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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 February 2006, 15:40 GMT
Gulf Coast road trip: Part 3
Rhonda Buie
Rhonda Buie - a member of the BBC's US voters' panel - is travelling to communities on the US Gulf Coast to see how they are rebuilding their lives, five months after Hurricane Katrina.

This is the third in a series of pieces she is sending from the region.


My Mom joined me for the next part of my trip. She drove, so I could observe more and take pictures and shoot video.

Graves in a Slidell cemetery
Cemeteries still lie damaged in some poorer neighbourhoods
Some were taken at two cemeteries near my house in Slidell. They are very old and belong to the older, poor and predominately black neighbourhoods nearby.

Even five months after Katrina, only minimal work has been done here.

A few of the tombs had new bricks laid, but no mortar. The bricks did not fit - it was as if they were found lying around and placed as best they could.

Some of the tombs are empty. The caskets are simply gone after the protective layer of bricks washed away. Some are piled on top of one another.

One grave is open, but I could not tell if there was anything inside as it was filled with water. The whole thing was very creepy.


Cleaners in the Olde Town, Slidell
Spray paint marks show where the water line reached many buildings
Next, we visited the Olde Town area of Slidell. Many businesses are still closed here.

We noticed that the post office was open - it hadn't been open for months - and a local hotel had been repaired. There was a cleaners on one corner that looked closed. It caught my attention because someone had sprayed a green line labelled: 'H20 line'.

This gives you some idea how far inland the water travelled, as Olde Town is more than three miles from Lake Pontchartrain. Even my own parents' house was flooded, which is why they had to rebuild. Water covered all of Slidell and further. Katrina was that powerful.

We stopped off for an early dinner. Seafood here is cheap and plentiful and I enjoyed my first 'shrimp poboy' in many years. However, like other stores, they were looking for help. They probably closed around sundown, like most businesses around here now.

I also took pictures of the tallest building in Slidell, which housed many government offices, but is now condemned.

Losing hope

Spray-paint on house saying: "Don't demolish roof"

Next, we went to the Eden Isles area of Slidell. I covered most of this in film.

We passed the marshes next to the lake seeing house after demolished house and business after demolished business.

Many houses in the area are raised off the ground to various heights. Many had their steps washed away and so still use ladders to get inside.

Finally, we came to a road that ran along Lake Pontchartrain's edge. Many of the smaller structures along this road were rented homes that floated on the water, or rested on pylons and stilts. The floating homes are known as 'camps'.

There was a sign tacked to a pole that read, "may the camps rest in peace".

It was on this road that my emotions caught up with me.

Figurine of boy among ruins of house

I wandered around a few house foundations, and found a small figurine of a boy with his knees to his chest. Someone had placed it on a pylon alongside a faded baby picture, and a set of dishes. It was so lonesome looking. The image of it is burned in my memory.

It made me think about how people here are still trying to stay strong, despite losing hope.

They aren't willing to look sad, tired, discouraged, or say negative things about how they are faring.

They feel it, though, and it can be heard in their voices when they speak about it beyond saying, "I'm doing fine".

Spirit and purpose

I have to admit I have easily run out of energy here.

When I think about all the fallen trees and buildings, the angry faces and voices, the politics going nowhere, I feel downright lethargic.

Also, typing has become painful due to some health problems I've had for years.

I headed next to the Church of Christ of Picayune, Mississippi. It has about 120 members. Since Katrina it has seen more new members.

But it has also lost some who have had to move away. A Cajun man and his family come to mind. He was crying the last night he was here.

This church has grown in spirit and purpose since the hurricane.

It was illustrated in the work of its members and how they filled the building with everything from mattresses to soap and furniture in order to hand it out to people in the area who needed it.

The office of the church has turned into a small nerve centre, where the church leaders talk constantly about where they will send incoming volunteers or shipments of supplies.

Since Katrina, churches have been a major source of help. Picayune Church of Christ is only one example of many.

They have been responsible for many people having roofs over their heads or clothes on their back, food distribution when money was scarce, and furniture when homes were completed with no money left for household items.

They've been there for people when Fema and other official bodies only hand out money.

Katrina has brought many a lot of trouble. However, I can't help but think that the people who stayed behind and became involved in any way, not just through churches, have been richly rewarded in ways that others will never know.

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