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Text Graphic: 'Global*Beat - The Truth About the Ninth Ward'.

by Tracy Harris-Flores

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New Orleans, LA, U SA - So many lies have been told about the Lower Ninth Ward community of New Orleans, it was as though our collective voices had been muted in favor of the propaganda and hype to take over our community. I was born and raised in the Lower Ninth Ward community of New Orleans. I have lived in other places, such as Upper Marlboro, Maryland; Carson, California; and while attending college, Grambling, Louisiana. But no matter where I've roamed, it was always the place I call home that beckoned me.

The Lower Ninth Ward has historic homes, multi-million dollar homes (the historic Riverboat homes), famous musicians (Fats Domino, Bill Sisco of The Drifters, and the gentleman who sings the theme to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Al "It's Carnival Time" Johnson.) It has generational family homes, it has The Jackson Barracks military installation, with homes on this compound that date back to the Battle of New Orleans. The Lower 9 has gorgeous trees lining its streets, some pre-dating the Civil War. The Lower 9 has a grassy levee which runs along the Mississippi River, from the Industrial Canal to the end of the Lower 9; this levee gives a panoramic view of New Orleans at night, which is not comparab le b y any other city view. The lights shimmer off the muddy river and hypnotically dance in a rainbowed arch. This single view is the most romantic in all of New Orleans, but is only seen from Reynes Street, at the River's end, from the Lower Ninth Ward.

The city government and media have done a sufficient job of painting sweeping generalizations of the Lower Ninth Ward community as the most crime-ridden, impoverished and rundown section of New Orleans and definitely not worth rebuilding. While I must agree that there were areas of the Lower Nine in dire need of repair, certainly this is not the worst area of town. We absolutely are not the most prosperous or elite neighborhood in the city of New Orleans. But unlike the erroneous national depiction which the Mayor has not even tried to correct, it is not the "seat or pocket of poverty for the whole of the city".

At almost every turn outside of the French Quarter or St. Charles Ave. there is blight, crime and poverty! I literally mean one block past St. Charles Ave. there are crack houses along Jackson Ave!!! The Times Picayune newspaper is determined to nail the final nail in our community's coffin by adding insult to injury with its articles of untruths never mentioning the parts of our community which make it wonderful and unique.

Long ago, during my college years, I wrote a paper with regard to the 196 5 flooding of Hurricane Betsy and its effects on both the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish. Yes in 1927 the flooding set the lower lying areas of our city to waste, but using archived information, I found factual articles that the Mayor of New Orleans at the time admitted that to save the New Orleans city proper, he did in fact "ok" the use of dynamite to break the Industrial Canal levee in the Lower Ninth Ward to release the water building up in the city. This measure proved unnecessary and equally catastrophic to both Lower Ninth Ward residents and St. Bernard residents.

The fall out from this was a plea from St. Bernard parish to the State of Louisiana asking that the Lower Ninth Ward community (only 2 miles by 2 miles) be ceded to St. Bernard Parish. Not because it's the most desirable area, but the theoretical view from St. Bernard parish's perspective was that if they had control of the Lower Ninth Ward community, they assumed they would have more control over the Industrial Canal, far reaching and erroneous, but indeed the theory at the time. St. Bernard wanted to prevent another Betsy catastrophe repeat. This idea was never developed past its embryonic stages, as New Orleans makes up more than 1/3 of the State of Louisiana's revenue income and therefore has more power, pull and say so.

Now, believe me, I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but it is < i>extremely interesting that roughly every 40 years a man-made disaster happens to this area during Hurricane season. 1927, 1965, 2005. The devastation you saw in the Lower Ninth Ward was not a natural disaster, but a man made one. The largest portion of damage was caused by the mysterious barge that broke through, causing a 900 foot breach in the floodwall and sent the swollen Canal water rushing into our community with surges over 18 feet in some areas. This has to be the largest Hit and Run accident in America.

The Lower Ninth Ward was never in danger of flooding from the breaches that flooded the city proper, as it is separated from the city by water. According to various newspaper and news reports, the single actual "act of God" or Nature induced breach on Tennessee St. in the Lower 9, was actually containable and small enough to be repaired rather swiftly with minimum flooding to the area, even with the non-working pump; which by the way was one of the newest in the city.

For the last several years Lower Ninth Ward residents have been embattled with the Corps of Engineers' plan to widen the Industrial Canal. Each and every home in the area received a quarterly newsletter from the bridge planners, canal engineers, etc. stating when and where the meeting s would be held to discuss different issues. The historical side of the Lower Ninth Ward, the Holy Cross area, has been very vocal in making a case for why this should not happen on their end, but the poorer side (N. Claiborne to Florida) was unable to gain any footholds (the side where the barge broke through).

I find it interesting that the tiniest of watercrafts is required to have an identification number similar to the VIN on a vehicle, on large vessels this traceable number is displayed on the side. Why was this vessel just simply floating in the Industrial Canal during an impending major hurricane which had already been forecast to be a direct hit on the city? Where did this barge come from? Who is the easily traceable owner and why isn't their information being made public??Shouldn't they be held accountable?

Also, the first breach to be repaired was the 17th Street Canal, this repair required the building of roads to gain access to the breach. Meanwhile, the Lower Ninth Ward breach caused by the barge was larger and far more easily repaired as it was navigable by the Industrial Canal. Simply move a barge with repair equipment in and start work, but this did not happen.

By the time the Corps started repairs, it was one or two days before Rita, so this effort was quickly abandoned. According to the nationally broadcast Discovery Channel show "When Levees Fail", there was no great significance to the city to facilitate immediate repairs at the Lower Ninth Ward breach, so Army Corps of Engineers made the call to repair 17th Street first. As of Saturday Oct. 29th, I'm informed the L-9 levee is still only filled with shells and gravel, nothing permanent, and the smaller breach which re-flooded parts of the Lower Ninth Ward on Oct. 24th, 2005 had never been secured, so a short rainstorm can easily re-flood this area.

I would think the Port Authority of New Orleans, the Coast Guard and perhaps the Customs Bureau would have access to information with regard to the barge. With so many who perished because of this barge, you would think lawyers are lining up to take this case, but this is not so. I have called around to inquire whether such a case would be accepted either singularly or as a class action and found no takers.

The barge owner's identity is still as much a mystery today as it was on August 29th, 2005 -- at least to the general public. By withholding this information, this would appear to make the City and the Mayor equally complicit at this point; sharing the culpability in the murder of hundreds by protecting the identity of those actually responsible.

There has to be someone willing to take a stand on this issue but knowing how politics in New Orleans works, the pursuit of legal fairness can be an elusive dream. One would think that with such a large loss of life and property and the city already claiming that it is bankrupt, it would have readily divulged this information to the public, but it hasn't.

Within 3 weeks of Katrina, most of New Orleans was dry. An estimated 300,000 homes had supposedly been checked for survivors and victims alike and the water was gone. It took another 3 weeks (Oct. 11th, 2005) to remove the water in the Lower Ninth Ward area, remember it is only 2 miles by 2 miles (5-10 thousand homes).

So these homes were left soaking in filthy flood waters for an estimated 6 weeks! After only 2 weeks of soaking in water, E-Coli begins to saturate structural beams. Now almost 9 weeks since Katrina, residents in Lakeview are able to go into their neighborhoods, clean up, assess damage, and meet at their locations with adjusters to settle claims, but Lower Ninth Ward residents are barricaded out of their community and met by M-16 toting National Guardsmen, who tell them (and their adjusters) that they must go on a bus tour of their area, but no getting off by threat of imprisonment because they claim to be doing cadaver searches.

Insurance adjusters are not able to assess property damage for this single section of the city. Claims reps are d riven by tour bus and not allowed to get out or enter residences. How are residents able to rebuild in this manner? How can a fair, accurate or proper inspection be completed by way of a drive-by photo taking session?

The Lower Ninth Ward's population is 97% black, 40-45% retired senior citizens, 38% new young families, and G21 quoted 60%, but I believe the actual number is around 70% owner-occupied dwellings. This is one of the largest sectors of owner-occupied residences in the city. There is not one housing project in this community (Florida and Desire housing projects are above the Industrial Canal), not one liquor store or pawnshop in the community. L-9 has far less crime than most other areas of the city.

Erroneous national reports call L-9 the highest in crime, which is absolutely not true. N(ew)O(rleans)P(olice)D(epartment)'s 5th District comprises Upper and Lower 9th Wards, Bywater, Marigny, parts of Gentilly and the Almonaster communities area near Carver High School. The 70117 zip code is not strictly the Lower Ninth Ward, so that data has to be plied through for separation of neighborhoods.

There are 10 houses on my block of the Lower Ninth Ward and the demographics are as such:

The next block there are hardly any changes in the demographics; nurses, mechanics, retired people, truck drivers, police officers, firefighters, teachers and so on.

There are early morning walkers, joggers and dog walkers; active community and senior centers; an assisted living facility for the older people; a very vocal and very dominant senior voting league, 4 elementary schools, one middle school and one high school. There are parks, neighborhood revitalization groups aimed at securing vacant or blighted housing and fixing them up to resell and keep ing the area family oriented.

So the vacant homes are not en masse as the media seems to imply at every turn. CNN pointed out that 40% of the populace in L-9 is unemployed, not seeking employment and has no desire to seek employment, yet all living in squalid conditions and wallowing in poverty (Oct.12th, 2005 article). For the most part, that 40% is the retired populace.

My grandmother is 83, owns an acre of land with a large home in the middle of it. She has a nice little savings account, lives alone, walks 2 miles a day, is an avid gardener and travels extensively. She is not infirm mentally or physically. She is part of the E.J. Morris Senior Citizen Center, ACT and ACORN. She has no mortgage -- all paid for thanks to my late grandfather's 40 years of labor on the waterfronts of New Orleans.

She receives my grandfather's pension from ILA Local 3000 as well as Social Security and Medicare, which total $1000.00 per month. Technically, she is indeed below the poverty line in America. Reality, she only spends 250.00 a month on living expenses, food, utilities, cable and meds. That means she is saving/pocketing 75% of her monthly income. I don't know about you but I don't get to keep 75% of my monthly income -- and hers is tax-free!

She is very representative of what the retired population in the Lower Ninth Ward is all about. Retired teachers, retired mail carriers, retired longshoremen, retired nurses and retired service industry workers all completely content to enjoy their remaining lives as they so choose.

I think city government is blind to the fact that more people than they choose to believe are not stuck in this area, but actually choose to reside here because of the great family atmosphere which ceases to exist in more urban settings. There is a closeness among these people that is simply missing in today's society. They and other residents simply want the same opportunity as everyone else in the city, to either dig through the rubble of their lives hoping to find some semblance of familiarity and add closure to what has happened to them so they may move on elsewhere or roll up their sleeves and start rebuilding their lives right there. Residents are angry because they are frustrated to accomplish even that much.

I don't know if you are aware of the "new" story (Oct. 23, 2005 L.A. Times article by Scott Gold), but the city is trying to use an archaic law called "usufruct", (the legal right to use and enjoy the advantages or profits of another's property) to take over Lower Ninth Ward residents' homes.

This law in essence allows the government to come in and repair homes and then lease them out t o rebuilding workers and city employees. The lease money is used to continue making mortgage payments at the lower amount, but now you have a home worth well over their original assessed amount. Once the occupancy has expired for the workers, the owner has the option to pay the government back for the renovations -- usually at such a higher price that the residents end up losing their property or selling with the government taking the lion's share!!!

Mayor Nagin claims that this is the only option to prevent mass blight, but this is not so. Mtumishi St. Julien, a housing adviser to Mayor C. Ray Nagin, and the executive director of the Finance Authority, one of the primary local agencies that administer government housing programs is quoted as saying: ''We have a lot of people who, through no fault of their own, do not have the capability to come home and fix up their property. So our greatest challenge in redeveloping is acquiring the land to rebuild."

Meanwhile his boss (Nagin), suggests rebuilding options for our community that translate into expropriation of our homes. He's made suggestions of turning the land into a city dump, a swamp land, landfill, Disneyland with cocktails, high end condominiums, a large casino and resort area just to name a few.



The kick ass part of this lie in the "Great New Orleans Land Grab" game is that FEMA has already co ntacted many Lower Ninth Ward residents to inform them that trailers are ready to be placed on their property while they rebuild their own homes, but the city will not allow the residents in.

Once again the Lower Ninth Ward population finds itself without a voice in the face of an onslaught of misconceptions being lobbed at their community en masse, this time nationally and no local politician is saying otherwise. FEMA and SBA are offering low 1-3% interest loans or possibly complete grants for repairs on property not to mention insurance settlements that should pay off first mortgages and allow for second mortgages to renovate.

Also, FEMA has a grant program (Hazard Mitigation Grant Program for the raising and repairing of flood-prone or flooded homes) for residents that will cover up to 90% of the cost to raise homes above flood levels, so once again what is the problem? The mayor's refusal to work with Lower Ninth Ward residents who are urging recovery efforts in our community is despicable.

Mayor Nagin has said the future of the Lower Ninth Ward community is uncertain at this time due to the devastation, but he is the reason progress has come to a standstill.

By his order, rebuilding efforts cease where the Upper Ninth Ward ends. Other comm unities are getting power daily, even some St. Bernard parish areas, and they were wiped off the face of the map!

Miami, FL was able to restore power to almost 4 million of the 6 million residents in under a week after Hurricane Wilma battered them to a pulp. But the 6 electric grids that control the Lower Ninth Ward can't be restored in more than 2 months? 2 miles by 2 miles? Lower 9 is only 7 minutes drive from the French Quarter, but 1 - 2 hours from the Gulf of Mexico, yet we are continually treated like the step-children of the city; we are just not a priority to the city so our concerns go unanswered.

That runaway barge may have robbed this community of its people, families, homes, and neighborhoods, but it's the City of New Orleans that is charged with trying to rob us of our dignity as human beings. The city will not allow water restoration, electricity restoration, clean up crews, and without any of these, there is no rebuilding for us.






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