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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 September 2005, 06:14 GMT 07:14 UK
'We knew it was bound to happen'
By Verity Murphy
BBC News, New Orleans

"It's good to be home," Raymond Jones said as the plane from Houston, Texas touched down in New Orleans.

Raymond Jones
Fema gave Raymond Jones a box for his few possessions
Raymond is just one of the many thousands returning home to the disaster-struck city for the first time after a month spent in Fema shelters or relying on the kindness of friends.

Like so many others he had fled the city in a hurry, taking little with him as he expected to be back in just a few days.

"It's my birthday on 27 August, the day before Katrina hit, so me and my girlfriend had been out to celebrate," he explained.

"Basically we had gone home and were asleep when my friend Sean phoned and said: 'Do you know how big this storm that's coming is? Haven't you seen the reports? You need to get out now!'"

"So we just packed two changes of clothes and left."

Shelter nightmare

Raymond and girlfriend Jane Stubbs then began their month-long stint away from home.

They first headed to Houston, spending two days in a hotel, before moving south to Galveston, where Jane's parents live.

Galveston was itself hit by the region's second terrible hurricane, Rita, on Friday night, but by then the couple had moved on.

The Salvation Army help clean up after Hurricane Rita

"We've spoken to them and apparently their house wasn't too badly hit," Raymond said.

The couple spent a week and a half in Galveston, but heard that in order to qualify for the help Fema was offering Katrina's victims they would have to get into one of the official relief shelters.

So they travelled up to Austin and moved into a shelter at the city's Convention Centre for three days.

Once there Jane and Raymond were given spare underwear and a box for their meagre possessions, as well as food stamps and the $2,000 (1,130) cheque that the evacuees are each being given by Fema to help them get back on their feet.

But as far as Raymond is concerned the experience at the shelter was something they both could really have done without.

"They didn't know what they were doing. It was basically three days of queuing," Raymond said. "Three days with no privacy surrounded by the noise of everyone else there."

Now after weeks of sleeping on a friend's floor Raymond is finally being allowed back into his house in the Uptown area of New Orleans.

Social burden?

Peering out of the aeroplane windows as you fly over the city into Louis Armstrong airport you get the impression that most New Orleans residents must have a swimming pool in their back yard.

A closer look reveals that the patches of blue below are in fact blue tarpaulins covering the tops of houses where the roofs used to be. And these of course are the outskirts - elsewhere has been much harder hit.

Patrick Callahan
Patrick Callahan kept his computer hard drive with him all the time
Raymond knows that Uptown, which sits on high ground, was spared the worst ravages of the flooding, but nonetheless he is still angry.

"Everyone in New Orleans has known for years that the levees would not hold if we took a direct hit," he said. "If we all knew it, how come the politicians didn't?"

Patrick Callahan, who is returning to the newly opened Algiers area of the city, is similarly bitter.

"I have lived in New Orleans my whole life and we always knew it wouldn't even withstand a category three," he said. "We knew that if we ever did get a direct hit it would be really, really bad and that going to the Superdome would be a very bad idea."

"I am just a resident. If the residents knew it, why didn't they?"

As the rest of the country ponders the enormous cost of repairing and rebuilding New Orleans, politicians and media pundits alike have been filling the TV news channels with their views of what to do next.

Many have been critical of the city's poor, unemployed residents and the drain they make on the US welfare system, a view which has appalled Patrick.

"You know when people in America want to party, to have a good time; they all just love New Orleans," he said. "But now we need their help, they complain about us being a welfare state."




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