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.
âLooking at that wall, Iâm thinking what if it breaks again? What if it breaks right in front of my door and Iâm inside with my kids? I donât feel safe back here if a hurricane comes through,â 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.
âI didnât think Iâd come back,â she says. âThen I got homesick and came home and now Iâm back here, in front of the wall.â
Across town in the Lakeview neighborhood, Roy Arrigoâs 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 Arrigoâs house is the same concrete wall that stood as Katrina pounded the city.
âThis is a fragile wall,â he says.
He has become a neighborhood advocate pushing for what he calls âaccountabilityâ at the Army Corps of Engineers.
âFive years ago we found out that we couldnât trust what the Corps was saying about their work, we couldnât trust their work, and since that time, no processes, no procedures have changed,â he says. âNobodyâs been fired, demoted, jailed, held accountable in any way.
âSo we see the work and weâre told about all of the progress, but can we trust it? To be honest, I donât think we can.â
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 wonât hold. She hopes the efforts to rebuild the levees will prove effective should another major hurricane hit, but she remains skeptical.
âI have to give the government the benefit of the doubt that the wallâs going to hold. Well I try, but that donât mean itâs going to work,â she says.
Her sister doesnât worry about the levee. She puts her faith in a higher power.
âThey 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 âŚ he can knock it down.â
âMy faith makes me feel safe here,â she says. âYou donât have to be afraid of where you live. You have to be afraid of God.â