In New Orleans, empty and fulfilled
NEW ORLEANS -The way you attack one of the thousands of flood-wracked New Orleans houses still untouched since Hurricane Katrina is to open all the doors and windows. Then you rip out the screens and wrench out the interior doors hanging crazily ajar in the ghastly hallways.You want to get as much air moving through there as possible, and also let in light, because by this time you’re usually up to your knees in leaking, mold-covered debris, often still soggy 11 months after the storm, and God only knows what you’ll uncover there in the rank and reeking darkness. The occasional rat isn’t really a problem, nor are the cellphone-size roaches or the spiders as big as your face mask. And though they’re still finding bodies here, that’s rare and less disturbing than you might think.What’s really unnerving are those acrid objects you’re standing among – slimy, plastic-wrapped bundles of bed linens and Christmas decorations and rotting rhinestone shoes; powdery photo albums with peeling pictures of parents and grandchildren; anniversary mementos, rosaries, china figurines and hemorrhoid medication: all the heartbreaking and very private detritus of somebody’s shattered life. You’re eerily reminded constantly that it’s none of your business. But if you’re gutting houses in New Orleans, it becomes not only your business, but your daily life.You feel like a mortician washing a corpse. You try to do it with both efficiency and respect.Gutting a Katrina house – which costs at least $6,000 if you have to pay for it – is the first step toward rebuilding it. Homeowners who haven’t taken that first step by Aug. 29, the hurricane’s looming first anniversary, face the prospect that the city may order their flood-damaged house bulldozed. A city can afford to look like a war zone for only so long, and xx
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