Skipping the Katrina Rhetoric for a Block Party President Bush and many Louisiana political leaders were in New Orleans Tuesday at events observing the Hurricane Katrina anniversary. But many residents stayed away.
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Skipping the Katrina Rhetoric for a Block Party

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Skipping the Katrina Rhetoric for a Block Party

Skipping the Katrina Rhetoric for a Block Party

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

In New Orleans, there are big memorial events this week. They may be drawing big names like President Bush, but the locals are largely staying away, engaging in their regular activities. Regular for New Orleans, anyway. NPR's Molly Peterson reports.

MOLLY PETERSON reporting:

The biggest crowd I found yesterday was uptown on the grassy median of Napoleon Avenue. But people come here every year. A music club nearby raises money annually for high school marching bands. Early evening, they hand out the instruments and start the parade.

(Soundbite of drums playing)

PETERSON: James Timmons(ph) holds a beer in one hand, a cigar in the other. He still calls everyone cousin. But even before Katrina, his old uptown stomping grounds had gone white and upscale. Katrina flooded his property in eastern New Orleans with four feet of water.

Mr. JAMES TIMMONS (Resident, New Orleans): Houses have not been repaired, the grass is grown to a point where you need a bulldozer to knock it down.

PETERSON: Every time he comes back from the place he's staying in Dallas, thieves have picked over his house again. This trip he came to meet with realtors. They told him his house is worth a fourth what it was. He's still haggling over his homeowner's insurance claim and helping his parents with their policy.

Mr. TIMMONS: There's a place in hell for the insurance company. I know that. God got a special place in hell for them guys.

PETERSON: He's just decided to hold on to his property after all. Even though he can't afford repairs and he doesn't think he'll get a penny from the state's aid program. Local government hasn't done much about planning here, but Timmons thinks there's still time.

MR. TIMMONS: You know what, it's never too late for a plan. I don't think it's never too late for a plan. You can always change your course.

PETERSON: Timmons is a merchant marine. His ship is docked here, but his wife wants to stay in Texas. She evacuated alone while he was at sea. Most of the words he uses about the president's visit and the memorial events - all of which he skipped - aren't airable.

Mr. TIMMONS: The thing was they need to do it — they need to have a Katrina thing trying to find out how we going to pay these people to get them in their houses or get them back to New Orleans. They are not even monumentals and stuff. I came out because I want to hear Rebirth.

PETERSON: The renowned Rebirth Brass Band played later for free, just as they always do at this event. Timmons goes back to Texas tomorrow to his new normal, but coming out here gives him a few minutes of his old one. Molly Peterson, NPR News, New Orleans. (Soundbite of music)

BRAND: Stay with us. DAY TO DAY continues.

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