The devastating toll of Hurricane Katrina is still apparent throughout New Orleans’ 9th ward. Flood-ravaged homes with shattered windows line the streets, while the stench of growing mold and decay permeate the air.
The deadly hurricane made landfall 11 years ago, yet residents of the predominantly Black neighborhood are still living amid blighted houses crawling with disease-carrying vermin. Even residents who were evacuated and encouraged to come back say the putrid, abandoned structures are threatening their health.
“We’re getting sick from inhaling all this stuff,” longtime resident Roger Lewis Sr. told The Huffington Post.
According to the news site, Lewis’ home stands just across the street from Press Park, a 237-unit housing complex gutted by the raging floodwaters of Katrina over a decade ago. The decrepit state of the buildings hasn’t changed much since the floodwaters receded.
Retired trucker Loveice Stewart, 63, expressed disappointment with how bad things have gotten and said the area in the 9th ward has been “totally neglected.” Stewart said he and other residents have suffered breathing difficulties, strokes and seizures, among other health issues, as city leaders turn a blind eye to their strife.
“The mold and stuff, it’s still here, trust me,” he said. “You can smell it in the air. It bothers me. If I had the money, I’d get the hell out of here and take my family with me. It’s affecting our bodies.”
City Sewage and Water Board employee Jesse Perkins has dubbed the 9th ward’s residents “the forgotten people.” Even after evacuees were encouraged to come back and rebuild, Perkins said the city just hasn’t done enough to restore the community and accommodate those who have returned.
Concern over the spread of disease and mold spores has grown, as crumbling houses have the potential to circulate millions of tiny spores into the open air. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection agency, the inhalation of mold spores can trigger an asthma attack, but not much else.
Perkins isn’t so sure.
“I have major concerns, because we don’t know how it’s affecting out health,” he said. “We really don’t.”
The EPA currently isn’t monitoring mold levels in the area, the Huffington Post reports. However, testing by a non-profit environmental organization in 2005 found that the airborne mold levels in New Orleans posed a serious health risk to returning residents.
“The outdoor mold spore concentrations could easily trigger serious allergic or asthmatic reactions in sensitive people,” said Dr. Gina Solomon, M.D., of the National Resources Defense Council. “The indoor air quality was even worse, rendering the homes we tested dangerously uninhabitable by any definition.”
The results were indication that city and federal officials simply weren’t doing enough to address the major health threat faced by thousands of the city’s residents.
New Orleans chief resilience officer Jeff Hebert said tackling the health crisis caused by crumbling, contaminated homes isn’t that easy. Hebert told the Huffington Post that Louisiana’s strict property laws make it difficult to tear down the decrepit structures. With the state’s property process wrapped tight in bureaucratic red tape, city officials are forced to handle each of the blighted homes one by one.
“There is a [lengthy legal] process we have to go through to either demolish or put them up for sale,” Hebert explained.
The environmental health crisis in New Orleans’ 9th ward still persists, and community activist Rev. Willie Calhoun Jr. is tired of the excuses.
“For 11 years, we’ve been given excuses on why these buildings still stand,” Calhoun said. “Simply put, this area is not a priority to them and it’s unfortunate. There’s no reason kids should be out here breathing in the toxins of this area.”
“Without any remediation of this area, those mold spores are going to constantly stay in the air,” he continued. “People should not have to live like this.”
The demolition of Press Park is currently under open litigation.