I started my New Orleans trip by taking a ride on the St Charles Ave streetcar from The French Quarter, through The Garden District, into Uptown and beyond! As we passed down the tree lined street that perfectly shaded the elegant houses behind them you couldn’t help but be reminded of Mardi Gras. There were thousands of strands of beads still hanging in the trees, wrapped around power lines and dangling from the street signs. Some people had even decorated their wrought iron fences by wrapping the beads around them in an intricate pattern, perfectly symmetrical on either side of the fence.
My visit to the Lower Ninth Ward which got hit the worst by Hurricane Katrina was eye opening. Hearing the stories and being reminded of how many people died in this horrific event, in their attics while trying to escape to higher ground and in their homes where they thought they were safe only to have them washed away while they were still inside, was heartbreaking. The houses that remained still have debris on their roofs left behind when the water finally retreated. Some houses have large holes in the wall or the ceiling is completely imploded, clear that it had taken a vicious blow from a car, a truck, another house or a boat that had crashed into it. There were eerie spray-painted markings on the houses, put there by the rescue workers indicating how many bodies were found inside.
Few homes have been rebuilt because the insurance money never came through and these people literally have nothing left. When the hurricane hit life stopped for weeks – there was no electricity, no air conditioning, no debit cards, no money, no communication systems, no way to find out if your relatives from across town were alive or dead. Can you even imagine? 18,000 lives lost – 15,000 in the lower ninth ward alone. On a much more positive note Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation has made huge strides in turning these people’s lives around. The only pre-requisite to receiving a new energy efficient, flood resistant home is that you lived in the lower ninth ward before Katrina hit. These houses are really neat, complete with solar panels and water absorbent cement.
Speaking of Brad Pitt, I stopped by his and Angelina Jolie’s house in The French Quarter but they weren’t home. Darn! I also stopped by Sandra Bullock’s house in The Garden District but she wasn’t home either. But she does live in a gorgeous neighborhood. The Garden District has big, fancy, historic homes, lots of flowers and greenery, and wide streets with low hanging trees that meet in the middle. Every street you turn down is just as nice, if not nicer, than the previous one!The people of New Orleans are fiercely loyal to their city and are proud of how they’ve rebounded after the disaster that affected nearly every resident’s life in 2005. What a city!