For the Good of the Gulf: UNC Law Winter/Spring Break Pro Bono Project

Monday, December 19, 2005

Ghost city

Driving into New Orleans last night, I had the eerie feeling that we were entering a ghost town. I-10 east of New Orleans is bordered by some of the areas hardest hit by the hurricane, and we drove for several miles of interstate in almost total darkness-- none of the street lights were lit, and all the buildings lining either side of the highway were black, no sign of life anywhere. There were uprooted trees here and there on the side of the highway, but other than that, the darkness concealed most of what I imagined was great devastation beyond. The only sign of any kind of activity were large car dealerships rising out of the pitch black, with glaring flourescent lights and screenprinted signs screaming "YES, WE'RE OPEN!" hung makeshift across the former lighted signs damaged by the storm. We finally came to an area where the streetlights were lit and saw large buildings with walls and roofs ripped off, whole apartment complexes with collapsed or collapsing buildings. Neighborhoods lining the interstate were darkened, no cars anywhere, blue tarps covering a roof here and there.

We crested a hill and a few miles ahead, we could see the lights of downtown, no doubt a shell of its former self, and yet, to me, a sign that there was a future for this great city. As we headed to Metairie, our home for the week, we could tell we were heading into areas where the storm had wreaked less havoc. Christmas lights hung here and there in the neighborhoods. I'm a big sucker for Christmas and all its trimmings, so these were another important sign of hope for me.

Our hosts, the Goodsons, are the family of a 3L student at UNC. Their home in Metairie was flooded with foot and a half of water. They were so kind to let us invade their family space, especially since they are in the midst of rebuilding it. Their whole kitchen has been ripped out, ready to be remade and their walls are bare drywall. And yet their walls were still lined with jovial family photos, a sign that this house is their home, and they have no intention of leaving. Their neighborhood streets are lined with travel trailers, as folks live outside their homes while they rebuild the insides. I was struck by the incredible level of disruption these folks suffered with only a foot to a foot and a half of water in their homes, and for the most part, the means to repair them. My heart ached for them, and I was humbled by their determination to rebuild, to be defiant in the face of an unknown and unknowable future.

But I was even more struck by what and who I had yet to see. What of those whose homes were flooded to their roofs, those who have no money to repair or rebuild anything, those whose family photos are lost forever, those may never return? It is for these people we are here, and I am so grateful to UNC, to my classmates and to the Goodsons for making this trip possible.


  • Hello Mandy,
    From your friends at Pennies for Change Thrift Store in Durham. It is great that you were able to help survivors of Katrina in New Orleans. Please post more about the experience!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:07 PM  

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