Big Easy’s rebuilding still a challenge
Contractors travel to New Orleans for work and a new life.
Published: Thursday, September 9, 2010
Updated: Thursday, September 9, 2010 14:09
Five years ago, New Orleans suffered the most extensive damage in history to an American city, its people and culture.
Property damages exceeded $80 billion while some reports indicate up to $125 billion.
One million people fled New Orleans seeking refuge in cities across the country with at least 30,000 evacuees sheltered in San Antonio alone.
In addition to losing friends and family to the flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina on Aug. 29, 2005, thousands of people were ruined financially.
Homeowners suffered extensive water damage and lost most or all of their possessions. Even for residents with insurance, aid was minimal.
Even before the storm, the Louisiana city had its share of socioeconomic struggles.
According to a 2004 U.S. Census bureau survey, New Orleans was ranked the 17th poorest city in the nation with 20.8 percent of the population living well below the poverty level of $8,980 or less per year. For each additional person in the family, the federal rules add $3,140.
Five years later, the damage is far from repaired.
Eighty percent of the city was submerged after 35 failures in the levees flooded the city, causing billions of dollars in damages.
David Haydel, 40, of New Orleans knows this all too well. He lost two houses in the storm. Unfortunately, he still had to pay the two mortgages, a situation that kept many from starting over.
He said there was about 8 feet of water inside one of his houses.
"It was totally destroyed," he said Aug. 16 while working a contracting job in the Gentilly neighborhood.
Haydel said after the hurricane, his wife and 5-month-old daughter moved to Atlanta with his sister-in-law while he continued working for Bell South in New Orleans.
Eventually, he rented an apartment until his employer offered him a severance package. He took the offer and, in June 2008, he started a small construction company called DDSE.
His father and grandfather were also contractors, and his only worker right now is his lifelong friend, Leonard Ancar, who used to work for Haydel's father.
Haydel said business is so-so, especially for a small company like his.
"There is a lot of work, but for whatever reason, people are not getting money from the insurance companies," he said. "There's a lot of people kind of stuck in limbo waiting for answers."
He said the homeowner's insurance on one of his houses offered him $1,500, which didn't pay for much of the damage.
"The insurance companies really didn't do anybody any justice so there's a lot of people who really got screwed in this whole process," he said.
Haydel explained that many people paid by flood insurance were forced to forward it to a mortgage company.
Many people, he said, weren't in a position to qualify for a new mortgage. Not everyone had resources to start over, he said.
He said few received the help they needed from the government or insurance. His family tore down one of his houses damaged in the storm and lived in nearby Luling, La., for a while before he bought a new house in December.
The house he lives in now is located in St. Bernard Parish close to the one he lost. "My family's deep-rooted in New Orleans, and I never really considered moving to anywhere else," Haydel said.
But not everyone working construction in New Orleans is from the area.
Many contractors arrived after Hurricane Katrina to get in on the steady work.
Across Mithra Street from the house Haydel and Ancar were repairing was another contracting team renovating a house. A huge pile of debris finally being removed practically filled the small front yard.
Cristian Yuma, originally from Mendoza, Argentina, moved to Louisiana from Indiana about two weeks after the disaster for the work. He cleaned homes damaged in the flooding, most of which needed to be gutted to the frame.
After gutting a building, his team checks for termites and obtains permits for electrical work before renovating and rebuilding to the owner's specifications.
Yuma explained the process takes about 65-70 days to restore a house, and he works on several at a time.
His team of workers usually numbers 10; however, he currently has a crew of four.
Yuma said he, like many others, bought a home for about $25,000 and restored it to resell two years later for about $190,000.
The Argentine said his four children and wife have been in the country for about 11 years, and with the money he's earned, he plans to return to Mendoza soon.