I cruised the Lower Ninth in my rented Ford, first time back since Katrina. Everything was gone.
When I found it at last, Jeffus sat high on his porch sipping julep from his big tin cup. House looked much the same, though the boards was new and the paint fresher. “How was your house spared so?” I asked.
He cackled up. “Child, this ain’t the same house. This here the Rodney’s place from down the street, there on the corner. My old house got knocked atumble and floated off. This here one stayed upright and floated close, so we jacked her up onto the footings and set to fixing her. Took nigh three years, but we got her done.”
“What the Rodneys say?”
Jeffus took a long swallow, then gave me his squint. “All them Rodneys is gone. Kilt or lost, but not a one of them ever come back here.”
In the 2000 U.S. census, 98 percent of Lower 9th Ward residents identified themselves as black, and of those, a little over half lived in households that earned $19,999 or less per year. It was a place rich in culture and heritage, home to musicians and artists who often inherited the small four-square houses from relatives. The Lower Ninth was a place apart, cut off from the city proper by a shipping channel.
During Hurricane Katrina, the Industrial Canal’s flood walls gave way and water surged through the neighborhood and pushed hundreds of houses off their foundations. Water up to 12 feet deep stood in some areas for weeks. It was the last neighborhood to have power and water service restored, and the last to be pumped dry.
Today, there’s a feeling of desolation on nearly every block of the predominantly African-American neighborhood. Block after block of empty lots, jagged foundations and tangled brush where there had once been one of the great Amercian neighborhoods. Less than 37% of its residents had returned a decade later.