August 27th, 2010
08:55 AM ET

In the shadow of the levees

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.”

Learn more about how the levees work

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.”

soundoff (166 Responses)
  1. Jae

    I am sick of hearing this crap about the people of New Orleans not having enough time to get away before Katrina. Hell, the people in Texas knew a week before it hit that Louisiana was going to get hit. Is anyone thinking of the people from the nursing home that died due to ignorance on the city's part? Futhermore, the people that went back didn't have any problems living in Houston and jamming up Texas help when it was all said in done, so they could have relocated instead of moving back in front of the levee's!

    August 29, 2010 at 1:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Eric

      well Jay, were you there? did you live there? I was/did. I was on a grad-student income, living like the rest of the poor folk. If we didn't own a car, there was no way out. No bus. None. Zip. Nada. well, maybe I could of walked a couple-hundred miles in that heat, with my belongings. I had no choice but to go to that death-trap stadium, but was turned away cuz I had my dogs. and I saw Bush's jet fly over, and waited, and waited, and waited... but his help never came. and he made Brownie into a convenient fall guy. At least our guv and mayor TRIED.
      Ya don't like us, then tell all the drunk white, frat-boy types from north of us that come time for Mardi to stay home, we don't want them. Nor you.

      August 29, 2010 at 10:15 am | Report abuse |
  2. Dave

    typical picture. no husband a bunch of kids and no education.

    August 29, 2010 at 7:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Eric

      Gee Davey, you know that for a fact? She said that on the news interview? all I heard was her stating was that she couldn't afford to live anywhere else, so she was staying with her aunt. Ever try to support three kids on a full-time job of ANY salary? Maybe her husband's in Afghanistan or Iraq, cuz most military families are in pretty bad shape since Dubya cut their benefits. You're certain her husband isn't there? and you're certain she had the opportunity to go to a safe school, with food, and she turned it down?
      And you're certain if she was a hot, blond, blue-eyed, white babe you'd make the same accusations ?
      If you listen to your own words, you sure sound like a narrow-minded, ignorant bigot. could you be?

      August 29, 2010 at 10:02 am | Report abuse |
  3. JohnDorian

    Hurricane Katrina Survivor,

    Our heartfelt sympathies DO go out to you and the people of NO who had to suffer through such a tragedy. I don't think there's any one of us, even the seemingly heartless ones on this board, who don't acknowledge your pain.

    If you had adequate insurance, both for your home and your vehicle, and you have been left to suffer, with your house rebuilt and your vehicle(s) replaced, the people with even the least amount of compassion on this board hear you. With no job near your home after the insurance money ran out, it would be difficult for any of us to persevere, especially coming into a ruined economy that the Bush legacy left us. (Who voted for him, twice even? WTH?!?!? Do you know why there were so many "tragedies" during his failed administration? But, I digress...)

    We're just agast at listening to the people say they don't feel safe near a levy wall that BEGINS 8 feet above their house's foundation, especially during the next hurricane. We don't understand how people can blame the government for something that's beyond its control. People rely on the government too much, and don't make enough preparations for themselves. The government is here to protect us, yes, but not for unreasonable expectations, like preventing Mother Nature from dishing out her wrath on a city that, by all rights, should be mostly covered in water. All we're saying is know the risks, and make adequate preparations for yourself before the inevitable disaster hits.

    We, as a nation, are truly sorry for the hardship you have suffered, especially if you were prepared for such a disaster, and still can not find solice.

    I just hope the people of Manhatten are prepared when (not if) a hurricane comes up in there, and pushes the ocean into it's own bowl.

    Again, meds wearing off, rambling, need to go take the next dosage.


    August 29, 2010 at 10:36 am | Report abuse |
  4. josh

    They don't have smile because they want more money. You give them more, they still don't have smile, because they want even more. If you ask them why they want to live below sea level, they said: "get money without having to work, hope hurricans keep coming, than free money keeps coming."

    August 29, 2010 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  5. SHS

    Their should be a law against living below sea level ? NO WAY IN HELL WOULD I LIVE BELOW SEA LEVEL. just feet away from earth dam. Its just a mater of time before it happens again. These people have no common sense. The city should make them sign paper they live in a DANGER ZONE not fit for living people or animals. What happen to personal reasonability

    August 29, 2010 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
  6. VJ

    I've been reading and reading till I think I can't read anymore...Have any of you skeptical's ever went and visited NO ward's section? No, you're right they shouldn't have built these low priced, low budget homes that close to the levees knowing that eventually one day they will give. Its not so much about common sense its about what you can afford. Alot of these people were under the scale of poverty so packing up and leaving was NOT an option. Moving to a better neighborhood was NOT an option. These houses have been passed down from generation to generation. I didn't have any family that lived in the wards but were fortunate to live in a decent, middle class neighborhood but they were hit as well and when they went to their insurance companies after all of this mess to rebuild they got played! "The insurance companies closed up, some of them came up with some kind of rule or whateva its called to NOT honor folks insurance policies!!! So tell me how do you rebuild from that?? How do you pack up and move when the insurance company that you paid all of this money to does not honor you're insurance policy AFTER a disaster has hit???

    Alot of people didnt chose to live in the wards but you go where its affordable. Hell alot of us move to places that we consider affordable some of them are not the greatest neighborhoods but we make do until we do can do better.. Some of us end up staying and years go by without you even knowing that time flew by as fast as it did...So before you start complaining about the less fortunate or the lesser fortunate or even the middle class people that were cheated out of getting the help..try THINKING about the other side before commenting the cruel things most of you people are saying. Sounds like alot of you don't care and maybe you don't thats fine and everyone has their own opinion about things but I lost family post hurricane Katrina and they weren't part of the lesser fortunate but was duked outta all the money they put into the insurance companies.

    September 12, 2010 at 12:33 am | Report abuse |
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