After meeting with Speed, I continue down Claiborne, heading to what’s left of the Lower Ninth Ward. Six years post-Katrina, the neighborhood has yet to recover. It’s eerie; there are a few houses that have been rebuilt on stilts, but the vast majority of the area is just overrun by vegetation.
On nearly ever telephone pole there are adverts for services that say, “WE CUT TALL GRASS.” The geography of the place is important to note – it’s way below sea level – flanked by levees and canals. The neighborhood is your standard grid layout, square blocks with parallel streets. Now imagine removing 80% of the houses, with the rest being a mix of decrepit and destroyed and new. The streets aren’t straight anymore, encroached upon by dirt and grass.
Here, derelict houses are marked with the famous Katrina X: a simple quadrant system of spray paint on the front door. If the X only has a single line, it means a hasty search. The north quadrant of the X has the date of the search, the east marks notations for hazardous chemicals or dead animals, the south is for body count (human), and the west is initialed by the search team.
It’s insane to be looking at this. Some of the dates are from November! That’s how long it took to deal with the search. On the doors where there are body counts, neighbors often spray paint epitaphs on the house, wishing the fallen well into the next world.
I walk into a dilapidated building that looks to be some sort of old automotive garage. Being a person of poetic sensibility, I’m constantly seeing images that serve as metaphor.
Above my head, the second floor of the building is slowly disintegrating. Large holes have formed and in one, a half destroyed office chair is dangling through, ready to fall at any moment, like a water drop on the end of an icicle. Animals have been living here – feral cats, rats, and insects. Lots of insects.
In another house, furniture is piled in rotting heaps, no doubt from floating in the flood. When the waters receded, they were left where they were, and thus, everything is scattered.
Broken and torn children’s toys scatter the front lawns. Cement is covered with dirt and oil residue.
I’m overwhelmed – which has been the constant feeling for weeks. I’m texting friends about what I’m seeing because I can’t handle seeing this by myself. But no one is responding. It’s fitting given what transpired here.
Editor’s note: Stiv Wilson has been reporting from the Gulf and New Orleans this summer. To learn more, read his investigations of the oil spill and catch the first installment of “Her Name Is Katrina.”