Last week I traveled to New Orleans, one of my favorite cities in the US. Neil received an award from EPRI, an engineering organization, and was there to make and listen to presentations, as well as attend the awards dinner. During the day, while Neil was busy with the conference, I ventured out into the city I had drawn in the spring of 2005 to do some reportage, post-Hurricane Katrina. I decided to ride over to the ninth ward, that was flooded so terribly during the hurricane, and see what was going on, six years later. The lower ninth, on the east side of the Clairborne Street bridge, was really hit hard. Flood waters came in over the broken down levee and rose to the rooftops of the small houses that packed the neighborhood. Today, the neighborhood is still in a shambles. There are many, many empty lots where houses used to be, especially the lots near the levee. Of the houses that are left standing, about half are in various stages of disrepair, such as the house I drew, above, and a few homes on each block are fixed up, and inhabited.
Here is the view I saw, sitting on a stoop with no house attached, of the Clairborne Street bridge:
The mailbox in the bottom left corner of the drawing belongs to the only inhabited house on the block. You can see how close these houses were to the levee, which has now been repaired. The levee is the dark and grey geometric shape in the drawing – it’s like a cement wall that borders the neighborhood. Across the street from where I sat, the same thing: empty lots. You can see the cement foundations of some of the former houses. The waters of the storm picked many of these houses up and carried them right off the foundations. The thought of someone’s home being literally swept away is so sad, and the fact of the matter is that so many of them have not been re-built, six years later. It has been said that this area should not be re-built, it is at such a low elevation, and New Orleans as a city is sinking. But how do you tell people that they can’t come home?
The empty houses standing there seemed to be alive, and I felt compelled to draw some of them. This one below stood defiantly, behind a tree, and a broken piece of chain link fence:
There are pieces of chain link fence standing everywhere, fencing in nothing. They are often overgrown with weeds, as is much of this section close to the levee. As I drew, the sounds of the birds was overwhelming. It seems like nature is reclaiming this part of the city. Below is another drawing that shows the amount of field in an area that was once packed with homes:
You will often see a lone figure walking down the street through the lots. Or a mother with small children. What a place to raise kids. One afternoon, Neil had a few hours to himself, so I took him to the neighborhood with me to see what was going on. We met a man named Cloud, who spoke with us about his experience during the hurricane. Cloud is an older African-American gentleman with piercing blue eyes. He remembered that his car wouldn’t start that day, so he was stuck in the house. As the waters rose, he went to the attic. A friend knew that Cloud was still at home, and somehow the Army was notified to go get him. Cloud remembers that the man in the helicopter wanted him to jump out into the water so they could pick him up. Cloud refused, because the water was full of alligators, and threw a bottle out into the rising flood to prove it. When the alligators attacked the bottle, the Army agreed in the danger, and put a hole in Cloud’s roof, through which he was rescued. This is Cloud below, and another drawing of an unknown man walking on Tennessee Street:
I had the time to draw one more house in the lower ninth ward, below. I could spend a year there, each house had such a personality, and a story to tell, but it was a short trip and I only had two days. The next day in New Orleans, I visited the upper ninth ward, the Musician’s Village and the Make It Right foundation. I’ll post those drawings later this week. There are definitely people working hard to restore the ninth ward, but there is still so much left to do.