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Flight to Freedom reaches New Orleans

by Amy Troy

Posted on April 3, 2007 at 10:08 AM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:39 PM

By Amy Troy

I can't get their faces out of my mind, can't believe their dedication.

They're grandparents like Charlie and Margaret who are living with seven family members in their FEMA trailer next to their home in the Lower Ninth Ward. It's been nearly two years since the floodwaters literally jolted them out of bed. Charlie is disabled and couldn't swim so he and three family members climbed into the attic and waited for a boat.

He calls the first responders who plucked him from his roof "angels."

His family fled to Mississippi, came back in June of 2006. They've been paying on the mortgage the whole time, yet their home is inhabitable. They have this undying "Get 'Er Done" attitude. It's been nearly two years since Hurricane Katrina, yet the insurance company won't pay so the family has hired an attorney. They won't have money to rebuild the home until the insurance money comes through, so they're recycling building materials. They're grateful kitchen cabinets and historic tile will stay. Their home looks amazing considering it was under seven feet of water for weeks. They're hopeful they'll be able to live in it again one day.

Charlie and Margaret are among about 800 families who have moved back to the Lower Ninth Ward. It used to have a population of nearly 19,000.

The scars left by the flooding are overwhelming. Much of the vast neighborhood is a meadow of weeds, broken foundations. Electricity was restored to Charlie's area of the Lower Ninth Ward in January of 2007. JFK Jr. School will finally open in August - a full two years after Hurricane Katrina.

Members of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association tell me it's been 20 months, and the place looks 100 percent better, but it will take 20 years of work before their community will be back to pre-Katrina standards.

They're grateful to see Oregonians here volunteering to help clean up and rebuild. They want to see more Oregonians and more people from all over the country here to help. The job is simply too big for Charlie and Margaret and their neighbors. They need support from people with strong shoulders, and support from Lawmakers with political weight in Washington.

Want to help? Call the "Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement & Development." It's a community center opened with seed money from Mercy Corps. Someone at this center will be happy to hear from you. Call (504) 324-9955, or email

In the meantime, Charlie shows off his long-stemmed rose bush. It's come back after the floods and it's now eight feet tall. In all this destruction he says he still gives a rose to his wife every morning.