NEW ORLEANS – A husband and wife who waited three months to see what Hurricane Katrina did to their neighborhood finally returned Thursday to find their blue, wood-frame house sitting in the front yard, three feet off its foundation.
Louis Phillips and Donna Williams were among those allowed access to the Lower Ninth Ward for the first time since Katrina struck Aug. 29. It was the last section the city to reopen, because of the maze of destruction wrought by the storm and floods after the London Avenue Canal levee breach.
Residents were allowed in for the day to collect what belongings they could before leaving. Until now, people had been able to view the destruction only on bus tours.
A long line of cars waited to pass a checkpoint at a school where the Red Cross was handing out water and snacks and providing mental health counselors to those who wanted them. Police officers and firefighters warned those entering that there was still dangerous debris and buildings on the verge of collapse.
Williams first tried to enter a house next door that the couple had been renovating, but she stopped at the front door.
"There's a lot of debris and dirt and nails on the floor," she said, fighting back tears.
Phillips tore the door off the other residence, entered and began tossing out clothes still in plastic dry cleaning bags, along with bits of furniture destroyed by floodwaters.
"Don't throw them out here," Williams said to her husband. "I don't want to look at them."
Frank Wingate, who had returned to inspect his mother's property, found her refrigerator balanced on the edge of a rooftop where it had floated during the flood. It was held partially in place by some of the few power lines that had not snapped during the storm.
"I don't think you're ever prepared," said Greg Pigford, a Salvation Army chaplain who accompanied some of the returning residents. "You can see it on TV, but when you see it for the first time up close, what was your home, it's a jolt."
The Lower Ninth Ward, one of the city's poorest sections, is part of the 40 percent of the city still without power, three months after Katrina hit. Thousands of residences were destroyed in the area, in the eastern New Orleans section and in the upper-income Lakeview section.
At one intersection, the twisted remains of a yellow wood-frame house sat on the front lawn of Antonia Jackson, whose family owns several houses in the area.
"It's from somewhere down the road," Jackson said.