My Year of Hurricanes
A trip to the devastated Lower Ninth Ward.
This article is part of an ongoing series by Blake Bailey, a New Orleans resident who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina. Click here to read more of his dispatches.
Last week I went back to New Orleans for the third time in a month—this time to meet with my insurance adjuster. With every visit, the city seems a bit more recovered: more people back, more businesses open, more debris cleared. Still, there are signs that all is not well, to put it mildly, and the overall impression is that of a fallen world. On Canal Street I saw an otherwise normal-looking man taking a piss in broad daylight; he didn't seem drunk; people passed him without a jot of dismay.
My adjuster, Danny Wells, was scheduled to inspect my house at 7:30 in the morning, the first of many inspections that day. Tomorrow he'd be leaving for West Palm Beach to get started on Hurricane Wilma. I was running late because I'd stopped en route at a Shell station in Metairie to buy coffee. The place was jammed with rowdy Hispanic recovery workers. Sandwiches were microwaved five at a time then hurled across the store trailing steam; the cash register receded into the distance as workers cut in front of me to join their chuckling buddies. By the time I departed, my coffee was cold and my banana had ripened a bit.
At my house I found Danny Wells picking his way through the debris in my backyard, taking mysterious measurements.
"So," I greeted him, "are you going to give me lots and lots of money?"
He chuckled uneasily. "Well, you know, we're checking for wind damage here," he said. He was a wizened man in his late 50s who looked as though he'd seen his share of the world's pain. "You met with your flood adjuster yet?" he asked.
I told him I had no flood insurance, and he began shaking his head. I added that—according to the Washington Post—less than 1 percent of homeowners nationwide have flood insurance where it isn't required. The goddamn FEMA maps, I went on, were outrageously inaccurate, and besides, the government has known for decades that the whole levee system …
"It's a shame," he sighed, and consulted his clipboard. "OK, here's what we got so far. This part of your house will have to be re-sided. Been on the roof and found a few shingles missing, plus a left-front patch needs to be replaced." He peered at his clipboard as if hoping to find more. "I can get you $500 for debris removal." He looked again, but that was it. "Want to go inside now?"
Inside he took photos and sighed from time to time. Finally he sighed deeper than ever and said, "Is that a new fridge?"
We looked at my brand-new Sears refrigerator, which appeared to be sweating maggots.
Blake Bailey is the author of Cheever: A Life.