From Relevant Magazine, writer Ryan Hamm interviewed Phyllis Freeman of World Vision, on the response back then and the continuing work now.
Describe the scene of post-Katrina New Orleans.
We went into the 9th Ward first and we saw the barge that actually broke the levee. When we arrived we saw it sitting there and it was one of the most awesome sights. This huge ship broke that levee and [there was such an] intensity of seeing the size of it—the water that was coming over and just wiping out almost that entire [area and] almost no houses remained standing. That was in mid-September, 2005.
What was the condition of all the places affected by Katrina and how has that changed in the last five years?
Some of the homes in the communities where the levee broke and the waters moved into the community, [you can really see] the resilience of the homeowners in the months of October, November and December of 2005. They were repairing their homes and preparing to come back. Other places, you saw homes with “for sale” signs on them.
I just returned to the 9th Ward in the month of June of this year. Many of those homes are in the same condition they were five years ago. Which means that those families, whereever they are, haven’t been able to return home. Maybe they came home and rented something else but they are not back.
When the water came over, you saw refrigerators on top of homes and cars on top of garages and things like that. Those large items have been moved, but the vegetation has come in. So you see plants growing out of the roofs of houses because of the mud and everything else [in the flood waters].
The concern is much has been done but there’s still much to be done. Basically that’s it. A catastrophic event the size of Katrina is decades long in trying to recover. Even five or ten years from now parts of New Orleans will probably look pretty much the same. If the homes have been destroyed then it will just be land. Just because the media’s attention is not focused there, I think people must remember that it’s a devastating, long-term event, and children are still being impacted.
What has been the biggest factor in a neighborhood’s recovery?
I think the civic engagement of multiple individuals, businesses and political entities. So if there’s an activist that would like to make sure that their community is rebuilt in the right way, just being able to collaborate with all of the different aspects and families involved—[figuring out] whether or not you need permits or getting people to engage with you. Fundraising is a key aspect of that but it takes the collaborative part to make sure that your communities reemerge better than they were before.