September 27, 2005

Residents return to oil-caked New Orleans suburb

By Andy Sullivan

CHALMETTE, Louisiana (Reuters) - Robert Jorns caught the
first glimpse of his home in St. Bernard Parish since Hurricane
Katrina struck a month ago, and promptly announced that it
could be one of his last.

"Just make me a fair offer, and I'm gone," the retired
70-year-old construction worker said on Monday as his
sons-in-law pulled the plywood off the windows of his brick

Thick mud had cracked and dried on his driveway, and a
neighbor's refrigerator sat on his lawn. Inside, his own fridge
lay toppled on the wrong side of the dining room. A brown line
about six feet high showed how high the floodwaters had filled

Some parts of the working-class area remained under water,
but life returned to the devastated New Orleans suburb as
residents were allowed back in to check on their homes for the
first time since the killer storm arrived on August 29.

Parish authorities set a curfew of 6 p.m. and warned that
services remained spotty, but many of those returning found
they couldn't stay in their homes even if they wanted to.

Some said they would rip out the moldy walls of their brick
bungalows and start over. Others, like Jorns, said they would
take what insurance money -- and memories -- they could get and
move to higher ground.

Jorns said he hoped to retrieve his computer hard drive,
which held seven years' work on his genealogical



Wedged between the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico,
St. Bernard Parish took heavy losses from Hurricanes Katrina
and Rita, and it remained to be seen how much of the area would
be declared a total loss.

Cleanup crews had spread sand to soak up oil that spilled
onto a main street from a local refinery, but oil still caked
the floor of Billy Fletschinger's mobile home, one of few in a
nearby trailer park not twisted beyond recognition.

Fletschinger, 44, pulled out his son's bicycle and a soggy
photograph of his daughter posing with Santa Claus.

He said there was one thing he had not lost in the flood -
his sobriety, hard won after a lifetime struggling with drug
and alcohol addiction.

"I seen the light. I'm not going back to that," he said.

"Billy was getting out of his rut. He saved his money and
bought the trailer but he was not able to afford any insurance.
This was everything he owned right here," said his friend Ethel
Kidd, 61, who waited nearby with a U-Haul truck.

Several blocks away, neighbors Rhonda Parajes, 46, and Ray
Fernandez, 38, drank cans of beer at 10:30 in the morning as
the stench of spoiled food filled the air.

Parajes, who worked at a Honda dealership, said the house
she grew up in was completely ruined - even the cast-iron pot
that her father used to cook gumbo.

"Bulldoze it. I'd like to be able to climb into my
feathered bed right now, but this house needs a total
overhaul," she said.

Fernandez, a mechanic, said he wouldn't give up. He said he
plans to clean his house, mow his lawn, and throw a barbecue
and crawfish boil for all his neighbors once they return.

"Everybody's displaced, all your friends you've been
knowing since grammar school," he said. "You've got families
spread all across the Southeast. If everybody gives up, you're
giving up on your friends and family."