Basic Services Stall New Orleans Recovery
New Orleans is working hard to get back on its feet, but its inhabitants continue to be frustrated with the lack of electricity, water and other basic services.
New Orleans East resident John Brown is eager to return to his home on Honeysuckle Lane. But his duplex was heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina. The roof was peeled off, and the cost of rebuilding is estimated at $80,000. The 60-year-old divorcee says he'll come back to live on Honeysuckle, but only if most other residents of the middle-class neighborhood do the same.
There are now several homes on the street whose contents are piled at the curb, waiting to be carted. That's progress. But no one can live here yet. Water service is rare. There's no electricity for miles. And the local malls are closed.
John DeVincent, who owns Midas auto repair shops in New Orleans East and on Canal Street downtown, says he's been unable to keep his employees. "No one has returned… We even gave them a bonus to retain them after the storm, thinking that that would help retain them. But what they did, they just took the bonus and evaporated," he says.
And there are few customers to serve. "There's no one to advertise to," DeVincent says. "There's nobody at their homes. "There's no housing. It's the chicken-and-egg scenario."
You hear a lot about chickens and eggs in New Orleans nowadays. Who comes back first: The schoolchildren or the school? The doctor or the patient?
One thing is for sure: The creditors are there before the customers. "That's what we're faced with right now, massive bills and no income," DeVincent says. Still, he vows he'll do everything he can to pay off his creditors.
The local power company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, complicating the recovery.
Entergy New Orleans is working with a $200 million loan from its parent company, Entergy Corp.
The bankrupt local utility is not winning the hearts and minds of its customers. At a town meeting last week, New Orleans East homeowner Dennis Scott vented his fury, at Entergy. "When will there be power for people to come home? We can't even start rebuilding our homes until we have power…"
After it went to bankruptcy court at the end of September, the company sent home hundreds of out-of-town utility workers, so work actually slowed down. Entergy now says New Orleans East will see power restored before year's end. And, under pressure from the City Council, the company said it will double the number of workers restoring electricity.
It's also been slow going for crews fixing the New Orleans water system. Trees blown over by Katrina have ruptured water mains -- and so have cleanup crews. The Sewerage & Water Board's executive director says drinkable water is expected to be restored to New Orleans East within 25 days.
But water can add insult to injury. When service is turned back on, water floods homes where taps were left open, or where washing machines and refrigerators with icemakers were dislodged by Katrina's floods.
Crime is also a problem. One resident of Honeysuckle Lane saw two men looting a neighbor's house last week. "A lot of people are coming home and their whole house is wiped out," says New Orleans police Lt. Kim Williams.
The Police Department's Seventh District station house was flooded. So for weeks the police have been tenants in the Crystal Palace, a local wedding reception hall.
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