When Sonya Hill opens the door of her rebuilt shotgun house in the Lower 9th Ward she faces a reminder of the devastation Katrina brought. Directly across from her house is the spot where the levee broke five years ago.
It has since been rebuilt and sits higher than before the storm. It is an impressive wall of gray concrete meant to offer protection from future storms, but for Sonya Hill it is a reminder of everything that can go wrong.
“Looking at that wall, I’m thinking what if it breaks again? What if it breaks right in front of my door and I’m inside with my kids? I don’t feel safe back here if a hurricane comes through,” she says.
When Katrina hit she was living in a different part of the 9th Ward and then moved to Houston, Texas. She says affordable housing is scarce in New Orleans and staying with her aunt is her only option.
“I didn’t think I’d come back,” she says. “Then I got homesick and came home and now I’m back here, in front of the wall.”
Across town in the Lakeview neighborhood, Roy Arrigo’s rebuilt home backs up to the floodwall on the 17th Street Canal. A few houses up the block is where that floodwall gave way during the storm. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has patched the breech, but the section behind Arrigo’s house is the same concrete wall that stood as Katrina pounded the city.
“This is a fragile wall,” he says.
He has become a neighborhood advocate pushing for what he calls “accountability” at the Army Corps of Engineers.
“Five years ago we found out that we couldn’t trust what the Corps was saying about their work, we couldn’t trust their work, and since that time, no processes, no procedures have changed,” he says. “Nobody’s been fired, demoted, jailed, held accountable in any way.
“So we see the work and we’re told about all of the progress, but can we trust it? To be honest, I don’t think we can.”
In the Gentilly neighborhood, the house that Callie Brown shares with her sister Willean Brown sits across the street from the levee that holds back the London Avenue Canal. It gave way during Katrina and like the others has been rebuilt.
Callie says she is scared another storm will hit and the levees won’t hold. She hopes the efforts to rebuild the levees will prove effective should another major hurricane hit, but she remains skeptical.
“I have to give the government the benefit of the doubt that the wall’s going to hold. Well I try, but that don’t mean it’s going to work,” she says.
Her sister doesn’t worry about the levee. She puts her faith in a higher power.
“They can build the wall as high as they want to. God has the power. If he wants to tear down a building low or high … he can knock it down.”
“My faith makes me feel safe here,” she says. “You don’t have to be afraid of where you live. You have to be afraid of God.”