Wiser, better prepared New Orleans residents hunker down for Isaac

NEW ORLEANS Tue Aug 28, 2012 4:54pm EDT

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Nearly seven years to the day after Hurricane Katrina swamped New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward in a deadly tidal surge, its resilient residents say they are better prepared this time around for Hurricane Isaac.

"The bathtub is filled with water. I've got plenty of cold cuts, tuna fish, peanut butter, bread and I've got some milk," said Terry Adams, 49, who spent three days trapped on his roof when his Lower Ninth Ward home was torn off its foundations in more than 20 feet of water during Katrina in 2005.

The levee that gave way during Katrina, just two blocks away, has been rebuilt and reinforced, giving him confidence it will hold this time, he said.

New Orleans still struggles to recover from Katrina, which swept across it on August 29, 2005, killing more than 1,800 people and causing billions of dollars of damage.

The Lower Ninth Ward, whose residents are predominantly black and poor, was the spiritual if not actual epicenter of Katrina's deadly blow to New Orleans. When Katrina's tidal surge overwhelmed the Industrial Canal, a wall of water surged into the neighborhood and stripped many of its homes down to their foundations.

But while the Industrial Canal's levee is said to be stronger, Adams, a construction worker, said he plans to keep a close watch on the nearby water when Isaac hits. "I think every now and then I'll go down and check on that levee," he said.

On Tuesday, much of the neighborhood was deserted. Many homes are abandoned and empty lots, where houses once stood, are overgrown with weeds.

Of the handful of houses rebuilt near the levee, several were vacant as residents opted to leave town and avoid Isaac. City officials were telling residents to stay inside, seek safer shelter if needed and stock up on supplies.

Arthur Anderson Jr. and his son, Arthur Anderson III, chose to ride it out. They were busily unloading generators, bottled water and other supplies into their newly rebuilt house less than two blocks from the levee.

"We've got all kinds of eats and all kinds of treats," said the elder Anderson, 61, who was trapped in the attic of his house during Katrina before he escaped by boat.

This time, the Andersons have a boat tied up in their yard ready if they need to make a quick getaway with their foreboding watchdog, a German Shepherd named Tango.

"The ones that don't have a boat, they're the ones who've got to worry," said the younger Anderson, a 35-year-old contractor.

RAISED HOUSES

One area of bustling activity was around the new houses designed and built by Make It Right, a project founded and backed by Hollywood actor Brad Pitt.

The colorfully painted homes are raised up several feet off the ground and designed to be storm-proof.

"I feel like my house is sound," said Felicia Washington, 36, who has lived in a Make It Right house for about a year.

"It's just that levee I'm worried about," she said, gesturing to its cement wall visible through weedy fields a couple blocks away. "I don't want something to crack."

"I can't swim," she added.

Washington is reassured by an external spiral staircase that leads to the roof, a feature of the Make It Right houses. As she spoke, her two young sons raced up and down the emergency stairs, pretending to be captains of a giant ship.

About 90 Make It Right houses, either completed or under construction, fill the Lower Ninth Ward, said the project's spokeswoman Taylor Royle.

"I don't think there's safer houses in New Orleans," said Royle, who was planning to ride out Isaac in a house not yet occupied. "This is safer than my own house."

In the nearby Upper Ninth Ward, which held up slightly better in 2005, Allen Banks, 57, was outside on his porch shining the windows of the house he rebuilt after Katrina.

"I have a life jacket and a long rope," he said of his storm preparations. "And I can swim."

(Reporting and writing by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Chris Baltimore and Cynthia Osterman)

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