A tour of a hurting New Orleans
|PHOTOS: BOB FIFE (CTV) AND PETER HARRIS (GLOBAL)|
|Photos show the devastation still felt from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans's Ward 9.|
For reasons not entirely clear to us, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has not opted to do any public tours of areas of New Orleans still devastated nearly three years after Hurricane Katrina put the city under water.
He did, to be fair, dine with presidents Bush and Calderon this morning at a well-known restaurant called Dooky Chase, not far from a flood-condemned housing project. But as far as we know, no time has been set aside for Harper to do a more expansive viewing of New Orleans.
However, with some help from the logistics crew at the PMO and a local driver recruited to ferry journalists around this summit, several of us went out early this morning to see Ward 9, the worst-hit area, still struggling to rebuild.
Dwayne, our bus driver, is from East New Orleans, a father of six. His house was under 12 feet of water; he had to leave New Orleans and settle temporarily in Mississippi, then Atlanta before returning to rebuild his life and his community. The first thing they rebuilt was the church, he said, and the homes of what he genteely called "the elders."
He took us from our hotel up Canal Street and then we headed east. One of us on this trip, Peter Harris of Global TV, was here for nearly two weeks covering the immediate aftermath of Katrina. He showed us where boats had been parked; he directed our eyes to markings still on houses, showing emergency crews where bodies and gas leaks were.
As we headed into wards 7 and 8, we saw schools and houses still boarded up and abandoned. The water-line marks, some as high as the second storey, are still visible.
Then we headed over the bridge to Ward 9, which is still the site of wreckage and devastation. Dwayne told us that it's a slow process, often involving three levels of bureaucracy. Trailers and temporary homes dot the area.
But it's right near the rebuilt levee where the damage still is staggering. All that's left of once-vital areas are foundations, sidewalks and the occasional porch or fence. Weeds and flowers grow through the cement. It's incredibly quiet.
Dwayne took us down his street, where his home was rebuilt after about six months. He showed us his parents' place just down the street, still abandoned. "Still just gutting it out and cleaning it up," Dwayne explained.
He took us to his rebuilt church, St. Paul the Apostle, a Catholic congregation. "I"m real proud of this church," Dwayne said, hoping to let us in and see it, but it was too early and the place was locked up. Then we went out back to the school, which once had 600 students in 14 classrooms, from kindgergarten through Gr. 12. It's still being rebuilt.
As we were driving back to the hotel after the all-too-brief, 90-minute tour, Reuters reporter David Ljungren, who was the force behind getting this side trip organized, asked Dwayne how the city is mentally adjusting, three years later.
"When it rains still, a lot of kids have trouble," he said. Dwayne explained how even he had a hard time coming back, seeing what had happened to his beloved city. The hardest thing, he said, was to have members of close-knit communities spread out all over the United States in the immediate wake of the damage.
As we neared our hotel, just 10 or 15 blocks from the summit site, we saw a little tent city set up under the Highway 10 overpass; dozens and dozens of little tents. We were told these are people who still haven't found jobs or accommodation after Katrina.
"It does take a toll on you," Dwayne said.
It does indeed. And it's a shame, we agreed, that our Prime Minister didn't get to see all of this while he was here.
Update: As it turns out, Harper did get a tour of the Ninth Ward late today. Canada's ambassador to the U.S., David Wilkins, took the Prime Minister for a brief, 10-minute look around the area, according to PMO spokesperson Dimitri Soudas. Our understanding is that it was added to the PM's agenda late in the day.