A letter from New Orleans


One of the first things people ask each other is when you speak to them in Nawlins is “How did you make out with Katrina?” Aways a friendly city, its hard-hit residents have become even more polite and willing to help others in need.

A friend drove me through some of the worst parts of the city, where waterlines on the houses reached as high as 30 feet. Some empty houses were marked with zeros, crosses, and a date where police or National Guards had broken in seeking victims dead or alive.We didn’t bother to visit the Ninth Ward or the St. Bernard district in the east, which were so badly hit they may never be restored. Badly wrecked was the area surrounding Tulane University, its hospital unit downtown and its Charity Hospital, which will probaly be razed.

Canal Steet, extending from the river to the end of the line at Cemetaries, was virtually devoid of traffic, with buildings and residences on both sides inundated by flood waters. But there was heavy traffic on two of the main arteries, Metairies and Veterans highways, as people carried on amidst the destruction and debris.

But despite everything, the town retains some of its famous liveliness. The Napolean House and Johnny White’s sports bar are doing brisk business in the French Quarter. This area, the town’s biggest tourist attraction, remained unscathed by the hurricane since it was on the city’s highest ground. Visitors have at least a dozen nightclubs and bars available, and three multiplex cinemas are operating. Many noted French Quarter restaurants are open as are a number of seafood restuarants in dried-out areas. But you have to be there early since demand is greater than ever. Otherwise, there is not much to do. Sightseeing buses for the tourists are also in business.

As the city gradually recovers, labor is one of the big problems. Restaurants are extremely short-handed, as may be gathered from o-o’ing the classified ads in the Times Picayune. The port, which is already operating at 50% capacity, badly needs workers in all trades. The shipping industry faces the problem of housing the men if they succeed in recruiting them from outside the city. Some are being accommodated in mobile homes as are a number of residents whose homes were underwater.

The roof of Fair Grounds race track was badly damaged and the grounds including the track itself were flooded. Turf fans are wondering whether it will again open next Thanksgiving, the traditional opening day since the owner, Churchhill Downs, remains coy on the subject. The company bought the insolvent course in 2004 hopiing to stage racing here in the summer months when other southern tracks are idle.

A common complaint is the alleged dragging of heels by insurance companies, causing arguments and bitterness and a feeling that slow payouts are hindering reconstruction.