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After Tornado, Families In New Orleans Begin Rebuilding Once Again

On Tuesday, a tornado tore through New Orleans East, causing destruction to a neighborhood hit hard by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Gerald Herbert
On Tuesday, a tornado tore through New Orleans East, causing destruction to a neighborhood hit hard by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

In New Orleans, hundreds of families are trying to put their lives back together after a tornado touched down in New Orleans East on Tuesday.

It tore up homes and businesses in a predominantly black neighborhood that was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina. People like Aretha Conley are hoping it will be easier to rebuild this time around.

Conley and her husband saved for years to buy their house on Read Boulevard. They each worked two jobs and took out loans.

Conley's favorite place in her small, single-story home is the backyard.

"I love to barbecue," she says. "I love to give parties."

But now, her backyard is decimated. Tuesday's tornado smashed down her fence, and pieces of her neighbor's house are stuck in a tree. Half of her roof is gone, and the windows are busted out.

She's just thankful no one died.

As cleanup workers drive loaders through the street, scooping up debris and fallen trees, Conley takes stock of the damage.

"Got up Tuesday, bring my granddaughter to school, going to work, thinking everything's going to be OK," she says. "And come home to this."

When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Conley's house took four feet of water. But she and her husband fixed it up and stayed put.

They loved the neighborhood. There are a lot of people like her here; it's about 95 percent black.

And that's something State Sen. Wesley Bishop is proud of. He was at an emergency shelter where victims were sleeping on cots and picking up hot meals, water and cleaning supplies.

"Basically our black middle-class, you'll find a lot of folks concentrated in New Orleans East," he says. "Mostly homeowners and things along those lines, who've just worked extremely hard."

But life changed after Hurricane Katrina. Many people moved away and never returned. And many businesses in this part of town never reopened.

That makes life difficult for people like Conley.

"Like, the weekend when I want to go out to eat — me and my husband — we have to travel so far to go to eat because there's nothing out here," she says.

There's a Wal-Mart and some strip malls but not much else. And Bishop resents that.

"People shouldn't have to go outside of this area to try to get the basic goods and services that they need," he says.

He's worried after this recent tornado because he says his district didn't get enough help from the government following Katrina.

They got a few nice things, like help rebuilding schools and a big, beautiful sports and recreation facility. But the facility has been put to use as an emergency relief center, overflowing now with displaced families.

Conley is staying with her daughter for now. They're hoping it will be declared a federal disaster.

"I hope it's better this time," Conley said. "I hope it's real better."

And she hopes this time, it's different. This time, she hopes New Orleans East gets the long-term help it needs.

Copyright 2017 WWNO - New Orleans Public Radio

Tegan has reported on the coast for WWNO since 2015. In this role she has covered a wide range of issues and subjects related to coastal land loss, coastal restoration, and the culture and economy of Louisiana’s coastal zone, with a focus on solutions and the human dimensions of climate change. Her reporting has been aired nationally on Planet Money, Reveal, All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Marketplace, BBC, CBC and other outlets. She’s a recipient of the Pulitzer Connected Coastlines grant, CUNY Resilience Fellowship, Metcalf Fellowship, and countless national and regional awards.

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