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New Orleans The Real Story

By GLENN E. RICE

Herbert Gettridge says his neighborhood is silent.

Music often blared from the house across the street from his white three-bedroom stucco-coated house located on Roman Street in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward.

The community had hundreds of homes, schools, grocery stores, and drug stores. The joyous sounds of children playing, the constant hum of traffic, and the echo of barking dogs were part of the urban symphony that filled Gettridge’s ears each day.

We had it all," said Gettridge, 83, a former merchant seaman, who earned a living plastering walls. "We didn't have it as big as it is on Canal Street or in the upper districts but down here for the colored people that built this area up, we had it well built."

That changed on Aug. 29, 2005 when Hurricane Katrina ravaged the parts of southern Louisiana and Mississippi forcing the Industrial Canal levee to burst open. A tide of water swept into the Lower Ninth Ward and throughout the region, causing massive flooding.

More than 1,600 people were killed and thousands left homeless.

Gettridge's neighborhood was one of the areas Katrina hit the hardest. While the center of the city is slowly reviving, Lower Ninth Ward remains ghostly. Gettridge's house literally stands in ruins.

It is surrounded by the rubble of houses knocked off their foundations. A few roofs lay on the ground_ houses they belong to nowhere in site. Dozens of hollowed-out homes dot the landscape, littered with rotting cars and other signs of abandonment. Government-issued trailers line numerous driveways.

Standing in the front yard of his rebuilt home, Gettridge says a deafening silence has replaced the music, the traffic and the sound of children playing.

"I am here by myself," he said. "I don't see people walking down the streets after it gets dark. I might see a car pass by but that's how quiet it is."

Hurricane Katrina has separated Gettridge from his wife of 68 years.

She lives in Madison, Wis., with relatives. The Gettridges had evacuated early, but so many others stayed behind or just could not leave. The attic of the house next door has a hole cut in it. Gettridge said neighbor stayed behind. The neighbor waited several days for emergency crews to rescue him.

Yet, Gettridge who survived Katrina and other natural disasters remains determined to rebuild.

He is one of dozens of homeowners in the Lower Ninth Ward to have started the rebuilding process.

Nevertheless, as time passes and rebuilding costs mount, the idea that the federal, state or even the local government will provide financial support here seems ever more remote.

Therefore, instead of waiting, Gettridge has gutted, treated, and cleaned his flooded house, mostly by himself and a number of volunteers who traveled to the region for that purpose. He has also received assistance from Common Ground, a multi-service agency formed after Hurricane Katrina that has attracted volunteers from all over the country. The group maintains a presence in a damaged house in the Lower Ninth Ward.

Sharon Johnson, the group's co-founder, said the agency help residents demolish gut and rebuild homes. They also offer a tool-lending program and distribute food, water and other survival items.

Johnson said the crumbling houses that still dominate the Lower Ninth Ward have managed to draw attention to the area's slow recovery from Hurricane Katrina. But more is needed, she said.

A hand-painted sign in the front of the Common Ground makeshift headquarters admonishes those tourists for not stopping and making donations.

Local officials have quarreled with state and federal authorities on releasing billions of dollars intended to recovery to toward the recovery and rebuilding efforts.

Activists such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson have said the Bush administration and much of the nation had largely forgotten the working-class and mostly black hurricane victims in the Lower Ninth Ward, while areas that draw tourists and sections that are more affluent recover more quickly.

For their part, federal authorities said they have allocated billions targeted to residents and recovery efforts. It is up to local and state officials to get the funds to those who are in need. Gettridge said many of those who have left are less likely to return.

"I was born and raised in New Orleans; I have been all over the world but I don't intend to leave New Orleans," he said. "This is my home and this is where I am going to stay."

Information from previous published news articles and media accounts were used in this article.

Brothers Glenn E. Rice and Milbert O. Brown Jr. spent two days touring the Lower Ninth Ward. They spoke with residents and volunteers who are helping them rebuild. Photographs and a video interview with Mr. Gettridge are available on the Fraternity's website, www.oppf.org. Through its newly formed Omega Charities, the Fraternity is seeking to raise money to assist residents.

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