Damage caused by looters is second devastation for some
A recovery effort official urged residents to use extreme caution.
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
NEW ORLEANS -- Hai Pham knows why people stranded by Hurricane Katrina would steal food and water, perhaps even beer. But he will never understand their wanton destruction of his small neighborhood convenience store near the impoverished lower Ninth Ward.
The extent of damage hit home for the first time this weekend for many residents and business owners in some of the area's most devastated neighborhoods. As limited access was granted to allow the cleanup process to begin, it yielded somber homecomings.
Yet even as some evacuees returned, officials warned that the city remains dangerous, with limited police, fire and medical services. People re-enter at their own risk, Mayor Ray Nagin warned Saturday. Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen, commander of the New Orleans recovery effort, urged all returning citizens to use "extreme caution" and asked residents to consider waiting "until safer and more livable conditions are established."
A curfew is being enforced from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m.
Comprehending the storm's destruction was hard enough, but for many, coming to terms with the damage done by man in the days that followed is even tougher.
Feeling the loss
"Whatever they needed they could have taken," said Pham, 39, crawling through the broken window of Mike's Food Store. He stepped into ankle-deep packages of spoiled meat, crackers and fruit smeared with oily mud. "They did not have to do this."
As officials herald the sooner-than-expected return of some business owners to check on their properties in the French Quarter tourist mecca, small-store owners like Pham contemplate the grim choice of whether to reopen several miles away in one of the city's poorest sections that was first battered by nature, then ravaged by looters.
"If they can show proof of looting that's one thing," said George Mouk, a certified insurance counselor who was inspecting his wife's looted toy store Saturday. "But for small businesses, the problem is whether their insurance covers loss of income during the time the business was shut down."
In St. Bernard Parish, roadblocks opened at 7 a.m. Saturday so residents could check on their homes and retrieve belongings.
Angela and Joey Bernard were the only ones on their block who returned.
It had been three weeks; they found a house full of gray mold with tidemarks on the walls 3 feet high. A slick layer of silt covered the floor. The couch was sopping wet.
On the Mississippi coast around Gulfport, the rootless were uprooted again Saturday.
To make way for schools to open in a few weeks, Red Cross workers bused hundreds of those displaced by Katrina into five consolidated shelters, leaving many survivors angry and anxious.
"We had made a community here," said Kevin Melton, one of more than 100 people moved from Harrison Central Elementary School in Gulfport. "Now they're moving us to Crack Central."
He was referring to the Good Deeds Community Center, home to a new Red Cross shelter and one that police and relief workers agreed sits in a neighborhood troubled by crime.