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Honeysuckle Lane Strives to Restore Neighborhood


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel in New Orleans. And we're at the Dong Fhong (ph) Bakery in New Orleans East, talking with residents of Honeysuckle Lane.

All of you have had the experience of life on your street suddenly being disrupted by this disaster, and you know what it's like now. For those of us who don't expect it now, but might some day experience something like what you've experienced, Eric Arnow (ph), what are the lessons? What can you tell people?

Mr. ERIC ARNOW (Resident, Honeysuckle Lane): First of all, looking in hindsight, looking back on what happened, had they closed the city Friday, that would have gave us ample time. Nagin, somebody, waiting for people in the lower lying area to get out. You just can't wait. There's too many people in the city of New Orleans that don't have the means or the wherewithal to get out. These people should have been out. The city of New Orleans lights should have been turned out Friday night.

SIEGEL: But here's the other side of that. The other side is, do people want to experience what they call false positives? What happens when the city cries wolf and they say, everybody evacuate, and then the storm doesn't --

Mr. ARNOW: It's better to be safe than sorry, the way I see it, to be honest.

SIEGEL: So one lesson here, when there's an impending disaster, and it's even a 40%, 30% chance, treat it as if it's for real.

Unidentified Woman: I think so. I really think so. And I think that you really have to rely upon yourself. I tell people in San Antonio, Texas, if any kind of disaster, terrorist, natural disaster, rely on yourself and your family. Don't assume that the government is going to be there to help you do anything. Make sure you do it for yourself. I think you are your first line of defense, be that, prepare. Like you plan for a vacation, you prepare yourself for whatever will happen so that you and your family can be safe or you know where to go.

SIEGEL: Cynthia Townsend.

Ms. CYNTHIA TOWNSEND (Resident, Honeysuckle Lane): And I think the city after the aftermath of Katrina and they have seen what happens, they need to prepare themselves to go out into those communities, because your senior citizens and the less fortunate are always going to be with us. We are always going to have mama still staying at home, even though she should have left. Knock on those doors and go get those folks, go get them.

SIEGEL: Let's say everybody had been evacuated successfully. Say somehow New Orleans had cleared that hurdle, and you've all have gone someplace else. What's the lesson that you draw from that if you were to tell people -- once you've gotten out of the target area from whatever that danger is, what should people know? What happens then?

Unidentified Woman: I really think that hopefully the federal government has learned its lesson and that it would have places prepared north of Baton Rouge so that all of the citizens wouldn't have been scattered over the 41 states, that we could have been centrally located in state.


Ms. GAYE HEWITT (Resident of New Orleans): I think that a system should be devised so that there's a nationwide televising of information. Something should be in place no matter where you are. If you live in Louisiana, and right now you're in Wisconsin, there should be some kind of system where you can have some type of information fed to you constantly on a daily basis or every other day, whichever it should be.

SIEGEL: Let me ask a question. Specifically, how did my business, how did the news business and all media fair for you? Was it responsible? Could you figure out -- Gaye, it sounds like the answer is no.

Ms. HEWITT: No. Okay. I was in Southwest Houston with my kids, and the only news that I really got about New Orleans was the violence that was going on in Houston, the violence that was going on in New Orleans and other states. I guess it was something that I needed to know, but I really wanted to know what was going on with my home.

SIEGEL: In the months since, we've tried to follow and then report what the various plans are for neighborhoods. Is the state going to offer you money for your house if you choose not to move back? How much? Would you deduct insurance from that amount or not? And I must say, it's been difficult to figure out what's on the table at any given time.

Mr. ARNOW: I keep hearing about the state. The state is broke and got a bunch of yo-yo's running it. The federal government ain't giving nothing. Don't depend on them people because you're not going to get nothing.

SIEGEL: John Brown, you've really, like many of you here, turned to family in these past few months and to the resources that your family had divided for you. That must become incredibly important at a time like this.

Mr. JOHN BROWN (Resident, Honeysuckle Lane): They're very, very important. My family is a close family. It's a network that has passed down from generation to generation. And we are very close, and we look out for each other. But my grandfather, which is my mother's father, before he passed away, he made sure all his kids had land and property, and this is where I'm living today because of my grandfather that made provision for my mother, and they made provision for their kids. And I'm 60-years old, and what I'll do, I'll try to do the same thing and pass mine down to the next generational family member.

SIEGEL: So that's one lesson of all this experience, which is, set aside for your kids, because who knows at whatever age, they might experience something Katrina like.

Unidentified Man: I kind of agree that one thing -- and I'm sure if you all think about it, you all would agree with this. That first week it was the family network. We had so many offers for alternatives in that first week, and it was the family network that we all relied on.

We relied on our resources to get out of town, but that family network really kicked in that first week and gave us options.

SIEGEL: I guess the last thing I'd like to ask all of you is what's the most important thing that has to get done right now in New Orleans? What's item number one, Lionel Basneck (ph).

Mr. LIONEL BASNECK (Resident, Honeysuckle Lane): The levees. They have to do better with the levees right now, at least get back to a Category 3. We need Category 5, but at least get back so people could feel safe coming back here.

SIEGEL: Well, what do you say to the taxpayer from Indiana who says, well, okay, do it, but if you're going to send me the tax bill for that, I'd like to revisit this idea of why you want to live in an area that is so vulnerable to flooding and hurricanes, Eric Arnow?

Mr. ARNOW: I would like to pose a question. Why spend the billions of dollars you're spending in Iraq talking about getting that [unintelligible], and they know they not getting that [unintelligible]. So if they can waste over $300 billion in Iraq, why not use it in this country, you see what I'm saying?

Unidentified Man: This country is a collection of resources. And it's been pointed out what resources we have here. We had a hub for the shipping, we had a hub for the seafood industry. Tourism locally is our economy, but we also had a hub for oil. So the resource this area produces to the country could justify the investment in a protection of this area.

Unidentified Woman: If you look at it, look at these people in this room. These people in this room right here, we've all come together. This is one big family right here. This is a reason right her to build it back. You put a neighborhood together and that neighborhood is going to fight be rebuilt. They have other neighborhoods out there that are fighting to rebuild. And I think this is one of the major reasons why they should, because of this family issue right here.

This is important. That is New Orleans.

SIEGEL: Gaye Hewitt, Joy McKinley, Eric and Joanne Arnow, Lionel and Jacinta Basneck, Cynthia Townsend, John Brown and Robert Zeller, all residents of Honeysuckle Lane in New Orleans East. Thank you so much for talking with us today.

And special thanks to Lin Tran (ph) of the Huang Guang Bakery, who is our host for this Honeysuckle Lane Town Meeting. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Robert Siegel
Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.