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Many Homes Destroyed in Plaquemines Parish


Many Katrina victims just want to get back to see what's left of their homes. In some of the hardest-hit areas, many residents are finding out there isn't much left, and they're facing the hard news that whatever is still standing may not be for long. NPR's Jennifer Ludden visited one parish southeast of New Orleans.


Timothy Bartholomew(ph) says he almost didn't recognize his own community of Port Sulphur.

Mr. TIMOTHY BARTHOLOMEW (Louisiana Resident): I mean, this used to be my front yard right here.

LUDDEN: It would be bad enough if this were Bartholomew's house, but it's the house that used to be across the street. Bartholomew continues walking another lot over.

Mr. BARTHOLOMEW: This is my front of my house right here.

LUDDEN: Now your house is sitting on a black pickup truck. Is that your truck?

Mr. BARTHOLOMEW: Yes, ma'am, that is my truck.

LUDDEN: We hoist ourselves up into the front door. You can barely move. There's upended furniture everywhere, draped with the ceiling and insulation which have fallen down. A squishy muck coats the floor. This is the first time Bartholomew's explored the inside of his house, and he's hoping to find a big old-fashioned iron pot. He picks his way to the pantry and kicks open the door.

(Soundbite of Bartholomew kicking)

Mr. BARTHOLOMEW: Well, we still have water in it. It's still here.

LUDDEN: There's just a few other small items Bartholomew's family wants, but he can't find any of them amid the mess. Over one street, it's the same story with neighbors. Tommy Dobson(ph) and his wife are leaning against their car. A trailer is attached, loaded up with some iron pots and a lawn mower. The Dobsons found their wedding album but not a single photo was recognizable.

Mr. TOMMY DOBSON (Louisiana Resident): I've been a resident here for 52 years, and it's kind of bad to see your--everything you ever known just totally, I mean, demolished. I mean, there's not a building left that's, you know, I would consider salvageable.

LUDDEN: This week, local newspapers and TV announced that Plaquemines Parish president was giving residents 10 days to collect things before starting to demolish their homes. Benny Rouselle says his order was misconstrued. He has no timetable for sending in bulldozers, but he believes the quicker the parish can move on, the better.

Mr. BENNY ROUSELLE (President, Plaquemines Parish): We're waiting on attorney general's opinion. There is, we believe, the authority to just go ahead when it becomes a safety and health issue, that the government can move in and clear the debris. However, we're trying to be human about it and trying to work with the constituents so that they feel comfortable with the decision that's being made.

LUDDEN: All you have to do is look around, and it's clear many of these homes can never be repaired. The parish has drawn up forms for residents to sign giving permission to tear down and cart off what's left of their homes. Rouselle expects to bulldoze pretty much the entire southern half of his parish, but he's sure some residents will try to insist on salvaging their houses.

Mr. ROUSELLE: You have no insurance and you don't have confidence in FEMA providing some housing for you and you only have what's floating down the highway, you might want to do that.

LUDDEN: Back in Port Sulphur, Fran Dobson(ph) says there's no choice but to demolish what's left of her yellow brick one-story home. But as she walks up to the now glassless front picture window, she gazes in and can't quite forget what was.

Ms. FRAN DOBSON: I had a sofa there, two bookcases there, a TV. I had a piano against that wall and a recliner over there. It's just--you wouldn't believe that, would you? Look at it. It's just unbelievable.

LUDDEN: Dobson did retrieve the family's American flag. She stuck it back in its pole next to the window. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, New Orleans.

INSKEEP: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jennifer Ludden
Jennifer Ludden helps edit energy and environment stories for NPR's National Desk, working with NPR staffers and a team of public radio reporters across the country. They track the shift to clean energy, state and federal policy moves, and how people and communities are coping with the mounting impacts of climate change.