. Honestly, they don't like the mayor. They don't like the president. They don't like Congress. They don't like anybody. They're just mad at everybody, which is a shame.

GORDON: Do they feel, to some degree, like interlopers--those of us that come in, kind of land our feet on the ground, then go back out and leave them to fend for themselves?

CHIDEYA: Absolutely not. A lot of people just say, come and tell our stories because no one is going to believe what's going on here, or what's not going on here.

GORDON: What about some of the people that you met before, six months ago. I'm sure you revisited some of them.

CHIDEYA: Well, you know, we spoke on the phone with Brenda and Joyce Morris, who were two sisters who were trapped in a house with their mother, who needed dialysis and a brother who needed oxygen, and I caught up with one of the sisters, and here's what she had to say.

Ms. BRENDA MORRIS (Resident, New Orleans, Louisiana): My name is Brenda Morris. Katrina was a disaster for our family. I lost my brother. My mother is now living in Baton Rouge on dialysis. My brother died of lung cancer. We were separated--my kids and I were separated. They were in Hous... I had a son that was in Houston, and my other two kids was with me in Baton Rouge.

CHIDEYA: So that was just a taste of some of the agonies this family really has been through.

GORDON: Farai, I can recall listening to them when we were hearing from you during those reports, and we found that family. When you looked at where they are today in terms of the spirit of the family, what did you find?

CHIDEYA: Well, Brenda Morris - we were able to go to her home, which looks absolutely fine, and she just kept saying, everything is about family. You know, she lost her brother. Her mother's quite ill. Her house was vandalized, but she said, as long as we can stick together, we'll be fine, you know.

GORDON: What surprised you most when you hit the ground and went into New Orleans? What did you see that you, perhaps, didn't expect to see?

CHIDEYA: Well, one of the things that I learned - and this is from another interview that we'll hear over the course of the days that we're airing them - Kalamu Ya salam is an oral historian, and he pointed out something that people are really only beginning to explore, which is the black upper middle class and the wealthy African-Americans lived in flooded areas as well, and it's a disaster for the whole social order of New Orleans.

GORDON: And what of the sense of New Orleans coming back to what we knew, at least the grandiose part of it. Do people expect to see that?

CHIDEYA: Like I said, Mardi Gras's going to be great, but if you go into the neighborhoods, they will never be the same.

GORDON: All right, Farai, we should note we'll be hearing you reports all this week and looking forward to them. Farai Chideya, thanks for joining us.

CHIDEYA: Thanks a lot, Ed.

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