Sunday, November 20, 2005

New Orleans Today: It's Worse Than You Think (Time)

Neighborhoods are still dark, garbage piles up on the street, and bodies are still being found. The city's pain is a nation's shame


On Bourbon Street in the French Quarter, the neon lights are flashing, the booze is flowing, and the demon demolition men of Hurricane Katrina are ogling a showgirl performing in a thong. The Bourbon House is shucking local oysters again, Daiquiri's is churning out its signature alcoholic slushies, and Mardi Gras masks are once again on sale. But drive north toward the hurricane-ravaged housing subdivisions off Lake Pontchartrain and the masks you see aren't made for Carnival. They are industrial-strength respirators, stark and white, the only things capable of stopping a stench that turns the stomach and dredges up bad memories of a night nearly three months ago. Most disasters come and go in a neat arc of calamity, followed by anger at the slow response, then cleanup. But Katrina cut a historic deadly swath across the South, and rebuilding can't start until the cleanup is done. In much of New Orleans, the leafy coverage of live oaks is gone. Lingering in the sky instead is a fine grit that tastes metallic to the tongue. Everyone's life story is out on the curb, soaked and stinky—furniture and clothing, dishes and rotting drywall, even formerly fabulous antiques. Dump trucks come periodically to remove the piles, taking some to a former city park, now a heap of rubbish several football fields long, towering above the head. The smell is sweet, horrific.