The Old Man and the Storm

The compelling saga of one family's efforts to rebuild their homes, and their lives, in post-Katrina New Orleans.

AIRED: January 06, 2009 | 0:56:29


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Additional funding for this program is provided by

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And by the Twenty-First Century Foundation,

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and the Katrina Media Fellowships

of the Open Society Institute.

>> NARRATOR: Tonight on Frontine...

>> My whole family's scattered.

I miss the kid; I miss the grandchildren.

>> NARRATOR: ...the story of a man and his family...

>> I want my wife to come back home.

She wants to be here.

>> NARRATOR: ...who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina.

>> Grandma, you don't have no house to go to.

It's water from... from the floor to the ceiling.

>> NARRATOR: But they came home determined to rebuild.

>> I ain't going no place, man.

I'm going to stay right here. This is it.

This is my home, and this is where I'll be.

>> CROSS: When I came to New Orleans

six months after the hurricanes...

>> NARRATOR: Correspondent June Cross tracks the struggles

of one New Orleans family in the face of political turmoil...

>> This damn government don't give a damn about poor people!

>> NARRATOR: ...frustrated by bureaucratic inertia...

>> They're dragging.

They dragged so long, man.

It's a... it's hell.

>> NARRATOR: ...and broken promises.

>> We will do what it takes; we will stay as long as it takes.

>> I guess I would have to be at the White House

in some of these damn meetings to find out what's wrong,

why the people don't get the money.

>> NARRATOR: Tonight, the moving saga

of "The Old Man and the Storm."

>> CROSS: In the Ninth Ward of New Orleans,

time stopped on the morning of August 29, 2005.

Since the levees broke, the Alfred E. Lawless High School

has lain in ruins-- its children scattered so far

no one even knows where they all are anymore.

You could fill this building

with all of the studies done since Hurricane Katrina.

You could read them all and still not comprehend

what it means when 500,000 families are displaced.

What it means to lose 200,000 homes, 220,000 jobs,

600 congregations.

You wouldn't understand what it means

to lose even one neighborhood.

When I came to New Orleans six months after the hurricanes,

the devastation was overwhelming.

The storm surge had pushed everything before it

like a wall.

Belongings had floated with the currents.

Then, just four blocks from the levee in the Lower Ninth Ward,

I saw one house still standing,

and in the yard, one solitary old man.

>> Why am I back here?

Man, I'm back here trying to clean my place up.

I'm back here because this is where I'm going to be

if nothing else happens.

I'm going to be here till they pull me out of here.

I ain't about to leave.

It took me too long

and I worked too hard to build what I had here

to just pick up and leave like that.

I ain't about to.

I ain't about to leave.

>> CROSS: His name was Herbert Gettridge.

He was 82 years old when we first met,

and he'd built this house for his family

more than 50 years ago.

>> Well, I'll be damned.

>> CROSS: Occasionally, he found a photograph, its colors fading,

as though the water had tried to erase history itself.

>> My whole family's scattered.

Everybody's in different places.

Nine head of kids-- seven living, I'm sorry about that.

Seven of my kids living and they all in different places

and I got some grandchildren, 42, 43, 44 years old.

They all scattered.

And the great-grand-children,

60 or 70 of them and they all...

ain't nobody in the same places with their mother and their dad.

Everybody's gone.

This is what this storm did to us.

So let's face it, you just got to own up to it.

There ain't nothing you can do about it-- not a thing.

>> This hurricane has the potential to strengthen

even more than it already has, and that's something.

>> CROSS: Nearly 300 members of Mr. Gettridge's extended family

had been scattered across the country by the storm.

They were part of a diaspora one million strong.

>> We were in Baton Rouge, we were in Shreveport, Houston,

Tennessee, Ponchatoula, Atlanta, Austin, far away as Wisconsin,

we were scattered all over.

You're talking about a close-knit family

where we all lived five to ten minutes from each other.

>> CROSS: Mr. Gettridge and his wife, Lydia,

ended up in Madison, Wisconsin, with their daughter Cheryl.

>> There were still those we hadn't heard from,

and you wondered, you know, "God, are they okay?"

And the more he looked at it, the sicker you became.

>> CROSS: Mr. Gettridge was glued to the television,

trying to find his house in the fly-overs.

>> He was out of his mind,

worried about when he was going to be able to get back

to the house.

>> CROSS: When a second hurricane, Rita,

hit the Gulf Coast in late September,

it sent another storm surge over the levees.

The family tried to hide the reality of the destruction

from Mrs. Gettridge.

>> My grandma is 84, and she kind of was, like, confused

for a while.

She kept saying, "I'm ready to go."

One day I just said,

"Grandma you don't have no house to go to."

She kept saying, "I'm ready to go."

I said, "You don't have nothing to go to.

It's water, from... from the floor to the ceiling."

>> CROSS: The water stayed put until mid-October.

After the Army Corps of Engineers pumped it all out,

Cyntrelle and her aunt Gale

snuck back into the Lower Ninth Ward.

The house and everything in it had simmered in flood water

for weeks.

What water hadn't destroyed, mold had overgrown.

>> It was a dream, and I was waiting to wake up.

This was the living room.

This was the blue room.

And to be in there in the mud,

and the refrigerator is across the hallway.

It floated all the way from the kitchen

and it's in the middle of the hallway now.

I thought I was dreaming.

I thought I was dreaming.

And it was hard.

When my aunt wasn't looking, I cried.

>> CROSS: But New Orleans is a city where despair gives way

to celebration.

And so it trumpeted the first Mardi Gras after Katrina

as a triumph over adversity.

Leading the parade was Mayor Ray Nagin.

He pretended to be Army General Russell Honore,

who had saved the city after the levees broke.

The tourism industry pretended that the city had come back

from the dead.

The next day-- as the debris from Mardi Gras

lay on top of the debris from Katrina--

was when I'd first met Mr. Gettridge.

>> I got to go in the attic and take out three bags--

three bags of asbestos.

>> CROSS: He'd left his wife Lydia in Wisconsin

and moved back to the family home.

He was living without electricity, drinkable water

or even a bed in an area most city officials had written off

as uninhabitable.

>> I don't need no electricity.

My grandfather was a Choctaw Indian man.

I can make it with a flashlight.

We got water-- I got water.

That's all I need.

And if I didn't have water, guess what?

When it'd rain, I'd catch what I can.

And when I couldn't catch, I'd do without.

But... I'm making it.

I ain't going no place, man.

I'ma stay right here.

This is it-- this is my home, and this is where I'll be.

>> CROSS: Meanwhile, an intense political battle brewed

over how New Orleans would be rebuilt.

>> Did any of these local politicians do anything for you?

>> No!

>> Have they done anything for you?

>> Hell, no!

>> CROSS: Suspicions were rampant

that the city might use the evacuation as an excuse

for a land grab.

>> This damn government don't give a damn about poor people,

and especially don't give a damn about black people.

>> CROSS: Those suspicions were heightened

when Mayor Nagin appointed

a group of high-powered businessmen

to his "Bring New Orleans Back" commission.

>> Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you, Mr. Mayor...

>> CROSS: One of the mayor's supporters,

developer Joe Canizarro, made it clear

that the rebuilt city would have fewer poor people.

>> We're going to make doggone sure

that our African-American population is as strong as ever.

But I will tell you, we will not have as many poor people.

There's no question-- I've talked to a lot of them.

They're better where they are.

They want to stay where they are because they have a better life.

Bear in mind that as we went into this storm,

we had a lot of crime in our community.

We were having a lot of difficulties

that we were trying to deal with.

>> CROSS: The commission's job was to recommend

a rebuilding plan for New Orleans.

Their draft report suggested

turning the most devastated areas of the city

into green space.

>> This is a process...

>> CROSS: No one was happy with that proposed plan.

>> None of us want to be in this particular place.

>> CROSS: Especially not the residents of the Ninth Ward.

They focused their anger on Joe Canizarro.

>> Mr. Joe Canizarro, I don't know you, but I hate you.


I hate you, because you been in the background

trying to scheme and get our land!

Just like that lady say, I'm going to die on mine.


>> CROSS: Pressured from all sides,

Nagin shelved the commission's report.

>> From what I can understand,

they wanted this section down here for casinos,

gambling places, golf courses.

That's what they want to put back in here.

Now I don't know how true that is,

but some people say it was in the newspaper.

I didn't see it.

But if that's what they want-- if everybody's like me--

they got a tough struggle to get it,

because I'm ain't turning this one loose.

>> CROSS: Soon after I met him,

Mr. Gettridge began attracting wider media attention--

first in the pages and on the website

of the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

>> Herbert Gettridge is an old, retired merchant seaman

who one or another of the reporters discovered down there

banging together his house in a world of absolute ruin.

He's become kind of a poster child for Lower Ninth Ward--

struggle, perseverance, resilience.

>> How's the rebuilding going?

>> It's going pretty fast...

>> CROSS: In time, CNN would find him, too,

and Billy Crystal with HBO's Comic Relief.

>> I tell you what, after we do Comic Relief,

I'll come back and we'll paint it together.

>> That would be all right.

That would be fine.

>> CROSS: To each of them, he expressed one goal:

He wanted to fix his house so he could bring home Lydia,

his wife of over 65 years.

>> When you talk to Lydia, do you talk to her on the phone?

She's in Wisconsin?

>> I talk to her every other day and that's her main question--

"How long is it going to be?"

>> CROSS: But I would discover there was much more

to Mr. Gettridge's story--

that he was a fifth-generation New Orleanian;

that his house sat on land

his ancestors had once worked as slaves.

That he was part of a special group of craftsmen who built

and maintained New Orleans' distinctive architecture.

>> The slaves were the first black people to learn

these different crafts, and they didn't only learn plaster.

They learned everything.

>> CROSS: He quit school when he was ten years old,

during the Depression,

and began his career mixing mortar for a neighbor.

That was his introduction to the elite Plasterers' Union.

>> The plasters were all Creole-type of people--

light complexion, your complexion and lighter--

some of them looking like real Caucasians.

So for that reason, we couldn't get to be a plasterer

or a bricklayer, because it was all those Creole people

and they didn't take just any and everybody in there.

And that's... that's what I had to fight.

And did I fight it.

>> CROSS: Along with his brother,

Herbert Gettridge broke the color line in the union.

Among his peers he became known as "The Wizard."

The owner of this house says he watched in awe

as Mr. Gettridge improvised these designs.

>> I don't think there's another house in the city

where the design on the front door,

in and out, it's the same way.

Plus, those columns it's got there--

I never did another one like that in the city of New Orleans.

And I've never seen one.

>> CROSS: Mr. Gettridge had built his own home

on a lot in the Lower Ninth Ward

that he bought for $2,500 in 1952.

He bought the house next door for $30,000.

He paid $10,000 cash for this house that he renovated

with his signature plasterwork.

It's a house designated a historic landmark in the city.

All three homes suffered major damage in the storm.

Mr. Gettridge had two different insurance policies.

Homeowners hazard insurance had covered wind damage.

His flood insurance policy was underwritten

by the federal government.

>> Don't ask me nothing about insurance.

>> CROSS: Okay, what would you say if I asked you?

>> Insurance people, I don't think was...

flood insurance was decent about paying off, but homeowners--

any insurance you went to, they wanted to show you the place

where your damage wasn't from the wind,

it was from the water, this that and the other.

So I can't say much for the homeowners insurance.

They paid a little something, but sticking to the policies,

they didn't do that.

>> CROSS: The flood insurance paid off within two months.

Mr. Gettridge received $97,000

for a three bedroom, one-bath home

valued before the flood at $125,000.

The other two houses had no insurance,

so for them he received nothing at all.

Without adequate insurance, charity was the solution

of last resort for those like Mr. Gettridge.

More than a million volunteers have flocked to the Gulf Coast

to help rebuild after Katrina.

>> I had people like the Baptist laymen

out of Kansas City, Kansas,

and there's a church in Philadelphia called Enoch.

I had the people from Georgia from a Baptist church.

And who else?

Common Ground, they helped me.

The city hadn't did anything for me putting this all back.

The state government hadn't did anything,

and the feds hadn't did anything.

Nothing federal happened here.


>> CROSS: But the federal government had promised

to do a lot.

After the storm, the Bush administration had committed

itself to a massive Gulf Coast rebuilding effort,

including an Urban Homesteading Act

that would resettle homeowners like the Gettridges.

>> We will do what it takes; we will stay as long as it takes

to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives.

>> Here's the challenge.

How do we accelerate the average income of African Americans

here in town?

>> CROSS: Bush had also appointed Don Powell,

a former banker and chair of the FDIC,

to coordinate federal reconstruction efforts.

>> I don't think when I first did this I had an appreciation

of the complexity, and how large-- how devastating--

this catastrophic event was.

>> In terms of your responsibilities

coordinating the federal response,

what keeps you up at night?

>> Not having the power or authority to do

what I know needs to be done.

>> What... what would you want or need?

>> Dictatorship.


>> CROSS: Six months after the flood,

cleanup had barely begun in New Orleans.

The president's initiatives to help homeowners

had gone nowhere.

A congressional proposal that would have essentially put

the federal government in charge of rebuilding Louisiana

was killed by the White House at the last minute.

>> For many people in Washington,

Katrina is yesterday's problem, and Rita never happened.

>> CROSS: That decision angered Louisiana's governor,

Kathleen Blanco.

>> It's time to play hardball,

as I believe that's the only game

that Washington understands.


>> CROSS: Publicly, Governor Blanco threatened to block

federal leases that allow oil and gas drilling

off Louisiana's coast.

Privately, she sent an emissary

from the state's Louisiana Recovery Authority to negotiate.

>> I took the opportunity to call Don Powell back channel.

He had been to LRA board meetings.

He had confidence in the LRA.

And I said, "Look, can we get together

and just talk about possibilities?"

>> CROSS: Over the next few weeks,

a delegation traveled to Powell's Washington office.

>> We talked to our friends at FEMA; we talked to the SBA;

we had satellite image;

we talked to people in the insurance business.

We talked to a lot of people and came to a consensus

about how many of those homes were destroyed

and what the need would be.

>> CROSS: Over lunch, on a paper tablecloth,

Powell and Reilly had begun to hammer out the numbers.

FEMA had estimated that there were roughly 123,000

damaged homes in Louisiana.

Private consultants suggested that some $60,000

would be needed by each underinsured homeowner.

That would make this the largest federal rebuilding effort ever.

>> You take your level of damage,

you subtract your insurance collected,

and that gap is covered up to $150,000.

So the more insurance you had, that gap is smaller,

you get less, but theoretically,

you get to cover the extent of your damage.

>> CROSS: The money for what would become known

as Governor Blanco's Road Home program reached the state

about one month before the first anniversary of the storm.

>> I'm the keeper of the castle.

Everybody else comes and they go.

>> CROSS: The Road Home could potentially be a lifesaver

for thousands of underinsured New Orleans homeowners

like Mr. Gettridge's son, Leonard.

Two years before the storm,

Leonard had brought his dream home in the middle class suburb

of New Orleans East for $154,000.

Flood insurance hadn't covered his losses.

>> I was underinsured.

I didn't get the value of the house.

I mean, we lost everything.

And I guess I might have gotten three-quarters, maybe--

if that much-- of what we lost.

>> CROSS: Leonard works as a switchman

for the Kansas City Southern Railroad.

>> I work full-time six days a week, eight-plus hours a day,

so I do what little I can with the time that I have.

>> CROSS: When he wasn't working at the rail yard,

Leonard worked on gutting his house.

>> They tell me they got a machine that does this

a whole lot easier,

but using Arnold Schwarzenegger's...

one of his terms, that's for girlie-men.


>> CROSS: Leonard was living in a FEMA trailer

parked at his house.

His wife, Geraldine, showed me around.

>> As you can see, he's a junk food eater.

He reads the newspaper and figures out bills and paperwork.

He sleeps here and I'm back there in the hubby-hole

and I toss and turn all night.

That's why he said...

>> CROSS: Your bed's not comfortable?

>> Uh-uh. He said I was all around the bed,

because I can't stand that confinement.

>> CROSS: Geraldine so hated that trailer

that she'd moved 40 minutes away.

She drove down on weekends to help Leonard with the house.

>> You want to do a little bit?

>> I can't use the glove.

>> Just push on it easy.

You see my African violet?

See? That's what I'm talking about.

I like that; that is so beautiful.

>> Yeah, and the kids, they used to call me She-Ra.

Talking about all my might... he He-Man!


>> Look at her shoulders!

That's why I married her. Look.

I needed help with an air conditioner one time,

and she lifted up on it and went higher than my end.

I said, "Oh I got to marry this woman!"


I want me a strong woman, man.

A strong, black woman-- look-- is worth her weight in gold.

>> CROSS: Leonard and Geraldine put on a jovial front,

but it was clear the everyday rhythm of their lives

had been destroyed.

What's the hardest part?

>> The absence of... normalcy.

I mean, you know, on a normal day,

I would be out working in the garden cutting grass.

The grass would be beautiful green and flowers

and everything else.

And so that's the hardest part, there's just no normalcy.

Another hard part is not being able to see my grandkids.

They're all over the place.

>> I hate to talk about them because I cry a lot.

My kids are my world.

For years we grew up together.

There's not a day went by they weren't around me or...

I didn't... I couldn't touch them.

And now, it's... not like that,

so it's hard for me to have them away from me, you know?

>> CROSS: Geraldine's two grown daughters had moved to Texas,

and they have no plans to return to New Orleans.

Asanthe, her daughter from a previous marriage,

had started life over in Galveston

with her two small children.

>> I had got my kids in school and I just sat down

and just went to thinking,

"What is the first thing that you're supposed to do

to start over?"

And you didn't know.

I'm the only one here out of our immediate family

besides my sister-- there's nobody else.

So I do get bored; I do get homesick.

Some days, I have my good days, I have my bad days.

I cry some nights and just work through it, you know?

>> CROSS: Geraldine and Leonard's daughter, Nya,

works in Houston.

A seventh generation New Orleanian,

she's found the transition particularly difficult.

>> (sighs) It's just so huge.

Houston is so, so huge.

I get homesick a lot, and it's not really homesick

for New Orleans because that's where my mom and dad are

and that's where I would normally be.

They were 40 minutes away, so I could get in a car

and drive if I needed to.

Here it's like...

I have to have a week off of work to drive home

and visit and then come back.

So I think that's... the biggest adjustment has been

not being able to have them accessible.

And that's just... that's just the hardest thing.

>> It's altogether a different life from before the storm.

I'm here by myself almost day and night.

I miss the kid.

I miss the grandchildren.

I miss a lot of stuff.

Everyday actions in this household we used to have.

Kids playing in the yard.

Kids sitting on, looking at the television,

shooting video games and stuff like that.

I miss all that.

I have 36 grandchildren, and of them 36 grandchildren,

I bet you 26 of them would be here in a week's time.

Ain't a month passed that they all don't pass by.

"Hi Grandma, hi Grandpa."

That's it, but you miss that, you know?

>> CROSS: In pictures taken just after the flood,

the eyes of Mr. Gettridge's grandchildren

reveal the trauma.

Among the dozens of Gettridge family members we met,

many conceded they could probably use some counseling.

The signs of their distress were everywhere.

Like the afternoon we spent with Mr. Gettridge's youngest son,

Ronald, who was also working alone

to rebuild his family home.

As Ronald was finishing up for the day,

we asked how he was handling the stress.

>> The depression is... constant.

It's a day to day, you know, situation you deal with--

just like stress as well,

but I cope with the stress quite well--

but the depression, you know you think about,

"Okay, my sister's out here.

I got a sister in Baton Rouge, a sister in Dallas,

a sister who's been up in Wisconsin."

You know, all...

in those type of situations, you know, family is kind of, like,

separated, and that makes the days that much harder.

Basically, late at night, you know, when the house gets quiet

and everybody's asleep and it's just me, I'm thinking about,

okay, all that I have to do.

And that's not... that should not be.

And you look back at the day to see what you've accomplished

and it's very, very little.

That often leads to...


I'm sorry.

I didn't mean to do it.

>> I understand.

>> That hurts-- to look back and see

and not really accomplished a whole lot

when it's your intentions.

But I can usually, when I get into that state,

I'll pick up a book--

one of those self help books or the Bible--

and I'll do some reading time to dismiss that depression.

>> Right.

>> Now my sinus just flared up.

See what you done, Julia?

I need to get a handkerchief,

otherwise we're going to get a bloop.

>> CROSS: Ronald reassured us that he'd found a way of coping

with his despair, but a lot of New Orleanians had not.

>> The overwhelming stress since August 29, 2005--

has worn out many a brain, and you know, both...

drinking's gone up, domestic violence has gone up for a time,

the suicide rate was triple what we'd ever seen

in the city and those people, too, are coming in,

seeking treatment.

>> Watch your head.

>> CROSS: A year after Katrina,

it was estimated that nearly 50% of the population of New Orleans

had a diagnosable mental disorder,

yet the city's health care system was in disarray.

Few psychiatrists were left,

and where there had once been nearly 300 psychiatric beds,

there were now just 20.

>> I knew I was right, but I couldn't explain it!

>> About Cuba?

>> Cuba.

>> Okay.

>> The need has never been greater,

and our infrastructure-- both on a personnel level

and on a bricks and mortar level--

is not adequate at present.

>> CROSS: As New Orleanians coped

with the psychological impact of the storm,

tens of thousands of homeowners pinned their hopes

for the future on the governor's Road Home program.

In New Orleans East, Leonard Gettridge showed us

all the paper work he had to fill out.

>> This is the Road Home application.

I don't know how many pages that is, but it says,

"Congratulations, we have determined that you are eligible

for benefits under the Road Home Assistance program."

They take the pre-storm value,

they take the insurance proceeds that you received...

estimate minus insurance, minus FEMA,

and that's how they arrive at the figure that the Road Home

is going to give you.

Oh, I've got so much stuff from FEMA.

FEMA's name is on everything.

I dream about FEMA-- not pleasant dreams.

>> CROSS: Over in the Lower Ninth,

Leonard tried to persuade his father

to submit his Road Home application.

>> Dad, they got you the Road Home stuff?

>> I got to sit down and fill that paper out and mail it in.

>> Right.

>> And I don't know how much good that will do

because when they give you this kind of stuff,

if they give you $150,000, you got to get a contractor,

the contractor has to do your work for you...

>> Yeah.

>> ...and then they pay it.

You don't get no cash money.

>> Right.

>> I'm not particular about no cash money.

I'm particular about getting somebody that's going to do

my work the way it's supposed to be done.

So for that reason, I'm skeptical about it,

but I'm going to send the papers in.

>> Yeah.

>> I'm going to finish filling it out and send it in.

>> Yeah.

>> See what they tell me.

>> CROSS: By the winter of 2007, 18 months after the flood,

over a 100,000 Louisiana homeowners had applied

for Road Home money, but fewer than 500 had received a check.

Governor Kathleen Blanco's administration had to answer

some tough questions about why the company she'd picked

to run Road Home program prospered

while Louisiana homeowners struggled.

ICF International, based in Fairfax, Virginia,

had done work for the Department of Homeland Security,

but it had never run such a large and complex program.

So when public filings revealed that more than $2 million

in bonuses had been given to its leadership team,

homeowners and officials across Louisiana expressed outrage.

>> I was pretty upset about that, too.

I had taken... I had taken a year and a half off from my job.

I was working for free.

These guys are getting paid the big bucks

and they were giving themselves bonuses,

and I was pretty upset about that.

And here, we-- volunteers and staffs of the LRA--

were helping... solving...

were identifying and solving their problems.

The homeowners were right to be upset about that,

but on the other hand, that's what private companies do.

>> CROSS: ICF declined the opportunity

to discuss the Road Home contract on camera.

In an email, they defended their overall performance--

and they justified those bonuses by saying

that their executives get paid

less than the average industry standard.

Meanwhile, the city had begun to demolish homes in earnest.

Lawmakers told homeowners that a year's time

was more than sufficient to decide whether to come back

and rebuild.

But in the Lower Ninth, Mr. Gettridge worried

that the financial obstacles were so great

many of his neighbors just couldn't afford to come back.

>> There is a lot of people that would be back here now,

but what they going to come to?

A lot of these people built these houses

just like I built mine--

from week to week, paycheck to paycheck.

They ain't got a quarter in the bank to start working,

but if somebody give them some money--

if they get some money from Road Home--

then they can come back and put their places together.

>> CROSS: Mr. Gettridge had been working on his own home

for nearly a year.

He didn't know when it would be ready for his wife's return.

>> That's what I'm aiming for right now.

I want my wife to come back home because this is what she wants.

She wants to be here.

>> CROSS: 1,000 miles north, in Madison, Wisconsin,

Lydia Gettridge yearned for New Orleans.

>> That's my birthplace.

I went to school there, so I miss it.

All my friends are there, the churches that I was raised up in

are there, so I miss everything about it.

>> CROSS: As she waited, Mrs. Gettridge's health deteriorated.

Then, in December 2006, there was a crisis.

>> Her blood pressure spiked, and she was just incoherent--

didn't sleep for two days in a row.

She had been up all of 48 hours, and she took a fall.

And when she did that, the doctor...

I called the doctor, and they said,

"We're going to send an ambulance,

it sounds like it's a stroke."

>> CROSS: It was a stroke.

She was hospitalized, then moved to a nursing home in Madison.

One weekend, her youngest son, Ronald, came to visit.

>> New Orleans is quite miserable.

>> You could take New Orleans anyway...

>> You could take New Orleans pre-Katrina,

but post-Katrina New Orleans is quite different.

I mean, you have nothing there...

>> What do you mean you have nothing?

>> CROSS: Mrs. Gettridge insisted she wanted to go home,

while her son tried to explain

how inadequate the city's medical services remained.

>> I sat in the emergency room on Friday the 13th.

>> Why?

>> I cut my eye cleaning out my shed,

cleaning storm debris out the shed.

>> He had to sit in the emergency room five hours

before they even touched him.

He had towels, putting them in his eye.

>> One lady said, "Why don't you all get this man some service?

He out here bleeding!"

And they just say, "Okay, we'll get to him."

The medical service is just totally out of whack.

What we got?

We got Ochsner running, we got Touro running,

and East Jefferson.

Three... three out of seven hospitals.

>> She said to Ronald that she was ready to come home.

Did we ever stop to think that she was tired--

tired of all of the medicine she takes?

It's 45 pills she's taking.

And she just wants to come home to be at peace

and to be at rest and maybe the Lord will call on her.

>> CROSS: The next morning was Mother's Day.

During the church service, Cheryl struggled with the idea

that she'd have to let her mother go.

>> She's up here with me and I'm just being selfish.

And I realize that I need to get her back to the home house

in order that maybe there can come some normalcy

in everybody else's life.

>> CROSS: Back in New Orleans,

the family home was coming along.

>> All right.

>> Uh-huh.

>> CROSS: Volunteers had put up new walls and painted.

The floors needed finishing.

Mr. Gettridge said he could do that chore himself--

if he only had electricity.

>> Have you talked to the city yet,

in terms of when they are going to come and hook it up?

>> No, I haven't talked to the city.

The fellows that did the electrical work

have been down here with papers for me to sign

so that they can go and file for the electricity.

>> Right.

>> That's been since Tuesday or Wednesday.

>> Okay.

>> I'm still waiting...

>> Okay.

>> ...but they drag and they drag so long man, it's hell.

>> Uh-huh.

>> CROSS: Mr. Gettridge had no electricity

because of the problems facing Entergy, the city's utility.

More than 25,000 of Entergy's utility poles

had been destroyed in Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

6,700 miles of transmission lines needed to be replaced.

Entergy New Orleans had declared bankruptcy

six weeks after Katrina.

It had asked Congress for $500 million to help pay for repairs,

but the Bush administration said it opposed the idea

of bailing out private corporations.

>> This, of course, was enormously irritating

to New Orleans, because the exact analogy was Ground Zero

in New York-- where they threw a big chunk of change at Con Ed

and they got that electrical grid back up

and running real fast.

In New Orleans, the neocon element in Washington

remembered that, "We don't bail out corporations;

we will let them fend for themselves,"

and so the signals were given that there was going to be

no immediate bailout-- or, perhaps, no bailout at all--

to compensate them for these damages, which were enormous.

The whole grid was shredded.

>> This is a cruel world in a sense, and it's not the world,

it's some of the people that live in it.

Because such as electricity, I don't know why...

there is electricity on Claiborne,

electricity on Galvez, electricity on Derbigny...

why can't we have electricity back here?

I've been here since March.

I don't know if it's because of the builders who's helping

me to repair or what, but it seems like I should have

some electricity by now.

>> CROSS: Walls and electricity can make a house,

but a neighborhood needs police and fire stations and schools.

Alfred Lawless Junior and Senior High School had been

a neighborhood institution in the Lower Ninth Ward.

Three generations of Gettridges had been educated here.

>> That's where I started off in music.

You had the sports, but most of all you had the basics,

which was English, reading, writing, arithmetic,

foreign language, libraries,

and this was an integral part of the Lower Ninth Ward.

>> CROSS: Two years after Katrina,

Lawless High School remained mired in red tape.

Its recovery was stymied by the regulations of the Stafford Act,

the federal law that governs how public infrastructure

gets rebuilt after disasters.

>> Under the Stafford Act, you pretty much are relegated

to building it back the way it was.

You get the depreciated dollar, and you get a vision that says,

"Okay, that was a 40-year-old building,

let's rebuild back a 40-year-old building."

But, you know, the world changes, needs change,

communities change, state of the art changes,

and what we need is a Stafford Act that allows you

to be flexible, allows you to say,

"You know what, there's a new and better way to educate.

"Let's build this kind of classroom

instead of the old classroom."

That's where the Stafford Act is immensely frustrating

and is, again, broken and needs to be fixed.

>> CROSS: FEMA finally granted the state nearly $19 million

to rebuild Lawless High,

but then Louisiana decided to hold that money--

most likely to use in another school

with more teenaged children--

so Alfred E. Lawless High School may never be rebuilt.

>> Today, in the city of New Orleans,

there is at least 282,000 people that are back

from our pre-Katrina levels of 455,000...

>> CROSS: Mr. Gettridge had finally gotten his electricity,

and so in May of 2007--

when Mayor Nagin gave his state of the city address--

we watched it together.

>> New Orleanians are very determined.

They fight for insurance proceeds.

They have applied for Road Home money,

and are waiting to hear back.

And waiting.

>> And waiting.

>> CROSS: Six months earlier,

Mr. Gettridge had mailed in his Road Home application.

Now the state wanted additional paperwork

to meet the intricate requirements

it had written into the program.

>> I hear a lot of people talking about Road Home.

I hope that this thing is for real

and I hope that everybody gets their fair share,

but I'm not betting on it.

>> CROSS: In fact, the Road Home program was running into

big problems and major delays.

Federal bureaucrats had reinterpreted

their own regulations.

Now, they told the state,

that each homeowner would have to have

an environmental impact review

before they received their check.

>> All of a sudden, we're going to decide a year and a half

into it that it's a rebuilding plan, not a compensation plan.

Therefore, we have to go to EPA standards of evaluation

of individual project.

You know, this kind of stuff is crazy.

You know, you don't do this in Baghdad;

why are you doing it in New Orleans?

>> Now, from the heart of New Orleans-- here's Garland!

>> Hello, America.

As you well know, not my show this hour.

It's the Walter Leger Road Home show.

>> CROSS: The Road Home had so many problems

that it had become grist

for the city's most popular call-in show.

During the summer of 2007, the Road Home program had stopped

taking applications altogether.

It was broke.

>> By the end of December, we will have basically run out

of money to front, to continue payments

and about 90,000 people will have gotten their grants.

But we'll have, you know, 50,000... 60,000...

70,000 more that will continue to need assistance

that we'll just have to stop giving money to.

>> CROSS: 123,000 applicants had been expected,

but 180,000 had applied.

>> You're one of about half of a Superdome full of people...

>> Oh, yeah?

>> line...

>> That many?

>> it's going to take a few more months.

>> CROSS: The problem was that FEMA had underestimated

the number of destroyed homes.

An analysis by ICF revealed

that insurance companies had also paid less than expected,

so as a result, the state faced a shortfall

of some $2.9 billion.

But the White House said that shortage was Louisiana's fault.

>> That shortfall was because... we... we know the numbers...

was based upon expanding the program unilaterally

by the state to include wind versus just those homes

that were destroyed by water.

>> It came as a bit of a surprise.

I mean, it was... it was something that, you know,

the Road Home had been in design and implementation for,

you know, at that stage of the game almost 15 months and,

you know, we were off the diving board and all of the language

in the HUD application said that damage from whatever source--

whatever cause-- was going to be covered.

>> CROSS: The president signed an appropriation

to cover the Road Home shortfall, finally,

in November 2007-- over two years after the flood.

By then, the Road Home program had destroyed

Governor Kathleen Blanco's political career.

She had chose not to run for reelection.

Soon, the President's Gulf Coast coordinator, Donald Powell,

would resign, too.

He said he'd done all that he could do.

>> CROSS: By the summer of 2007,

Mr. Gettridge had almost finished rebuilding his house.

He'd done so without any help from the Road Home.

He wouldn't receive his check for another eight months.

Right now, he was just worn out.

>> I'm just wondering why the people can't get back here

fast enough.

Why they can't get back home-- why they can't make provisions

for these people to get back home.

Why can't they do that?


Those people in the White House,

they sit down and have their conferences together, I guess.

I guess they say to themselves, "Let's put that on...

on hold in New Orleans, we'll get to that later."

They ain't worried about this place.

Doesn't seem like it.

I don't know what's wrong.

I guess I would have...

I would have to be at the White House

in some of these damn meetings to find out what's wrong,

why the people don't get the money.

Two years and we're still not back in shape.

Two years-- some people's been away from here exactly two years

in August-- have been away from their homes,

homes torn down, automobiles lost,

few pennies they may have had, that went down in the drain.

Yeah, pretty soon it'll be nobody but me and the weeds

back here.

>> CROSS: At the nursing home in Madison,

Mrs. Gettridge had finally won her battle to go home

to New Orleans.

It was the end of June,

the beginning of a new hurricane season,

when her daughter Cheryl finally relented.

>> I didn't feel good about taking Mom out of this facility,

where she had done so well and she was thriving

and she was talking to other people.

Because at home,

a lot of the people that she used to talk to

aren't living anymore, and so just to have some people

in her age group...

it was like, "I don't want to take her to this."

>> CROSS: Cheryl had avoided telling her father

exactly when they'd arrive.

She'd learned that he'd made a deal with CNN's Anderson Cooper

to televise Mrs. Gettridge's return.

>> I'm not letting my dad know

because they were going to have a party

with a band and all of that, and that's not my mother.

That's not something she likes.

>> CROSS: Ronald was at the airport in New Orleans

to greet his mom.

>> It's good to have her back home,

but I know it's going to be a struggle for her.

Where she was, she had people that could look after her

quite regularly, you know?

Here she ain't got that.

>> Katrina, you messed up these people's lives.

>> Katrina? Messed up people's lives?

>> Yeah, including mine.

>> Including yours?

If they cut this grass, you could see our house from here.

>> Oh, yeah?

>> CROSS: At the house, several of Mrs. Gettridge's grandsons

welcomed her home.

>> I love you, too.

Once upon a time, it was just you and I.

>> CROSS: But this long-awaited homecoming would be bittersweet.

>> Yeah, how you doing?

>> CROSS: The stroke had affected her memory;

home did not seem like home.

>> I'm trying to go in my room.

>> CROSS: The house smelled different...

>> I don't like the smell.

>> CROSS: ...the bed was too high.

>> I can't sit up there!

I better stay here!

>> CROSS: ...and the house was too hot.

>> You ain't got no air conditioning here?

I don't think I'll make it.

>> CROSS: In an attempt to lighten the mood,

Mr. Gettridge tried flattery.

>> She's looking like sweet 16, huh?

>> What?

>> He said you're looking like sweet 16.

>> I'm looking to see an old lady.

>> Old lady?

Yeah, and I acts my age, too.

>> You look like sweet 16, girl.

>> Like, what?

>> Sweet 16!

>> I know better than that.

I ain't buying that.

I ain't buying that stuff.

>> You don't know what's on my mind.

You don't know what I can and what I can't see.

Do you? Huh?

>> Well, okay, I look sweet 16.

>> Yes, you're right, how about that?

>> CROSS: But even sweet talk didn't work.

Mrs. Gettridge was furious

that her husband hadn't brought her home sooner.

>> When you came back, we should have came back together.

We wasn't...

>> You couldn't have possibly made it down here

when I came back here.

>> I don't know why.

I've made it in worse times.

>> No, you didn't make it in no worse times.

Coming in here with nothing; no floors, no roof, no ceiling.

You couldn't have made it in there;

I keep trying to tell you that.

>> She's overwhelmed, and she's seeing that things are not like

they used to be and saying, "God, what did I do?"

She said, "What did I do? Why did I want to do this?"

>> CROSS: As the fourth of July holiday approached,

the mood brightened.

Generations of Gettridges gathered to welcome

their Mama Lydia home.

>> Now, that mom's home, it's a home again

and not just a house.

She's home and the kids, the grandkids, the neighbors,

everybody's just flowing in, and that's what we missed.

That's what I missed while she was away.

>> CROSS: It was tempting to see a happy ending here.

By sheer force of will,

Mr. Gettridge seemed to have accomplished

more than the hundreds of millions of dollars promised

to Louisiana.

But his home remained a lonely monument.

Just blocks away, the carcass of Lawless High School--

fought over by state and federal officials-- sits empty and rots.

In 2005, America had watched New Orleans drown

on national television.

It was, some said, like watching a good friend

suffer a massive stroke.

Since then, I've watched the crippled city struggle

to right itself.

A bit of its old personality had returned,

evidenced by the party that greeted

Mr. Gettridge's Benevolent Association's annual parade.

But he said it didn't quite have that old swing.

>> I don't like the music.

I don't like the music.

>> CROSS: Mr. Gettridge left the parade early.

He told me he was tired--

he just didn't have it in him to dance anymore.

>> If you had it to do all over again, would you do it?

>> I'm kind of skeptical about that now.

Once upon a time, I could answer that question

in a split second for you.

I can't do that now.

(Dixieland music plays)

>> This story continues on our website,

where you can watch the program again online

and join the discussion about it,

read updates on the Gettridge family

and see some additional video...

>> When I put on the Indian suit like that,

I thought I was a real one.

And I just had fun to that extent

all day and half of the night.

>> producer June Cross' essay

on what she has taken away from this story...

>> CROSS: Just four blocks from the levee

in the Lower Ninth Ward, I saw one house still standing...

>> ...and more at

>> Next time on Frontline...

>> This is our moment.

This is our time.

>> ♪ Sweet dreams, baby. ♪

>> The road ahead will be long...

>> ♪ Sweet dreams, baby. ♪

>> ...our climb ahead will be steep...

>> ♪ Sweet dreams, baby. ♪

>> ...but, America, we will get there.

We as a people will get there.

>> ♪ How long must I dream? ♪

>> Frontline is made possibleby contributions

to your PBS station from viewers like you.

Thank you.

With major funding

from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation;

committed to building a more just, verdant

and peaceful world.

And additional funding from the Park Foundation.

Additional funding for this program is provided by

the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Ford Foundation.

The Nathan Cummings Foundation.

And by the Twenty-First Century Foundation,

National Black Programming Consortium and

the Katrina Media Fellowships of the Open Society Institute.


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