Transcript

565:

Lower 9 + 10
Transcript

Originally aired 08.28.2015

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Prologue.

Ira Glass

One of my coworkers here at This American Life, Robyn, was visiting New Orleans two years ago on a family vacation. And they had never been to New Orleans before. And they took one of those bus tours of the city-- you know, where it would show you the sights and the French Quarter. And then there was some, you know, look at this telephone pole. You can see the mark for how high the water got during Hurricane Katrina.

The tour guide was an older black man, a local. She said he was really good. And there's this one moment during the tour that really stuck out. It was late in the tour. They're driving to the Lower Ninth Ward.

Robyn Semien

And as we were coming toward it, our tour bus guide says, so look. We used to go down into this area, the Lower Ninth Ward. It was really badly hit in the storm. You know that. But we stopped going down there because we learned that the people there just really-- they didn't like the tours.

They don't like the tours. They don't want people to come in and look at them and stare at them and look at how bad it is. And so we're not going to go in there.

And it stuck with me. I just believed that he was saying something that meant something to him. It seemed like he was saying something sincere, like we don't do this, and we're not doing it for the right reason. And so I'll show you some other stuff. But this is off-limits.

Ira Glass

The tour guide may have been sincere. But in addition, it's illegal for tour buses to go into the Lower Ninth Ward. The city council made it illegal starting in 2006, because buses were in the way of cleanup crews. But the rule was widely ignored till 2012, when homeowners went to the city council to finally get it enforced.

Gwen Adams

It really made me angry. I felt as if you're looking at me through an eye that says, oh, look, there's another little animal in the zoo.

Ira Glass

Gwen Adams is one of the homeowners who went to the city council about the bus tours. Kim Ford's another homeowner.

Kim Ford

I'm not saying that they will come in here to gawk at people, no. I don't think there's anything mean spirited about it at all. I think they have a genuine interest to want to know how are the people doing, what's going on with them. I get that. But guess what? That's not the way you do that.

Ira Glass

It was just so impersonal, people say. That's part of what felt so weird.

Jamal Preston

Back when I was in school, like, every day I look outside, there's like a tour bus coming through. And there's like 50, 60 people on the bus-- the big, air-conditioned, super comfortable ones. You would never see who was on the buses, because they wouldn't get off. They just come through, and then leave.

Ira Glass

This is Jamal Preston. He's 18, just graduated high school. His family returned to the Lower Ninth two years after Katrina.

Jamal Preston

Like they're coming through just for the sake of, like, oh, look at how terrible-- sympathy, aw. But your sympathy is because something bad happened to people. Your sympathy is not based on the people that you actually met in the neighborhood that had to deal with it. It's a whole different level.

Ira Glass

The 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is this month. You probably heard that. There's been a ton of coverage-- remembering what happened, and stories about the rebuilding. But the Lower Ninth, this place that the bus tour will not take you into, is a special case, because this is the part of the city that was not supposed to come back.

You remember this, right after the storm? City officials said, forget it. Don't get anybody back there. The mayor's planning commission wanted to turn it to green space, basically a public park.

Ira Glass

And when they decided to not make it a green space?

Henry Irvin

I guess, well, then-- excuse my French-- but enough hell was raised, they figured they better do something different.

Ira Glass

This is Henry Irvin, one of the hell raisers, 79-year-old who's been called the mayor of the Lower Ninth by New Orleans' actual mayor.

Henry Irvin

And then a lot of people started coming back. And then the city put in a lot of stumbling blocks too, see.

Ira Glass

Investigative reporter Gary Rivlin did a nice summary of those stumbling blocks recently. The Lower Ninth was the last neighborhood in the city to get electricity and drinking water. Residents were allowed back months after they were allowed into other neighborhoods. FEMA trailers were slower to arrive here. Only one school was reopened, and that only happened after teachers and parents cut the padlock on the building and marched on the superintendent's office.

Meanwhile, money allocated for homeowners to rebuild their houses-- $10 billion of assistance for Katrina victims throughout Louisiana was distributed by the state in a way that discriminated against black homeowners. That's what a federal judge ruled in 2010. And it's black homeowners who are in the Lower Ninth. Because of all this, most people did not come back.

The population of the ward is a little less than half of what it was before the storm. So half the homes are back. And they're bunched up at the bottom end of the ward, the high ground near the Mississippi, with bit patches of nothing in the top half, where Mr. Irvin lives.

Henry Irvin

They started working on that house. This house has been totally repaired. This house, they haven't done anything on it.

Ira Glass

And are they going to tear that down? They're going to be able to [INAUDIBLE].

Henry Irvin

[INAUDIBLE].

Ira Glass

I'd seen pictures of the Lower Ninth Ward-- probably you have, too. But they didn't prepare me for what it's like to drive around the north half of the ward, the part above North Claiborne Street. It's like wilderness. But it's a very orderly wilderness-- a grid of streets laid out like a town waiting for developers who never showed up-- which, you know, it is-- tall grass filling the space between lots.

Henry Irvin

So there was a grocery store here on this corner one time.

Ira Glass

Now it's just a foundation there.

Henry Irvin

It's just a foundation, that's all. This used to be [INAUDIBLE] school right here. It's just an empty piece of land.

Ira Glass

Outside the Lower Ninth, in the rest of the city, the population is 90% back to what it was before the storm. Who you meet when you travel around the Lower Ninth are just some very willful people who've dealt with some of the worst destruction in the city and who are dealing with a lot of ghosts. It's still not clear exactly how many people in New Orleans died in Katrina. The official count is about 1,000, a third of those by drowning. More of those were in the Lower Ninth than any other neighborhood.

Today on our program, we're going to take you on a walking tour of the Lower Ninth. We're going to make six stops. And at each stop, we're going to do what the bus tour cannot do. We're going to meet some people.

And think about this for a second. This is the neighborhood that the city did not want to exist. This is the neighborhood that has come back the least from Katrina. So of all the extreme situations you could get into after the storm, these people have been in the most extreme. So what's that been like? Well, from WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. We find out. Stay with us.

Act 1. First Stop.

Ira Glass

OK, so like I said, this is going to be a walking tour. And our first stop is going to be the northeast corner of St. Claude Avenue and Gordon Street. So face the street. Just to orient you real fast, the Lower Ninth is basically a rectangle with water on three sides of the rectangle. So as you stand here facing the street, the Mississippi is a few blocks in front of you. The bayou is a little ways behind you. And the Industrial Canal's to your right a bunch of blocks.

It's all pretty close. The Lower Ninth is just 20 blocks wide-- just a little over a mile. And if you turn around now and you face this building on the corner, what you see is a two-story building. And the first story is faded brick. And those bricks were damaged during Katrina by rescue boats that knocked into it. A Wildlife and Fisheries guy told the current owner of this building 50 people were rescued from the balcony on the second floor.

So back in the day, locals will tell you that this was a medical clinic. These days, it's a cafe-- well, more than a cafe. You see the hand lettered sign out front that lists red bean and rice special, ribs, computer service, VA benefits, seafood. And the guy that we're here to talk to is one of those people who has thrown his whole life now into trying to push the Lower Ninth into the future, Kirk Washington. Everybody just calls him Washington. Robyn spent a bunch of time with him.

Robyn Semien

Washington is the least retired retired person I've ever met, thanks to Katrina. He opened this cafe.

Kirk Washington

Ah, it's [INAUDIBLE] in the cafe, baby.

Robyn Semien

Every day but Sunday, when the cafe's closed, he's here. Washington's a retired postal worker. He didn't know anything about running a cafe. After Katrina, he just saw that there was no place to send a fax or photocopy anything or look stuff up online, which you need to do with construction permits and home inspectors and FEMA and the city. So he thought, I'll build that.

Then he kept going with other things they needed-- food, a game room with pool tables, a small clothing store, a recording studio. One day, I watched him help a resident apply for a home loan, rack a pool table for some kids, cook burgers and sandwiches for six people, and fax someone's proof of employment, all in under an hour. He also rents rooms to people for cheap-- he owns two houses-- so folks can afford to get back on their feet. He does all this for one reason.

Kirk Washington

To benefit the neighborhood, to bring the neighborhood back, you know.

Robyn Semien

Washington's lived in the Lower Ninth Ward since the late '70s. He bought his house in the '80s, bought the property next door to it too, fixed them both up. He stayed during Katrina because he's one of those people who always stays during a hurricane. An estimated 2,000 people in the Lower Ninth Ward decided to stay. 10 years later he thinks all the time about that decision to stay.

Kirk Washington

I've been all over the world. I've been all through Vietnam, everywhere. When that hurricane hit, I had never been that scared before in my whole life-- my whole life. I've been through a whole lot of things, scary, scary things, but that was as scared as I've ever been in my whole life.

Robyn Semien

Here's how Washington survived the storm. Sunday the 28th, the mayor orders the mandatory evacuation. That night, Washington is at home with three of his neighbors-- the Taylors from next door and Isaac from across the street. They plan on riding out the storm together.

Early morning on the 29th the hurricane hits, winds over a hundred miles per hour. Washington calls the flying debris shrapnel, because it would kill you. At his house, the group isn't sure what to do.

Kirk Washington

I said, this is going to be dangerous, man. I said, y'all could stay if y'all want. But if y'all want to go, I think y'all should go and buckle down.

Robyn Semien

Everyone goes home. The levees fail. The entire Lower Ninth Ward floods.

Kirk Washington

All I could hear was this, when that water came. I could hear little babies howling and screaming. I could hear ladies hollering and screaming. I heard my neighbor hollering and screaming. The air was full of noise, people that was in dire need for someone to help them. I mean, people was really drowning. They were drowning.

And, you know, there was nothing you could do. That was the hardest part about things. What can you do? I mean, you can't go out there, the wind is still-- you still have shrapnel flying all through the air. The water's rising so fast that, hey, you know, how are you going to negotiate the water?

Yeah, I could swim. But guess what? I don't want to take no chances getting into the water. It was one thing that nobody should want to experience in their whole life.

It got to the point that our neighbors, we started coming out to survey what was going on. Well, one of my neighbors drowned.

Robyn Semien

One of your friends who was in your house earlier that night?

Kirk Washington

Yes.

Robyn Semien

That was Isaac. His full name was Isaac Castle. He was 58.

Kirk Washington

You feel you was a failure, you know what I'm saying? Because you could help, but you didn't. But it's the thing inside you that says, well, man, I could've did more than what I did. And it just kind of gets to you a little bit, because this person is gone, you know. And I didn't do anything about it. But I thought he was going to be safe. He couldn't swim. He couldn't swim.

Robyn Semien

Washington got picked up by a Wildlife and Fisheries boat and made his way to Baton Rouge. Two days after Katrina, he got himself to a Dodge dealership, figuring no matter what, he's going to need a car. And that's where, standing alone in a used car lot, exhausted, he started to feel something for the first time in days.

Kirk Washington

Of all the destruction and all the death and all the hollering and screaming, is just hit me. I mean, it was just like a whole three-story building just crushing me, like a tornado going around in my head. It was just like, wow, all these things have happened, and I'm just blinking my eyes and just seeing all of them at one time. It was just like a nightmare.

I came to reality like, man, man, look. Did I go through all this? I'm really alive and this really did happen. You know what I'm saying? Everything that happened, everything that happened, this is real. This is real. It just hit me. It just hit me.

Robyn Semien

What happened? You started crying?

Kirk Washington

Yeah. That was it. People, they was standing, watching. And they couldn't deal with it, so they went in the room. And they talk and talk and talk. And one of the guys came, after he saw me. I quieted down some.

Robyn Semien

The salesman?

Kirk Washington

Yeah. He said, man, I have a car for you. He said, you could get it right now. We're not going to charge you too much. So I pay in cash for the car. And I got on the highway. It was just one thing after another.

Robyn Semien

He bought a white truck, drove it to Corpus Christi, Texas, and back home three weeks after the storm, during a time when most people weren't allowed back into the Lower Ninth Ward. Washington says his veterans ID card worked as a pass. And he rebuilt both his houses, one piece of sheet rock and one birchwood panel at a time.

I spent a lot of time talking with Washington on three different days. And he never bragged or complained about anything. But I wanted to know what he lost in the storm, which is how I learned about the cars.

Kirk Washington

I lost a Mercedes Benz. I lost a Jaguar. I lost a BMW. I lost a Ford F-150.

Robyn Semien

He told me he got them right after he retired. He took his savings and bought them at auction, a car a year for four years. He got the last one just a year before the storm. He loved driving around in those cars. It was indulgent, after a life of saving money and working at the post office.

Kirk Washington

I don't talk about it that much. But when I get in my car, I'm sick as a dog, because I don't have these cars. I really don't want another one of those cars, because it's going to remind me, and I feel that I'm going to be more sicker than what I am.

Robyn Semien

You'll be more upset?

Kirk Washington

Yeah. Sick, sick to my stomach, like this thing in your stomach-- nerves, probably.

Robyn Semien

Your stomach hurts a lot?

Kirk Washington

It just has that little funny feeling. And when I get that funny feeling, I know it's something that's triggering it, and it's coming from my mind. It's coming from my head.

Robyn Semien

Here's the tangle for Washington. He's throwing all this energy into rebuilding and making everything new again. But all the new stuff that he has now, like his new bathroom and his new house, his new business, everything new reminds him of what was old, daily.

Brushing his teeth with running water reminds him of when, after the storm, he couldn't do that. Turning on a light reminds him how for a while after the storm, he didn't have electricity. It doesn't stop, no matter how he tries to keep busy.

Kirk Washington

I need things to do so that I won't get caught up in this mind thing, you know what I'm saying. So in order for me not to, I have to occupy my mind with something. I have to, because if I don't, my mind is going to play tricks on me. Do you daydream?

Robyn Semien

Sometimes.

Kirk Washington

OK. I hate daydreaming. Do you have nightmares?

Robyn Semien

Sometimes.

Kirk Washington

You see that? "Sometimes." It's constant. Do you have illusions of things while you're driving? Like you're driving your car, and you think that you driving this Mercedes Benz or this Jaguar? You see what I'm saying? I mean, I can't hide from it. It's real.

I know it's there. I know what the symptoms are. I know it's impossible for me to treat it. It's impossible, because daily things are going to bring me to it. Talking to you right now is bringing me to it.

I walk out the front of my house, and I look over at that door, I see my friend. I see Isaac. Then I have to let it go. Let it go. I come down this street. When I'm looking down from the bridge up there, I'm seeing nothing but the top of houses all water. And I'm riding down the same street.

I mean, what? It's constant. It's something that-- the hurricane was just five years ago.

Robyn Semien

10 years.

Kirk Washington

10 years ago. Look at that. It's there. It's still there. It's just there.

Robyn Semien

Washington points to people in his cafe. They're mostly storm survivors. He says, talk to them. They're suffering, too. He tells me about a customer, a woman who lost her home in the storm, has completely rebuilt it, but won't move back in. Washington doesn't think she ever will.

She's afraid, he says. You can see it in her eyes when she talks about the house. I tell him I think I know what he means. I can see fear in his eyes, too. He laughs and says, no, you can't see it. You have to have gone through it to understand.

Ira Glass

Robyn Semien.

Act 2. Second Stop.

Ira Glass

We're on a walking tour of the Lower Ninth this hour. Kirk Washington's house is all the way on the bottom of the Lower Ninth, right near the Mississippi. That's higher ground. That's the part of the Lower Ninth that survived the most. Houses are jammed together here, and most of them are occupied.

And just a two-minute walk from Washington's house, five blocks away, there's a bar that Kim Ford, who you heard at the top of the show, brought one of our producers, Zoe Chace to. She was like, go to this bar. It's the best.

Zoe Chace

Call out the street name. Tell America.

Kim Gordon

America, this is Lizardi and Burgundy. And this place is a staple in the Lower Ninth Ward, Mercedes Bar. Everybody in the Lower Ninth Ward knows this place.

Ira Glass

Mercedes Bar is one of the few bars they have here now. One local told us it was nine bars before Katrina. It's just two now. This is the second stop on our tour.

As you face the building, you can see that it is neatly painted white with green trim around the windows, little New Orleans fleur-de-lis in gold and black. It looks well taken care of, which is not true of the street in front of it, you will notice if you turn that way. So many streets in the Lower Ninth are just awful, and this is one of them. Lots of potholes, and they're big potholes.

Kim Gordon

And if you pull in there, you're going down in a hole. The streets are horrible. A little bit of rain, and it's water everywhere. You can't even park here.

Ira Glass

The owner of the bar, Mercedes Gibson, says that the holes in the street are costing her customers and they're costing her money. And it's hard to pay the light bill at this point. Zoe spent some time with her and her customers.

Zoe Chace

The holes in the streets are a real problem for Mercedes, because neither she nor her customers are young.

Mercedes Gibson

Well, I describe it as a friendly bar and settle-aged people. I don't fool with youngsters.

Zoe Chace

"Settle-aged people," like the bartender, Mercedes' daughter, Sharon. She polls the bar for me real quick to prove how dire the Lizardi Street parking situation really is.

Sharon

How far did you all have to park to get here?

Man

[INAUDIBLE].

Woman

Block away.

Man

A block and a half.

Man

Two. I parked two blocks away.

Man

[INAUDIBLE].

Sharon

Are y'all young people, or senior citizens?

Man

I'm a senior citizen.

Man

I don't know about the rest of them, but I'm young.

[LAUGHTER]

Man

I'm almost 70 years old.

Man

And I'm 71 young.

Sharon

Are y'all happy about walking a block and a half to get here?

Man

No!

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

Zoe Chace

So I sit with the settle-aged at a long table in the middle of the bar.

Zoe Chace

Are you running away?

Man

Uh-uh. No, I'm [INAUDIBLE]. Have a seat.

Zoe Chace

OK.

I ask about the storm, and it's like it just happened. The switch clicks right off the potholes and onto scenes from 10 years ago. Jean Gibson is nursing Crown Royal and water. She's a young-looking 60-year-old. During the storm, she was with her first husband and two grandkids. They evacuated to Houston first and stayed in a hotel for a while.

Jean Gibson

I was in one, but they put me out.

Man

Why?

Zoe Chace

Why?

Jean Gibson

Because our money ran out. [LAUGHS]

Zoe Chace

Their credit card hit the limit. When she went to the ATM, she found out that her bank back in New Orleans was out. The ATMs couldn't connect. She was stuck in Texas with no money. So she did something she never thought she'd have to do.

Jean Gibson

And that was to beg, to sit on a curb with a one- and a two-year-old in Dallas with nowhere to go. And I sat on the curb, because they needed Pampers, they needed food. And I sit at that Kmart parking lot. And I sat on that curb, and I begged every car that came out that parking lot.

Zoe Chace

Keep this in mind. Jean was a middle class lady, a homeowner living comfortably. Before Katrina, she says, one paycheck paid all her bills for the month. She worked for the city. She ran the benefits department for all the city workers.

Jean Gibson

I mean I wore $95 blouses to work. I had Coach pocketbooks. And my husband was an extremely sharp dresser. Oh, he was a sharp dresser-- good-looking, sharp-dressing man. He wore $75 belts. That was nothing for us.

Zoe Chace

This is the person who found herself begging for help in a parking lot, saying things like--

Jean Gibson

If you could just give me some Pampers. Just some pampers, and food for the children. You don't have to give me nothing, just some food for the children.

And a white guy in a black pickup truck, he said, miss, you from New Orleans? And I said, yes sir. I said, my children are hungry. And they're still in the same diapers for three days. I would take the diaper and scrape the diaper and put it back on them, because I had no choice.

And the man, he took me in Kmart and bought me a box of Pampers and some of them macaronis. But I had nowhere to--

Man

The noodles?

Jean Gibson

The noodles. But I didn't nowhere to cook it. So I took them, I opened them, and I put that little sauce in them, and they ate dried noodles. And they were kids. That's a treat for them.

Man

[INAUDIBLE]. I don't know about nobody else, but I tried it. It taste good. [LAUGHS]

Jean Gibson

Then we stayed there overnight in the car, kids hollering. They're hungry. I just kept washing my underwear in the gas station bathroom and putting them back on wet.

[LAUGHTER]

The man at the Exxon Station told me, miss, because you're from New Orleans, I'm going to let you keep coming in here everyday and wash your underwear.

Zoe Chace

That's the least you could do, you know?

Jean Gibson

I was trying to sneak in there, because I didn't want the people to know I'm going to wash my drawers.

Zoe Chace

Think about what that must be like, to have your life change so abruptly, no transition. And I wanted to know, did she feel like she was suddenly a different person? No, she says. That's not what happens. She says you get very practical. It's just how do you solve the next problem?

Jean Gibson

All you think about is, what am I going to do? Well, I'm just going to beg.

Zoe Chace

Had you ever begged before?

Jean Gibson

Oh, god, no.

Zoe Chace

Did you go up to people's cars?

Jean Gibson

Yes. Yes. I had the one-year-old in my arm, and the other one, I was holding his hand. And as people passed, I would even bang on their window.

Zoe Chace

Really?

Jean Gibson

Yes. And ask them, can you please help me? Please help me and my babies. Because of the way I looked, they must have thought I was a crackhead or something, you know, using the babies. And let me tell you, the reason I thought that was because I used to think that.

Zoe Chace

Jean moved around Texas for a month. Then she got a call, five weeks after she left. Come back to your job in the city of New Orleans. And she thought, maybe things are finally going to be OK.

Jean Gibson

I never really thought I lost my life. That sounds crazy. I mean, I thought I was going to come sweep my house out.

Zoe Chace

With a broom.

Jean Gibson

With a broom. You know, I knew the streets would probably have some dirt in it.

Zoe Chace

Driving into New Orleans, early October. It was pitch black, no lights, just a few big military spotlights like a movie set, a movie set of a war zone-- soldiers everywhere, the hotels with the windows blown out, the streets coated in mud and white dirt, and so empty.

Jean Gibson

And I said, Lord, have mercy, look at my city. And it hit me, yeah. It did hit me. But when I came across this canal, I knew there was no humanly way possible that this Ninth Ward could ever come back.

The people that you knew, I don't see nobody that I know. People who know you, you know them, know your mama, know your daddy, know your brothers, know where you live, know y'all had a black dog one time-- I'm talking about those people. I'm talking about people you did your first communion with, and the people that would tell your mama you did something wrong.

You will never see them again. So who am I? I don't know.

Zoe Chace

Here is the identity crisis, not in the parking lot, begging for food. She just didn't know until she got home to New Orleans that there is no chance of being who she was before.

Jean's house is completely rebuilt. Like other houses here I've seen, it kind of looks like a Pottery Barn showroom-- not lived in for very long; new matching furniture; nice, though, spacious. She's still working for the city. She has a new husband now. The husband she made it through the storm with, he died in 2007. Now she's married to the son of Mercy D., Mercedes, the bar owner. And she has this new big, big family to go with him. They gather at Mercedes Bar almost every day.

Zoe Chace

And so it's like, yeah, you have a new life. But it looks like a good life. Is it a good life?

Jean Gibson

Looks are deceiving. You make do with what you have. And you try every day to get that other life back-- yes, every day. Every, every day. But it's not coming back. But that's OK. Tomorrow coming. I ought to be able to get some little piece of it. And there's tomorrow coming. It doesn't come back.

Ira Glass

Zoe Chace is one of the producers of our show. Coming up, drive your Chevy to the levee to where the levee was not dry. That's in a minute, when our tour of the Lower Ninth continues, from WBEZ Chicago, when our program continues.

Act 3. Third Stop.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today on our program, we have a tour of the Lower Ninth Ward, the part of New Orleans that has come back the least since Hurricane Katrina hit 10 years ago this week.

We've arrived at the third stop at our tour, the corner of Jordan Avenue and North Prieur Street, right across from one of the levees that collapsed a decade ago. If you stand here facing south with the levee to your right-- well, first of all, this is the part of town where Brad Pitt bought a bunch of houses with the Make it Right Foundation after the storm. And you see some of those right in front of you. They're boxy and moderne. Lots of them have solar panels. There are also a couple of regular houses on the streets, some overgrown yards.

The levee itself across those houses has a grassy embankment with a 14-foot concrete wall at the top. And most people you talk to down here will tell you the same thing about what happened right here at this spot on the levee on August 29, 2005.

Man

It was dynamited in six places on the Industrial Canal. They got people that live on this street who will go to their grave and tell you that they heard the dynamite.

Man

And they heard an explosion, and then the water start coming up the streets. That's just to keep the water from going downtown, Bourbon Street. Because they didn't get no water. They just blew the damn thing and send it this way.

Ira Glass

Lots of people heard an explosion. And lots of people say it was the government. The government blew up the levees to get black people out of the Lower Ninth. Lucrece Phillips lived on the other side of the canal. And she said flooding had started that morning, but it wasn't much-- like as high as your car tires.

Lucrece Phillips

Then all of a sudden we hear a boom, like the windows were sucked out. Now, we have them taped and all, so they just wanted to blast, but they couldn't. After the boom, then the water went from the tire of the car to the second floor so fast. I think they blew the levees and they redirected the water from downtown.

Ira Glass

In the last decade, there's been a ton of investigation into what caused this boom and what blew up the levees. The big official investigations did not find evidence of dynamite or of anybody blowing up the levees on purpose. So the question is, what made the boom?

Well, the consensus is that it was not one boom. There were lots of booms coming from a few different sources, like, for instance, when the levee on the north side of the Lower Ninth Ward cracked and toppled over at 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning of the storm. That would've made a huge boom, like a thick branch snapping in half, and then water would have rushed in. Other booms came from electrical transformers blowing up and from a massive barge that banged against the Industrial Canal levee later that morning, like somebody beating on a huge, empty steel trashcan one expert told me, till it came over the levee and landed in the Lower Ninth.

But it's also clear that people aren't crazy to believe the levees were dynamited by the government. They believe that for some very good reasons. For starters, the government's done it before.

John Barry

It is very real. It very much happened. And you combine that with the sound of the boom, and it's not surprising that that theory has life.

Ira Glass

John Barry has served on the levee board responsible for protecting New Orleans, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East. But he's a journalist. And before that, he wrote a great book called Rising Tide, about the 1927 flood that caused more devastation than Katrina did and that led city officials to decide that they were going to save downtown New Orleans by blowing up the levees in an area where poor people lived, a spot that's just a 20-minute drive from the Lower Ninth. All this with the consent of the governor, federal government, and the president.

John Barry

They had to promise to pay for reparations to everyone who was damaged. 95% of the people who ended up being flooded out by this dynamiting were white. But they had no political power. Many of them didn't speak English. They spoke an 18th century Spanish. They were referred to as Islenos. Most of them came from the Canary Islands. And it was dynamited.

Ira Glass

And it was kind of hard to do, right?

John Barry

It was very difficult to do. That was a very good levee.

Ira Glass

They just had to keep going back and blowing it up again and again.

John Barry

That's correct.

Ira Glass

How many people were displaced?

John Barry

Roughly 10,000.

Ira Glass

And did the government pay reparations?

John Barry

Well, it was the city of New Orleans that was supposed to pay the reparations. And the city pretty much stiffed everyone who they had made promises to.

Ira Glass

There's another good reason that people believe that the government wanted them out and blew up the levees to do it. Gwen Adams, who you heard at the beginning of the show, talked to me about this. It's a more immediate reason, a more personal reason.

Gwen Adams

It's so believable, because when people were interested in coming back to see what they needed to do in order to rebuild, they said, you can't do that, because we're going to green space this area. We wanted to come back and see what our property looked like. They held us off at gunpoint. When you attempted to get permits to rebuild, they fought you tooth and nail at City Hall with permitting for every little thing.

Ira Glass

FEMA housing money was distributed with a formula that made it harder for families in the Lower Ninth to rebuild. City services, running water, schools arrived so much later in the Lower Ninth. In other words, it's the things that the city and state did after the flood that made the idea that the government just wanted everybody out, and it might have blown up the levees to achieve that, seem so very credible.

Act 4. Fourth Stop.

Ira Glass

Well, we have arrived at the fourth stop on our tour, a little block called El Dorado. It just has a handful of houses on it. Face north on this block, and you see an empty lot that is overgrown and smelly. And if you turn and face south, you see two nicely rebuilt, bright blue houses.

Roy Bradley

How you doing?

Zoe Chace

Good. How you doing?

Roy Bradley

I'm good.

Ira Glass

When Zoe, from our program, happened upon this street, this guy, Roy Bradley, called out to her from his porch.

Zoe Chace

You were the first house?

Ira Glass

Said he was the first house back on the block. And now they were trying to take his house. Come up, he said.

Roy Bradley

Come on up.

Zoe Chace

OK. I'm a radio reporter.

Roy Bradley

OK.

Zoe Chace

So I have a microphone [INAUDIBLE].

Roy Bradley

That's fine. What I'm going through, I need all the something.

Zoe Chace

No, I can tell.

Roy Bradley

It's a-- it's a--

Zoe Chace

I can tell.

Roy Bradley

Just saying.

Zoe Chace

You're like, bring that microphone over here.

Roy Bradley

Please.

Ira Glass

Roy was dressed for football season, though it was still summer-- a New Orleans Saints shirt, Saints hat, Saints slippers, Saints socks. Zoe stuck around to get to know him a little bit.

Zoe Chace

Roy's 46, and he's lived in the Lower Ninth for 46 years. Right away, he takes me around the corner to his mom's house, which there's no house. It's an empty green lawn with a square of sidewalk in front. 23 years ago, Roy's family all came outside and wrote their names in wet cement.

Roy Bradley

This is my sister Veronica, my sister Kesie. That's my wife, Danielle, right there. And they call me Boo Boo. They call me Boo. So this is me here. Man, this is still here.

Big man, that's my daddy. Oh, Betty-- that's my other sister. Samantha-- we call her Betty.

Zoe Chace

How many of these people still live in New Orleans.

Roy Bradley

Um, me. [LAUGHS]

Zoe Chace

Kesie's in Slidell. Veronica's in Mobile. And on and on. Roy is the only one back. He has two houses here in the Lower Nine, bright blue, right next to each other. It was a big deal when he and his wife bought them-- 2001, not long before Katrina.

This was Roy's life plan, a classic life plan. Pay down the mortgage on both houses by renting out one of them. He worked two jobs, still does. He cooks at Mizado's at night and at TGI Friday's during the day. Once the mortgage was paid off, he and his wife Danielle would buy another place and rent out the starter homes to pay off that one.

Roy Bradley

These houses would help us pay for the next house, or the next step. And then after we pay that off, we would be into something else. And maybe I could open me a restaurant. And I wouldn't have to work so much in my own place. Me and my wife could open her beauty salon.

Zoe Chace

Danielle jumps in here.

Danielle Bradley

You see, we crawl before we walk.

Roy Bradley

Crawl before you walk.

Danielle Bradley

So we don't have to come back to crawling.

Zoe Chace

That was the plan, before the storm. When the storm did hit, Roy left town on the advice of his favorite weatherman, Bob Breck.

Roy Bradley

I'd been listening to Bob Breck since I was a child on Channel 8 weather. Bob Breck, he--

Zoe Chace

You trusted him.

Roy Bradley

He was on it, man. He was there all night. And he just was saying, please, go. Please, please, whatever you do. And that's when I just said, you know what? I'm going to go.

Zoe Chace

Did you see some of your neighbors when you were driving out? And you were like, yo, let's go.

Roy Bradley

Oh, I seen a couple of them, man. And my neighbor at this corner here, at Gordon and El Dorado, he was washing the car. And he was washing the car. He was cleaning out the drains at the corner there, because we used to do that before the storm.

And I was like, man, you ain't leaving? You ain't going nowhere? Man, I ain't going. I ain't worried about no storm. You know how we do around here. And that actually was the last time I seen him. He didn't make it through. Wanda, his wife, told me that he drowned, that they was on top of the roof. And he had drowned before they got to the roof.

Roy Bradley

Roy estimates the number of neighbors he lost in the storm around 14. As we walk, he points out their houses, or where their houses were. There was a guy across the street who died right after the storm. He was running a generator, and his house burned up.

Roy Bradley

He died, and burned in the house.

Zoe Chace

The son of Danielle's pastor died, Roy says, when his house was dragged a few blocks away. The roofs here were filled with people during the storm. One of his neighbors even swam to Roy's house to look for him.

It took months before he was even allowed back onto this block. He had to show ID at the bridge. And then the National Guard gave him 30 minutes. You already know the house was totaled. Everything they had was gone.

Roy Bradley

My wife cried. She cried the whole time we was in the house. I thought it was gonna flood all over again in the house. [LAUGHS] I said, baby, you've got to stop.

Zoe Chace

You didn't cry?

Roy Bradley

Well, seeing her cry, I might have dropped a tear or two. But I-- you know. [LAUGHS] Women, you know?

Zoe Chace

He'll cry, though. He cried for an hour the night the Saints won the Super Bowl. Next, for Roy, the familiar beats of Katrina keep going -- 13 hour car ride to Baton Rouge, a year in Atlanta, then back to New Orleans and a FEMA trailer. No stores, no lights, nobody, no one around.

They got a little FEMA money, a little insurance money, and a whole bunch of free help from this nonprofit who set up shop right next to Roy's broken down home, lowernine.org. Two years after the storm, the family moved back in.

So picture right at this point in the story, it was like Roy was back where he was when he first bought his houses. It was a reset. Start at the bottom and climb back up. And this is the moment when Roy makes this totally fateful decision. He decides to take out a loan to borrow some money, fix up the other little house, which was a shell after Katrina; it was dry rotting, so he could start renting it again.

Roy Bradley

I put it on Facebook. That's what I did.

Zoe Chace

What did you say?

Roy Bradley

I put it on Facebook. I'm trying to get a loan. Anyone knows someone that they can suggest to me to go to to get a loan. You get all these people, oh, yeah, yeah, [MUMBLING]. So that's when I went on to Loan Partners and took out the loan.

Zoe Chace

Loan Partners.

Roy Bradley

[INAUDIBLE].

Zoe Chace

Loan Partners, the kind of company that made a lot of loans after Katrina to help with construction and rebuilding. And they lent Roy money for exactly that, to rebuild his rental property-- $60,000. But this was nothing like a typical mortgage loan. It had a very short deadline-- one year-- less, actually-- 11 months.

And it worked like this. For a year, you just pay interest every month. At the end, you pay off the whole thing, the original $60,000, all at once. I asked to see a copy. The rate seems high, 12 and 1/2%. And there are all sorts of hikes in fees that kick in if you're delinquent.

Roy Bradley

I didn't read all that.

Zoe Chace

These are really hard terms.

Roy Bradley

And I signed it.

Zoe Chace

Without really reading it.

Roy Bradley

I didn't.

Zoe Chace

Because why? You kind of trusted your friend, and they were like, this is a good company.

Roy Bradley

Right. That, and just to get my house fixed. That was my main goal is to get myself back on track to where I was before the storm hit.

Zoe Chace

The only reason Roy was able to get this loan in the first place was because after Katrina, the government was handing out checks to homeowners to rebuild their houses. Loan Partners knew Roy would qualify for a bunch of this money as soon as he fixed up his rental property. And Roy did qualify. And the money did come.

But instead of paying off the loan all at once, he just kept sending those monthly payments. He thought it was like a mortgage, like the mortgages he'd been paying for years before the storm. Ray found out how big a mistake he'd made when he came home and he found this sign on his house.

Zoe Chace

Can you read what it says?

Roy Bradley

"Five day notice to vacate the premises. First Civil Court of New Orleans states, February the 12th, 2015. Occupants--" I don't know when I became occupant in my house. "Owner wants possession." When have you became the owner? From Loan Partners?

Zoe Chace

Here's the thing. Loan Partners does own Roy's house now-- both his houses. Roy didn't pay off his loan. The houses went into foreclosure, and Loan Partners got them. Roy and Danielle can't really believe this. They're challenging it in court and appealing the sale.

I talked to one of the guys at Loan Partners, Bob Bergeron. He said, no, their business isn't built through squeezing people through tough terms and then taking their property. Most of the people they've lent money to haven't defaulted, he says. And that seems to check out.

It's not such an unusual loan for a professional real estate investor. But it is for Roy, who is so far from where he thought he'd be at this moment-- close to losing his home for the second time in 10 years.

Roy Bradley

To say that it's been 10 years, it should be better. You know, it's like I'm trying to get it back together, and now I'm back like I'm going back down this road. Then 10 years later, I shouldn't be there. I should be stepping to another step in life.

Zoe Chace

There are so many lots for sale in the Lower Ninth Ward since the storm. And in Roy's neighborhood, people are buying them up, building new houses, then turning them around and selling them for a couple hundred thousand dollars just down the street from him. It's a fortune compared to what Roy paid 15 years ago.

Zoe Chace

What do you think the neighborhood will be like in 10 years?

Roy Bradley

10 more years? Oh, all of us will be gone. Black homeowners, we'll be out of here. 10 more years-- this is just my theory of it-- they're going to be done kicked all of us out of here. And they're going to have these nice, big, pretty houses back here. You're going to have the street car come down through the middle.

And they're going to have the [INAUDIBLE] thing in the back on the levee. And then we'll be gone for good. I hope not, because I hope to still be here.

Zoe Chace

Roy's original plan was to buy properties in the Lower Ninth and rent them out to pay for his home. With the neighborhood booming, that's exactly what's happening-- for other people.

Ira Glass

Zoe Chace.

Act 5. Fifth Stop.

Ira Glass

OK. We are at the fifth stop in our tour of the Lower Ninth, Royal Street. So you get on Royal Street and go as far east as it goes. Stop where it dead ends by that six-foot-high chain link fence. And as you stand here facing east, you can look through the fence and-- do that now-- you see the remains of the Holy Cross school. And you can see it was once a beautiful old southern school, three stories with columns and balconies and curved brick work, now left here basically to rot.

Look. The windows are boarded up. And there's a bright blue tarp on the roof that's ripping into shreds it's been up there so long. There's some kind of scary looking black mold that I think I see peeking through the bricks.

What you're looking at right now, believe it or not, is the site of one of the big gentrification fights in the Lower Ninth. This last year, a developer has been trying to build an upscale high-rise here-- condos, seven stories tall, hundreds of apartments and offices, a huge parking lot-- in a neighborhood-- again, look around. It's almost entirely family houses just one or two stories tall. And whether or not this gets built, newcomers are moving into this area, especially this part of the ward.

You remember Kirk Washington? Remember him, from the beginning of the show? He lives just a couple blocks from here. And across the street from him, a white couple moved in in his friend Isaac's old house. And he likes them. He likes them a lot, says hello.

Neighbor

How you doing?

Kirk Washington

Doing fine.

Neighbor

Hey, Mr. Wash, how are you doing?

Kirk Washington

I'm fine.

Neighbor

All right.

Kirk Washington

That's the house that Isaac-- he drowned right there in that house right there.

Ira Glass

The couple going into the house are Simon Hand and his wife, Sarah DeBacher. She's active in the local neighborhood association, and popular enough that they elected her vice president, and then they elected her president. But it's complicated being, you know, sort of the face of the changing Lower Ninth. One of our producers, Sean Cole, talked to Sarah.

Sean Cole

Even though she thinks about race-- her race-- all the time, Sarah DeBacher is still figuring out how to talk about it. She can have a hard time getting through a sentence without stopping to comment on what she's saying, like when I asked her why she moved to Lower Ninth Ward after the storm.

Sarah Debacher

Maybe some of it had to do with guilt and wanting-- god, this is sounding gross-- wanting to be part of helping in a meaningful way to rebuild.

Sean Cole

Which, on the one hand, is noble, of course. But on the other hand, in helping to rebuild a neighborhood that was 88% black before the hurricane, Sarah's worried she'll come across as some white savior asshole.

Sarah Debacher

My role as ah, I don't even want to say "my role." Who I am as a white newcomer to the Lower Ninth Ward, that identity has been an uncomfortable one for me.

Sean Cole

"Newcomer" should probably be in quotes. Sarah's lived in the Lower Ninth Ward since 2008, so about three years after the hurricane. Before that, Sarah and Simon were living upriver from the Lower Ninth in the Marigny neighborhood, next to the French Quarter. But when they decided to buy a house, the Marigny wasn't an option. Because after Katrina, it was suddenly totally unaffordable for them.

Katrina had a gentrifying effect on a lot of the city. First came the YURPS, or Young Urban Rebuilding Professionals. And after they helped put the city back together, another wave of entrepreneurs and tech workers and creative economy types came in. Sarah and Simon are both teachers. And the Lower Ninth Ward was more in their price range. Besides which, they liked it there.

Sarah Debacher

I don't want to romanticize some of the, like, "oh, because neighbors talk to each other." But I mean, that's part of it.

Sean Cole

They actually started going to community meetings even before they moved to the Lower Ninth Ward. And ultimately, they bought a $50,000 double shotgun house, financed by an FHA loan for first-time homebuyers, and knocked out the middle wall that separated the two apartments.

As you're more than aware by now, people in the Lower Ninth Ward are friendly. And they were friendly to Sarah and her husband. But there was definitely a "what are you doing here" type vibe in the beginning, and even a few years in. She remembers this one night after her first son was born. It was late, maybe 11 o'clock. And these kids down the way started setting off fireworks.

Sarah Debacher

And my son had colic. And so, like, I was in the trenches with this baby who never stopped crying. And he was asleep. And then these fireworks started going off. And I went out in and first talked to the kids and just said, "hey, can you maybe do that another time?"

And then there was a voice from the porch. And she was like, if you have a problem, you can talk to me. You don't talk to my kids. And, you know, touche.

Sean Cole

That's fair.

Sarah Debacher

That's fair.

Sean Cole

So Sarah says to her, look, you're a mom. I'm a mom. I've got this colicky baby. I'm going nuts. Can you please tell your kids to knock it off?

Sarah Debacher

And she came off the porch and got in my face and said, you know, we didn't have any problems before you people moved in. We all minded our own business. And I was like, whoa. I really just need to sleep. I need just my baby to sleep. That's what this is about.

And she just wasn't hearing it. I mean, she was not hearing it. That conversation was about the changes in her neighborhood and anger about that. And at that moment, I was trying to make it about me. You know, like, can we be neighbors?

And I don't know. When I'm thinking about it now, I'm realizing that maybe my expectation that I would be able to diffuse that situation was coming from a little bit of a sense of entitlement. Like, why aren't you calming down?

Sean Cole

Right.

Sarah Debacher

But I recognize that that interaction was tied to who I am-- big W--

Sean Cole

Big W White person. But it's not just that Sarah's a white person in the Lower Ninth Ward. She's a community leader. When that interaction with her neighbor happened, Sarah was already vice president of her neighborhood association. And it's tricky to work on behalf of this largely African American community in a way that doesn't seem like she's saying, I know what's good for you.

Woman

Good afternoon, and thank you for coming. The public hearing before the city planning commission is now called to order.

Sean Cole

But this is how skewed and confusing the politics can get. That big condo complex that's been proposed in the Lower Ninth Ward? Sarah is one of the people spearheading the opposition to it. At a planning commission meeting last year, her neighbors applauded her before she even started talking. She cited specific zoning ordinances and showed slides.

Sarah Debacher

I've been hearing again and again that the Lower Ninth Ward has to take what they can get. We do not believe that the Lower Ninth Ward has to take what we can get. In fact--

Sean Cole

But then one of the supporters of the project stood up, a guy who said he was born in the Lower Ninth and was around for Hurricane Betsy too, and that the area really needs a development like this one. And then he basically said the thing that Sarah's so concerned about all the time.

Man

And you Johnny-come-lately people, y'all don't know about the Lower Ninth Ward. Y'all don't know anything about the Lower Ninth Ward.

Sean Cole

So for understandable reasons, Sarah wants to make sure she's being a neighbor in the right way. And she's actually checked in with folks, in a way that you never really encounter, to ask them point blank, am I doing this the right way?

Sarah Debacher

You know, I came home last night and talked to a couple of my neighbors, Trina and Duane, about, like, what does this feel like for you, this 10 years later stuff? And how are you doing? And I was like, so what did you think when we moved here? What did you think? And Trina said, well, you know, Bud wanted to buy that house.

Sean Cole

Bud is Kirk Washington. Some people call him Bud. They also call him Wash and Washington. He has a lot of names.

Sarah Debacher

And he just, I guess, didn't get it together in time or whatever. And so there was that. But we don't have a problem with you, Sarah, We don't have a problem with you. Which was interesting, because the implication there is that there are problems. Because there are.

Sean Cole

Do you feel like you're a part of the problem?

Sarah Debacher

I don't know, man. In some ways, I don't feel like I really have control over that. That's a good question, right? But in some ways, I feel like, well, so what if I do or don't?

Sean Cole

It's really up to the people around her to make that call. And it's up to them whether to hold it against her that she wouldn't even be their neighbor if it weren't for this storm that upended all their lives.

Sarah Debacher

My neighbor told me last night that the man who lived in our house-- and I knew this. I knew that someone had died in our house, although I didn't know when we bought the house. I really didn't. I mean, like, how naive can I be? It said one DOA, like, spray painted on the side of the house.

Sean Cole

Dead on arrival.

Sarah Debacher

And then I went and talked to Washington. And Washington told me-- this is like why my neighbors are so dope, OK? So Washington told me the man who lived in our house that he had a bit of a drinking problem. And probably he just drank too much and fell asleep on the bed and the water just came up over his head. He told me that.

Sean Cole

So just to clarify, this is what Kirk Washington said to Sarah at the time, seven years ago, when she first got to the neighborhood. He did not tell her what he told Robyn, about how his neighbor Isaac shouted for help and how he's haunted by that still.

Sarah Debacher

And then last night, Trina told me the truth, which I'm not sure I can really utter without falling apart. But he didn't go quietly in his sleep.

Sean Cole

Even for people who weren't here for the storm, everything in the Lower Ninth Ward is attached to loss in some way. And the recovery has been so slow. And it's happening in a way that a lot of people here, including Sarah, didn't sign up for.

On the surface, it looks like the really typical story of gentrification. And as a country, we are terrible at that, at figuring out how to improve the neighborhood without fundamentally altering it and displacing the people who live there. There are always losers. But what's especially harsh here in the Lower Ninth is that this is happening in a place where so much loss has already come before it.

Ira Glass

Sean Cole.

Act 6. Sixth Stop.

Ira Glass

We've arrived at the sixth stop, our last stop, on the tour of the Lower Ninth.

Boy

Morning. Come on, man. You got the ball.

Ira Glass

On Alabo Street, between North Villere and Urquhart, there's some rebuilt homes. And there's some homes that look like Katrina just hit, like one house that scares the neighborhood kids that has possums living inside. In front of an abandoned lot, somebody's put up a basketball hoop.

And we talked to so many people in the Lower Ninth who are still so traumatized by what happened a decade ago that at some point, we just started looking for anybody who wasn't. That's how we ended up here.

Brishun Gary

When I think about it, I just turn on the TV--

Boy

You know what people do?

Brishun Gary

Shhh. I'm talking.

Boy

Come on, man.

Brishun Gary

I just turn on the TV, do a search, and I type in Hurricane Season-- you know the movie that they made about New Orleans, yeah? I'll be watching that.

Ira Glass

Brishun Gary and his buddies talked to Zoe. They are 14, 13, and 11. And they do not remember the storm. Their big source of information, this film Hurricane Season, is a straight to DVD film about high school basketball players in the city after the storm. Needless to say, when these guys tell the story of the storm that destroyed their own neighborhood, it is without the pain you hear when adults tell it.

Brishun Gary

Because my grandmother was with that. They was living through that. She said they lying down. Next thing you know, all you hear was, ah, ah, swish.

Boy 2

What?

Brishun Gary

And she said-- because they were screaming.

[GIGGLING]

No, listen. Because they were screaming. And then she was like, swish. And then the water just came on [INAUDIBLE]. The roof came off. [GROWL] So she said she couldn't get on top of the roof, so she got on top of her dresser.

And once she told me that, I'm like, man. I thought she was lying at first. So I started watching movies. And then I was like, oh, yes, must be true.

Ira Glass

What's interesting talking to kids about this is that some of the events that adults remember with horror, like being displaced to Texas or to Georgia, and all the difficulties in providing for their kids and finding housing and finding work, for the kids was sometimes just a very different experience.

Breyana

It was so fun.

Ira Glass

Breyana was only two when her family fled the city for Texas.

Breyana

Because I remember getting to spend time with my family. Because usually, you know your mom goes to work, and your grandma goes to work. And I was happy, because my mom and my grandma was at home, and we get to have fun with each other.

Bron

Like after Hurricane Katrina, we went from Mississippi, from Mississippi to Georgia, from Georgia to South Carolina, from South Carolina to North Carolina to North Carolina, Pennsylvania. I've been all over. [LAUGHS] I've been all over for real.

Ira Glass

Bron was 12 when the storm hit and his family went all over.

Bron

It's pretty nice to actually see other states than just New Orleans. Because when I was young, I didn't used to see nothing else outside. Hurricane Katrina really helped me out to see other places. Yeah.

Ira Glass

Over on Gordon Street, between Burgundy and Rampart, Robyn ran into this 23-year-old, just, you know, on the street. And they started talking. And his name is Terrence Marshall. He went to Texas for a year after the storm. And then his family came back. And since then, he's found all of his old friends from when he was a little kid growing up here, from back when he was 13, except one of them.

Terrence Marshall

His name's Samuel. Samuel.

Robyn Semien

Have you tried to find him?

Terrence Marshall

Yeah, I tried on Facebook and Myspace. I tried Twitter. I called his house phone. But the line was disconnected. I can't find him.

Robyn Semien

You tried to ask other people who knew him?

Terrence Marshall

Yeah. They ain't seen him either. So I just hope ain't nothing happened to him.

Robyn Semien

But you don't know.

Terrence Marshall

I don't know. I just want to see him again.

Ira Glass

Though most of the people who died in Katrina were elderly, many of those in their own homes, some kids died, too. The best estimates are 10 or 20 in New Orleans.

Terrence is an adult now. When he last saw Samuel, they were both in middle school, both 13. They loved to play Game Boy and YuGiOh cards together. He asked Robyn that we would broadcast a message over the radio. Here it is.

Terrence Marshall

Hey, old Sam, it's T. Tell me if you made it. Have you made it through Katrina? Some kind of way you hear this, let me know you're alive, you hear me? I seen everybody except you. Tyrone. I've seen Mo. I even seen B. But hey, just let me know if you're out there.

[PHONE RINGING]

Hello?

Robyn Semien

Terrence, it's Robyn. Can you hear me?

Terrence Marshall

Yeah, I hear you.

Robyn Semien

Hey, I have someone here that wants to talk to you.

Terrence Marshall

All right.

Samuel

Hello?

Terrence Marshall

Hello?

Samuel

Hey, what's up?

Terrence Marshall

Who is this?

Samuel

This is Samuel.

Terrence Marshall

Man, you're lying.

Samuel

Nah.

Terrence Marshall

I swear to god, son. Hey, Sam, where you at? Sam, it's Terrence, son. Sam, it's Terrence, son.

Samuel

Yeah. What's up, man?

Terrence Marshall

Damn, boy. Where the hell you been?

Samuel

I've been to New Jersey. I've been to Arkansas.

Terrence Marshall

Man, what's up, brah? I even seen Maurice, Tyrone, Jessica, all of them. [INAUDIBLE]. I thought you was dead, boy. I swear to God.

Samuel

Yeah.

Terrence Marshall

Man, what's up, for real? How your mom doing? How your brothers doing? What's up?

Samuel

Like, they're doing good.

Terrence Marshall

Yeah, so I'm still short, lil son.

Samuel

[LAUGHS]

Terrence Marshall

Yeah, exactly. I'm only like 5'6", son-- 5'5", 5'6", son.

Samuel

[LAUGHS] I'm like 6 foot now.

Terrence Marshall

Damn!

Robyn Semien

Hey, wait. Samuel, will you tell me, what did you think happened to Terrence? I never asked you that.

Samuel

I actually thought he did not survive Katrina.

Robyn Semien

You thought he didn't make it.

Samuel

Yeah. Yeah. In Katrina, like, you hear the death count, but you don't hear who.

Terrence Marshall

Hey, I don't mean to cut you off. Not to cut you off, but you still talk-- like, you got a different accent. But you're still talking and responding the same way from when you were a little kid, son. You were like, uh. And you still do that.

Samuel

Yeah. They say I have like a dad laugh. That's how they made fun of me here.

Terrence Marshall

[LAUGHS] Man, I'm not even gonna lie, man. I got a huge burden-- like, this is like a real-- I really feel like you blessed me just now. Like, seriously, it feel good. It feel real good talking to you son, because you were like my best friend, son. Like damn, dude.

Samuel

Yeah.

Terrence Marshall

This feel good. This feel good talking to you. I ain't even going to front.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Well, our program was produced today by Robyn Semien and Zoe Chace, Sean Cole, Stephanie Foo, Chana Joffe-Walt, Miki Meek, Jonathan Menjivar, with Brian Reed, Alissa Shipp, Lily Sullivan, and Nancy Updike. Our editor is Joel Lovell. Julie Snyder is editorial consultant.

Other editing help this week from David George and Neil Drumming. Additional reporting today by going Laine Kaplan-Levenson. Additional production work from Sachar Mathias. Seth Lind is our operations director. Emily Condon's our production manager. Elise Bergerson's our business operations manager.

Elna Baker scouts stories for the show. Kimberly Henderson is our office coordinator. Research help today from Christopher Swetala and Michelle Harris. Music help today from Damien Graef and Rob Geddis.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

Our website, ThisAmericanLife.org. This American Life is delivered to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange.

Thanks as always to our program's co-founder, Mr. Torey Malatia. You know, in his early career in broadcasting, he actually fired-- fired-- Eugene Levy from SCTV.

John Barry

It was very difficult to do. That was a very good levee.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass, back next week with more stories of this American life.