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New Orleans Rising

Aired August 21, 2010 - 20:00   ET



SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN HOST (voice-over): Five years after Hurricane Katrina, many communities are still in ruin.

O'BRIEN (on camera): (INAUDIBLE) yet?

HURBY OUBRE, HURRICANE KATRINA VICTIM: Just going past, sick of it (ph).

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Families are torn apart.

LISA OUBRE, HURRICANE KATRINA VICTIM: No one wants to be a statistic. When is the ripple effect going to stop, you know, rolling over our lives?

H. OUBRE: She doesn't know why I want to come back. You know, it could flood again, you know, why you want to go back to that neighborhood? Why you got to go back?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is no place like Pontchartrain Park, period.

H. OUBRE: Everyone looked out for everyone else. It was a real neighborhood.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a special place to grow up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was beautiful out here. The houses was in order. Everything was perfect.

WENDELL PIERCE, NEW ORLEANS NATIVE: My parents' generation took something ugly like segregation and turned it into a - a beautiful, sustainable, one of the most stable American neighborhoods, not only in the city, but around the country.

O'BRIEN: For those who grew up in black, middle-class Pontchartrain Park, New Orleans, there is true love, and, in recent years, deep sorrow.

L. OUBRE: God knows we've lost enough. We lost every single thing we've ever owned up to that day in 2005.

O'BRIEN (on camera): The story is breaking at this hour. Hurricane Katrina, the monster storm, bearing down on New Orleans.

MELVIN WOODS, HURRICANE KATRINA VICTIM: I never dreamed - I never dreamed that we'd have a flood like that. Never.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A mandatory evacuation order is hereby called for all of the parish of Orleans.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Despite the acute warnings back on August 28th, 2005, no one from Pontchartrain Park then imagined that the powerful category 3 hurricane charging toward the Louisiana coastline would so drastically change their lives and destroy so much.

AUDREY WOODS, HURRICANE KATRINA VICTIM: ... Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

L. OUBRE: You were still in that mindset that this is not - this is going to be like any other time. We're going to pack up. We're going to take all of our stuff, and we'll be back in a couple of days. Nothing will happen.

O'BRIEN: Even so, Lisa and her husband Hurby Oubre, along with their then 10-year-old son Jacques, wasted no time.

JACQUES OUBRE, HURRICANE KATRINA VICTIM: I was thinking, why are we leaving? Why can't we stay? Where are we going?

A. WOODS: Our wedding was for 9:00.

O'BRIEN: Other neighbors didn't get out so fast.

Retired Teacher Audrey Woods says she had to practically pry her husband Melvin from what have been their home in Pontchartrain Park for more than 50 years.

A. WOODS: My husband said, no, he was not leaving.

O'BRIEN (on camera): Why not?

A. WOODS: Because he had upstairs, and if the water came, he would be upstairs.

O'BRIEN: Were you going to leave him?

A. WOODS: No. I never would have left him. So my youngest son, he came, and he said, momma, get in the car. Daddy, get in the car. He still fought. Get in the car.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): With winds gusting up to 127 miles an hour, Hurricane Katrina made Louisiana landfall on August 29, just after 6:00 A.M.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This area is completely under water.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It reaches about two blocks long, dumping water into the downtown area.

O'BRIEN: Over the next 24 hours, the levee system protecting New Orleans broke in 50 different places. Tidal surges enveloped New Orleans. Eighty percent of the city flooded. O'BRIEN (on camera): It is an absolute disaster here. This is what they call the worst of the worst.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): When Lake Pontchartrain's 15-foot waves overtopped the nearby London Canal levee, the water in Pontchartrain Park rose as high as 20 feet in some places.

M. WOODS: I went back to the kitchen to look out the back door, and the refrigerator was laying on its back, turning round and round. I said, that's a coffin, man. I said, time to go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you upstairs? Greenhouse?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somebody in the attic in these houses.



O'BRIEN: Many who didn't, or couldn't, leave their homes in time were stranded on their rooftops or in their attics.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't believe we could have broke through the roof.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We would have been dead.

O'BRIEN: Katrina would claim the lives of nine people from Pontchartrain Park. No house in the neighborhood would be left unscathed.

Someone else monitoring events from a safe distance away was actor Wendell Pierce.

PIERCE: Two jobs and three kids.

O'BRIEN: He was then starring in the HBO series "The Wire".

O'BRIEN (on camera): You've been left essentially with - with nothing from your home. Two weeks after the flooding, he told me about the impact of seeing pictures of his hometown underwater.

PIERCE: This reminds you, you are intimately connected to the city, because, you know, your home is your soul. It's the center of who you are.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): His elderly parents might have stayed behind in their Pontchartrain Park home if Wendell hadn't flown in to take them out.

PIERCE: It was three months before we could even get back. When we pulled up to the house, I'll never forget my father saying, well, maybe it's not that bad. Maybe it's not that bad. And then he got out of the car, and he broke down, because he knew it was.

It's my childhood home. Totally wiped out. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jesus.

O'BRIEN: Being a witness to this grand-scale disaster would years later propel Wendell to play perhaps his most challenging role - fighting to rebuild the neighborhood he and his parents loved.

PIERCE: All those in favor say "Aye"?

O'BRIEN: Wendell would lead the charge to inspire old neighbors to come together to save their homes and their community.

O'BRIEN (on camera): Why do you think Lisa doesn't want to come back?

H. OUBRE: She thinks that it could happen again. She says, can you guarantee that it - it wouldn't flood again? I said, there's no guarantees in anything.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): The Oubres have been living between two cities for five years.

H. OUBRE: I've been with the post office almost 20 years, and I would lose most of my seniority. And I'd always planned on coming back to New Orleans. That's where my home is. I want to go back. I always said that.

O'BRIEN: Already traumatized by the storm, families are falling apart over whether to return.

L. OUBRE: I can't go back there. I can't do that again. This is the major battle. This is the one time he's not budging.

H. OUBRE: That's - that's my home, man. You don't get it. That - that's my spot.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Is your marriage going to survive this?




L. OUBRE: Home after home after home after home was just devastated, and I just felt this sense of dread, you know, coming over me. We said this is not - this is not going to be good, and, you know, the neighborhood looked like it had been bombed.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Hurby and Lisa Oubre thought they'd be gone two days. Two months later, they came back to what was the pristine middle-class community of Pontchartrain Park.

H. OUBRE: Driving in, it was dead quiet. You know, no birds, no insects, no dogs, no people. It was just that - that the area's quiet you'll ever hear.

O'BRIEN (on camera): You opened your front door? L. OUBRE: We didn't have to open the front door. The front door was halfway open. The windows were busted out. The sofa was turned upside down, halfway blocking the door. There was mold, black mold, on the wall. The house was filled with eight feet of water, and it's not -- it's not clean water.

O'BRIEN: Did you think Pontchartrain Park was dead?

L. OUBRE: Absolutely. It looked dead. It smelled dead.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): With their neighborhood in ruins, the Oubres were divided over what to do next, their future uncertain.

L. OUBRE: I could not get on board with, you know, let's start thinking about how we're going to rebuild. I'm like, what? What -- what?

H. OUBRE: I wasn't going to let it die, and I knew that. I always felt that. I always said I would go back.

O'BRIEN: Audrey Woods and her husband came back to their home of 50- plus years around the same time.

A. WOODS: A lot of stuff that I wish I had, but did not survive.

O'BRIEN: And the identical scene.

A. WOODS: I didn't know whether to cry, scream. I didn't really know what to do, but my knees kind of buckled when I looked in here. And I said, oh, my God.

PIERCE: It's hard to see a neighborhood that, you know, you know so well, so full of life, without any life in it anymore.

O'BRIEN: For Wendell Pierce, the floodwaters were replaced by a sea of tears.

PIERCE: Five years earlier we had lost my older brother, and that changed my parents forever. And it was like a one-two punch, you know? There's a death in the family, and to see them walk in the house -

O'BRIEN: It was a total loss, but it crystallized his sense of Pontchartrain Park's unique place in history.

PIERCE: Pontchartrain Park was not something that just happened. It was by dogged fight by these young parents who had this opportunity to build a life for their families in one of the most difficult times in modern history. Jim Crow, the segregation, Deep South, New Orleans.

O'BRIEN: Pontchartrain Park was born out of the racial politics of the 1950s. The park, as this subdivision with over 1,000 homes, came to be known was the separate, but equal, answer to white middle-class suburbia. One of the boundary lines? A drainage ditch.

PIERCE: I call it the DMZ. This separated Pontchartrain Park, to my right -

O'BRIEN (on camera): Right. So your neighborhood over here.

PIERCE: Right, and Gentilly Woods on my left.

O'BRIEN: Is that the white neighborhood?

PIERCE: This was the white neighborhood.

O'BRIEN: So it was literally segregation.

PIERCE: Literal segregation.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Two of the early residents were university student Melvin Woods and his bride of three months, Audrey, a schoolteacher. Mr. Woods was a corporal in the air force during the Korean War and was one of perhaps hundreds of veterans to settle here, thanks to the GI bill. The Woods bought their home in 1957 for just over $15,000.

O'BRIEN (on camera): Why was it important to move to Pontchartrain Park?

A. WOODS: The fact that it really increased our self esteem. It gave us a sense of saying I own something.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): The centerpiece of Pontchartrain Park was a majestic golf course.

PIERCE: It was designed by Joseph Bartholomew, who was an African- American landscape architect who designed most of the courses in New Orleans, but we couldn't play on them because of the segregation.

H. OUBRE: It was a real neighborhood. Everyone knew who you were. Everyone looked out for you, you know? You know, your neighbors, they chastised you if they saw you doing something wrong. Everybody would get on your case.

O'BRIEN: Hurby's Oubre's attachment to Pontchartrain Park runs deep. For him, rebuilding became a mission to give his family what he once had.

H. OUBRE: It's where my values were formed.

O'BRIEN: Like what kind of values?

H. OUBRE: Hard work, you know? Just finishing what you started, you know, respect for - for everyone.

A. WOODS: Most of us had the same aspirations for our kids. I think that in itself helped my kids to move forward because no one wanted the next one to outdo them, whether it was sports, whether it was the debate team.

O'BRIEN: All four of the Woods children excelled. One grew up to be a program analyst, the other three, attorneys. The Park's notable successes? Jazz Musician Terence Blanchard; Ernest Morial, New Orleans' first black mayor; and his son, Mark, who would also become mayor; and Lisa Jackson, the current head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

LISA JACKSON, ADMINISTRATOR, ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY: You know, I never thought that I wouldn't go to college, and I realized now that came from all of our parents, who moved here for one purpose, to make sure that their children did much, much better than they did.

O'BRIEN: After Katrina, Pontchartrain Park's landmark history and promise was invisible, and maybe washed away for good. With other sections of New Orleans now being rebuilt, it looked to some that the Park wasn't on the city's to-do list.


O'BRIEN: Artist Dominique Adansi-Bona believed Pontchartrain Park needed someone from the neighborhood to take up the flag.

ADANSI-BONA: And I just felt like we were not giving ourselves an opportunity to rebuild our neighborhoods from inside out.

O'BRIEN: So Dominique called her most famous friend, actor Wendell Pierce. It would be the neighborhood's call to action.

PIERCE: For those of you who don't know, I am an actor. I am not a consultant, a businessman, a developer. None of that. I may play one on TV, but I'm trying to learn it in real life.

Well, I got a lot of pushback, that I was, you know - you know, a local kid come home with some success and trying to do a land grab myself.

O'BRIEN (on camera): Did you ever want to throw up your hands and say, you know what? If you're not going to get what I'm trying to do, then forget it.

PIERCE: It was on a weekly basis. Why am I doing this?

O'BRIEN (voice-over): With no experience and no financial backing, could Wendell win the support he needed to rebuild Pontchartrain Park?

PIERCE: We have 50,000 blighted and abandoned properties down here, and you're giving me pushback?




PIERCE: Thanks for coming. Love you. Thank you, man.

People want to come back. You see that the people want to come back.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Live in our studio, Mr. Wendell Pierce.

PIERCE: I realized that Pontchartrain Park was at a slow rate of return, the second slowest rate of return, second only to the Lower Ninth Ward, which amazed me, because it was a very stable neighborhood.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good morning. How are you?

PIERCE: Good morning. Good morning.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Against the odds -

PIERCE: Good morning, everyone.

O'BRIEN: -- Wendell Pierce agreed to spearhead a drive to revitalize Pontchartrain Park, where only 30 percent of the residents had returned.

PIERCE: Make sure that we redevelop our own neighborhood and bring it back to where it was, and even better than where it was before.

O'BRIEN: But how do you rebuild an entire neighborhood, especially if you have no developing experience?

PIERCE: Even with all the solutions we bring to the table, we constantly have to fight hurdles.

I start with that mantra, let's exercise our right of self- determination. That's why I was - immediately called Troy Henry and Hurb Oubres - people in the neighborhood who I knew had the skill set to get this done.

O'BRIEN: Management consultant Troy Henry is another one of Wendell's boyhood friends.

TROY HENRY, MANAGEMENT CONSULTANT AND BUSINESSMAN: And I said, Wendell, we're busy. I'm not exactly a real - my company isn't a real estate expertise company. But Wendell, if you've ever talked to him and try to and tell him no, he gets hard of hearing in a hurry.

And so he said, you're smart, and you're going to figure it out and you're going to help me figure it out. So eventually I - I got in line with Wendell, as he told me to.

PIERCE: And we're talking about Pontchartrain Park, our neighborhood.

O'BRIEN: For starters, it meant forming a nonprofit partnership of neighbors and local attorneys. They'd call it the Pontchartrain Park Community Development Corporation.

PIERCE: We're looking at the childhood home of Wendell Pierce.

O'BRIEN: Step two was to identify the hundreds of languishing properties in Pontchartrain Park.

PIERCE: Purple, the properties that will be coming over to us. O'BRIEN (on camera): 6430?


O'BRIEN: We drove by that. It's a patch of grass.


The aim is to get all the properties that were sold back from their own home program to the government in Pontchartrain Park transferred to us, and then we would redevelop those properties on the very lots that were transferred back to us and sell them at an affordable price for people to move back to the neighborhood.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Wendell also wanted to rebuild homes for people who lost everything but still own their lots and wanted to return, like Hurby Oubre, who, along with his wife Lisa and their son, were living with relatives 70 miles away in Baton Rouge. The only snag - and it was a big one - was that Lisa said she'd never move back.

L. OUBRE: It just got to the point where just continually seeing those images, those post-Katrina images of just the homes spray painted, you know, signifying there were dead dogs there, you know, dead people? For me, that was when I - I checked out. I had to.

H. OUBRE: You can't really get frustrated or angry with anybody from going through that traumatic experience and not wanting to come back.

O'BRIEN (on camera): Who are you building your house for, though?

H. OUBRE: Hopefully, I'm building it for my family.

O'BRIEN: If you build it, they will come? Is that the theory you're operating under?

H. OUBRE: Hopefully. Yes.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): But to build homes, Wendell had to find lenders to give mortgages. This at a time when the nation's economy was in collapse.

PIERCE: I think you have to mitigate their risk. All right, well, you feel uncomfortable underwriting this, let me show you a community that we've been engaged with this whole time, and we have 50 families ready to buy homes now. And then that wakes the bank up.

O'BRIEN: One lender that came through was Liberty Bank, black owned and local.

O'BRIEN (on camera): Look at the ceiling. Look at the mold on the - it's like - it's like hanging off the ceiling.

Back in September, 2005, a month after Katrina, Liberty president Alden McDonald took me on a tour of his damaged facility.

ALDEN MCDONALD, PRESIDENT, LIBERTY BANK: This is devastating. It's like a bomb went off in here. Total mess.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): He was determined to save his bank and help save New Orleans.

MCDONALD: This is how we rebuild our city, giving people an opportunity to move back to New Orleans.

O'BRIEN: The system in place to make that happen was frustrating.

PIERCE: And there have been days I said, man, give up on it. I said, forget New Orleans.

O'BRIEN (on camera): What was the thing that made you not throw up your hands and say forget it?

PIERCE: The people of Pontchartrain Park, who were saying you have a voice that we don't have. You said that you would follow through, and that's what we expect of you.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Ahead, five years after Katrina, what brings the entire Woods family to tears?



DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Don Lemon at the CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta. Time now for your headlines.

America's massive egg recall has grown to more than half a billion eggs. It's all because of an outbreak of salmonella, the bacteria that has sickened more than a thousand people and counting since last month. The recall centers on two giant egg distributors in Iowa. Their eggs are sold under more than a dozen brand names, in more than a dozen states.

In Brazil tonight, a hostage drama is over with violent results. One person was killed and four police officers were wounded in a gunfight over drugs outside a Rio de Janeiro hotel. Police say several gunmen fled into the hotel where they took 35 people hostage. Ten people were arrested and hostages were eventually freed. Police say the man who was killed was wanted for dealing drugs.

Those are your headlines this hour. CNN Presents NEW ORLEANS RISING continues, right now.


A. WOODS: And you press play.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): We sit down with Audrey and Meldon Woods in the house they rebuilt to show them footage of Pontchartrain Park after the Katrina flooding. They were joined by their children and grandchildren.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And they went that high up. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my god.

A. WOODS: See, Mel, I didn't dream it was that high.

O'BRIEN: They are stunned by what they see.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, wow. Wow. That's our house.

O'BRIEN: For the very first time, they're seeing their own house under water.


A. WOODS: Wow. You know --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You thought you knew it was high, but we never actually saw it. And to see it, I had no idea. Just knowing -

O'BRIEN (on camera): Knowing what?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just knowing how bad it was.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It never goes away. I think about how close we came to losing our parents and -

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't see how we're sitting here. I don't see how we're sitting in the same house.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's our house.

O'BRIEN: So every child of yours is literally sobbing and me, too, and your grandchildren -

A. WOODS: Right.

O'BRIEN: -- and you're not crying?


O'BRIEN: Why not?

A. WOODS: Because we made it.

O'BRIEN: Within a year, 74-year-old Audrey and 81-year-old Meldon were gutting their house.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They had on these white suits with white masks and -

O'BRIEN: Even when they're in their 70s.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. And they're hauling out pieces of sheetrock. My father with a cane carrying a piece of sheetrock out, and I remember calling (INAUDIBLE) and saying, do you know what your parents are doing? They're gutting the house by themselves. I was like, OK, we can't anymore. Let's just go head-on, find someone to gut it. A. WOODS: Our loan closing statement.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): A record of the Woods' initial down payment, $465 was one of the few things in the house to survive the flooding. But when it came time to rebuild and refurnish their home, the projected price tag was staggering, over $300,000. The Woods were forced to take out a loan for more than $120,000.

A. WOODS: And it's still tough, wondering how I'm going to repay that loan, because I know that I wouldn't in my lifetime.

O'BRIEN: It's a common tale in New Orleans.

PIERCE: It's damnable and criminal that people who pay premiums for decades, like my parents, were given no relief in their darkest hour. I mean, that's what insurance is all about, that in your time of need, you will be made whole, and we weren't made whole.

O'BRIEN: By 2006, still only a third of the residents had found their way back. This compared to middle-class white neighborhoods, where the return rates were at least twice that.

O'BRIEN (on camera): You called it a chocolate city. Some people took great umbrage at that.

RAY NAGIN, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS: I felt that African-Americans in this city were getting signals that they weren't welcome back, and I wanted to try and overcome that.

O'BRIEN: Calling it a chocolate city, black people know what that means.

NAGIN: Oh, they knew. They got the message.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Even so, Ray Nagin, who was mayor of New Orleans when Katrina hit, said that in its aftermath there was talk of changing the face of the city.

O'BRIEN (on camera): Do you think there were people literally who were trying to keep black people out of the city?

NAGIN: I think that people were looking at economics, and I think they were looking at a once in a lifetime opportunity to kind of recast New Orleans differently, and some openly said, you know, we don't want poor black people back, but I think that message was also bleeding over into our black middle-class.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): In January, 2006, "The Times Picayune" printed this map on its front page. It was a plan for redeveloping the city, putting parks in areas that before Katrina were largely residential.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When they started talking about all of the areas that were going to be green space, those were all of your black neighborhoods.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wasn't your house caught up in it? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My house.

O'BRIEN (on camera): It was like seeing a green dot over your home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right. And, you know, nobody asked us anything.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): After the uproar over green dots, the city eventually released its current recovery plan. Troy Henry had worked on earlier plans.

HENRY: They decided to create 17 recovery zones, and Pontchartrain Park didn't make the list of 17, so literally, we in the community was viewing it as we're left out.

O'BRIEN: That the areas deemed recovery zones covered predominantly white neighborhoods caught the attention of California Congresswoman Maxine Waters and the Congressional Black Caucus.

REP. MAXINE WATERS (D), CALIFORNIA: If you don't put any money into rebuilding, you don't have the people to return, you don't have time to rehab these houses, then they will just sit here.

You would think that a neighborhood like Pontchartrain Park, with the history that it has of a determined people, would be honored by trying to preserve it, but it was not.

O'BRIEN (on camera): Why does it always come down to race? I mean, maybe it's just economics? Maybe it's just the elderly population here?

WATERS: You'd like to say, no, that's not what it is. Let's - let's try and see this through a different lens. And unfortunately, it comes back too often in so many ways.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Hurby Oubre points to bureaucratic red tape as a major stumbling block. Two years after the flooding, the mail carrier was still unable to tear down his ravaged home, so he could start to build a new one. Back in 2007, he vented his frustration on the local news.

H. OUBRE: They told me that they had a stop demolish order on it because this area had been deemed historic area. Well, I said, well, nobody informed me of this.

O'BRIEN: It didn't help that Hurby, now back working in Pontchartrain Park, was in perpetual transit. He and his family were still camped 70 miles away with relatives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The hose needs to go out.

OUBRE: With the city, the road home, insurance companies, traveling back and forth from Baton Rouge and traffic every day, it's stressful.

L. OUBRE: And my reaction was to work. I'm here, I'm working, because this is where Jacques needs to be. I need to support him here. O'BRIEN (on camera): Did you ever fight over to return or not to return?

L. OUBRE: We fought terribly. Sometimes he would just get so aggravated that he would just get in the car and leave. I'm going back to New Orleans. I'm done. I'd say, oh, gosh, and I'd go to the window, oh, my God, he's gone.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Even as Hurby's marriage struggled, he stood by Wendell. And in November, 2008, finally welcome news. The City of New Orleans signed a deal with the Pontchartrain Park Development Corporation. Accidental developer Wendell Pierce had earned his wings.

PIERCE: We were part of a bidding process, let me say.

O'BRIEN: Wendell inspired to deliver on a grand scale - 400 new homes.

PIERCE: If you go around this city, they have onesies and twosies we call them, all over. God bless them, I'm trying to rebuild a neighborhood, man.

O'BRIEN: But by early 2010, more than a year after the deal was signed, the state had turned over only four plots of land.

PIERCE: Keep your spirits up.


PIERCE: Try to keep them up.


O'BRIEN: Then, some welcome news.

PIERCE: We got it, baby. Go, Woods (ph)!




O'BRIEN (voice-over): Shannon Fazande was working as a model in New York when Hurricane Katrina hit.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The levee that was holding back water -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everywhere we look, victims that need to be pulled off rooftops.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thousands are still stranded in misery.

O'BRIEN: Like most of America, she saw the horrifying images on television, showing the desperation of her fellow New Orleanians in the aftermath of the flooding.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't have no running water. We can't (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Miss, miss, we don't eat (ph).

SHARRON FAZANDE, NEW ORLEANS NATIVE: How people were fighting to survive just to stay alive. You can't imagine being in wet clothes for five days.

O'BRIEN: Shannon was raised by her grandparents in New Orleans East. They called her when the levees broke. They said the waters were rising. They were trapped in their attic.

FAZANDE: I said, grandma, we called Red Cross. We made phone calls. They know you're there. And she said, OK, you know, we're going to be OK. And she never tells me good-bye, and that conversation was that good-bye.

FAZANDE: Her grandparents' bodies were found two weeks later.

Shannon thinks Pontchartrain Park might be the perfect place to raise her children.

FAZANDE: I'm trying to give him a little of what I had, you know, growing up. We had - we could ride our bikes in the streets and hang out until the streetlights came on.


O'BRIEN: Shannon's little boy, Ethan, is six years old, just about the same age as Jacques Oubre in this videotape. That's Hurby and Lisa's son. It was taken on his first day of school almost 10 years ago. It's the only videotape of Jacques that managed to survive the flooding.


J. OUBRE: I love you, daddy.

H. OUBRE. All right.


H. OUBRE: Yes, you do.

O'BRIEN: When he watches it, he remembers the day he left his home and his friends behind, all of whom relocated.

J. OUBRE: I don't know where they are. That's probably the hardest part, not knowing.

And one. O'BRIEN: With Hurby working and now living in New Orleans during the week, it's tough on Jacques and his mother. They see him only on weekends.

H. OUBRE: She gets upset because I'm not here.

L. OUBRE: Could you get a mop? Would you pick up the things outside and put them in the recycling bin for me?

And that's when I get angry.

H. OUBRE: Because I'm not here.

L. OUBRE: And we need to get the pool started.

H. OUBRE: Why do you want to clean this pool?

You know, when - when you're not here - when I can't be there. I can't do this from New Orleans. I'm working. I'm in New Orleans. I can't be there right now.

O'BRIEN: Lisa is now a manager with Home Depot in Baton Rouge. She's moved on. And when she hears that Wendell's corporation is going to install their first model home in Pontchartrain Park, she doesn't even want to see it.

L. OUBRE: If I were to go and look at Wendell's wonderful new home, it's almost like a home that's now been built over, you know, a battlefield. That - that's what it feels like. You know that something so bad has happened here, and you have this wonderful home that's now built over all of this sadness and so much pain and loss. That - that - I can't reconcile the two (ph).

PIERCE: (INAUDIBLE). The first of many.


O'BRIEN: In March, 2010, the first home arrives. It's a prefab unit intended for showcase.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm telling you, this is a glorious day.

O'BRIEN: And one that would get even better.

PIERCE: I'm still out here on the site. Tell me the good news.

We got it, baby. Good boy (ph).

We just received a grant from the Salvation Army for $1.875 million.

O'BRIEN: Big news. It's money that can help first responders like policemen or firefighters buy a home in Pontchartrain Park.

PIERCE: Here it is. Second home going up. It's all coming together.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir. Yes, sir. O'BRIEN: A second model house arrived six weeks later. It's to be named in honor of one of the park's patriarchs, Coach McBurnette Knox who relocated to Texas after Katrina. Coach Mac taught discipline and drive to generations of Pontchartrain athletes.

COACH MCBURNETTE KNOX, HURRICANE KATRINA VICTIM: This is my home. I'll put it like my wife said. I came home to eat and sleep, but the rest of my time was - was out here.

O'BRIEN: When he heard that Wendell was rebuilding the neighborhood, Coach Mac had to come back to see for himself.

PIERCE: How you doing, Coach?

KNOX: Every morning I wake up is a great day.

PIERCE: There you go, man.

KNOX: Absolutely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How you doing, man?

KNOX: I never said good-bye.

O'BRIEN: This tiny reunion in a boardroom rather than on a ball field speaks volumes about Coach Mac.

PIERCE: And I thought about all of those huddles where you said, boy, what are you all doing out there? You all the best. You can beat these guys. You better than every one of them, man for man.

O'BRIEN: Coach Mac is 83 years old and never thought he'd return to New Orleans after Katrina. He tells Wendell that thanks to him, he's coming back to Pontchartrain Park to live out his days.

KNOX: Tell everybody hi for me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will do. That sounds real good.

O'BRIEN (on camera): There are people who are doing this because of you.


O'BRIEN: Is that a lot of pressure?

PIERCE: Yes, it's pressure, as he wipes his brow from this 100-degree heat.

There are times where I go, oh, why should they believe in me? Why should I do this? And then I realize that a lot of men and women have been in that position before, and the reward is greater than the risk.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): What lay ahead, another disaster of greater magnitude than Hurricane Katrina.

DARRYL WILLIS, BP ENGINEER AND SPOKESPERSON: I'm Darryl Willis. I oversee BP's claims process on the Gulf Coast.

They're grateful to see a face that they recognize, and, at the same time, they say you better get this thing fixed. And as soon as you get it fixed, the sooner we'll be able to get on with our lives.




O'BRIEN (voice-over): In Pontchartrain Park, the second state of the art, energy-efficient home is going up.

PIERCE: How are you doing? Good to see. Welcome back.

O'BRIEN: Wendell Pierce tells the Indiana Builders who won the bid, the neighborhood's rebirth is helping two communities recover, Pontchartrain Park from Katrina and Indiana from the recession.

PIERCE: Well done, buddy.


O'BRIEN: What's more, Wendell is going green.

PIERCE: Not just green that will work for both communities, but then taking on the next step of 21st century alternative energy of geothermal and solar. The irony is the fact that we're doing that right at a time when fossil fuel disaster is happening in the gulf.

JACKSON: It was ironically Earth Day that the rig collapsed and we came to realize we probably had at least a possibility of an unsecured release.

So the house was gutted -

O'BRIEN: These days, EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, often finds herself back in her home state of Louisiana.

JACKSON: This was my room.

O'BRIEN: As she tries to deal with the gulf oil spill and the anger on the ground.

JACKSON: How are you doing?

It's been hard for me personally to watch, because I know these are - these are folks who are tired, and when folks are tired, you start to worry about their mental health and their ability to be resilient.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's just another disaster that has happened, and that's more than we can put on our plate right now.

O'BRIEN: Today, BP engineer and spokesperson, Darryl Willis, returns to Pontchartrain Park, where his Katrina-ravaged home still stood only weeks before. As it happens, this is the day the last remnants of his house are being cleared away.

WILLIS: Lots of good memories. Everything that I am today is a function of - absolutely.

O'BRIEN: Willis is now busy helping dispense claims to victims of the spill.

WILLIS: I could have easily not been a part of this response. I could easily be sitting in an office in Houston going about my daily role in BP, but I chose not to do that. I can hear the voices of my mother, my father, my brother saying you're doing the right thing, and they would expect nothing - they would expect nothing less than what I'm doing today.

NAGIN: We still haven't changed anything. We don't know how to deal with these disasters.

O'BRIEN: Former Mayor Ray Nagin sees a frightening similarity between the handling of the oil disaster and Katrina.

O'BRIEN (on camera): Five years after Katrina, we still haven't figured out the lessons of how to deal with a natural disaster?

NAGIN: We haven't changed anything. What have we changed? You know, the things that they're complaining about with this oil spill, I was complaining about it during Katrina.

O'BRIEN: Like what?

NAGIN: Who's in control? Who has the ultimate authority to get things done?

PIERCE: We're here today to realize a dream.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Wendell Pierce is a man who gets things done. Many here believe it's because of his efforts that 55 percent of the residents of Pontchartrain Park have now returned.

PIERCE: We didn't come here to build one or two homes. We came here to build this community.

O'BRIEN: In May, the Pontchartrain Park Community Development Corporation celebrates the public opening of its first model home.

PIERCE: The first home of the 21st century redevelopment of our historic neighborhood. This here is the first green home. I am personally thrilled at this huge first step and at being able to continue the vision of my parents and all the parents here, all of that generation, not only for the Pierces, but the Henrys, the Bradfords, the Woods, the Oubres, this is for you.

PIERCE: Hurby Oubre.


O'BRIEN: There's a ceremony within the ceremony, where some of those who have committed to buying new homes sign on the dotted line. Among them, the mail carrier who always vowed to rebuild - Hurby Oubre.

PIERCE: (INAUDIBLE). Come on, Shannon.

O'BRIEN: And Shannon Fazande -

PIERCE: Look, she's crying already. Come on, Shannon.

O'BRIEN: She sees a healthy future for her young family in Pontchartrain Park.

Five years after hurricane Katrina, this landmark community is finally showing some signs of its former glory.

PIERCE: Congratulations.

A. WOODS: This is post-Katrina.

O'BRIEN: The Woods Family is building new memories.

A. WOODS: These are post-Katrina.

O'BRIEN: In a house that's always been more than just bricks and mortar.

A. WOODS: 5435 Providence Place is the Woods' holy ground, and it's the place for the Woodses to be a part of each other.

L. OUBRE: I want Hurby to be happy because he deserves that, and for Hurby to truly be happy is to have us back in New Orleans.

O'BRIEN: You can't give him that?

L. OUBRE: I can't do that now, today. I can't do that right now. I can't. I would lose a little too much of myself to - to do -

H. OUBRE: Right now. There's the hope, right now.

O'BRIEN: But you hear hope?

H. OUBRE: I hear hope.

O'BRIEN: Every word that's coming out of your mouth and every time you don't say no, you realize he's hearing -

L. OUBRE: And then his eyes light up for like a little Christmas tree, like, bing!

O'BRIEN: Yes, they do, actually.

L. OUBRE: Oh, boy. Oh, boy. I love him. I adore him. They really don't make them like that anymore.

PIERCE: Pontchartrain Park is a labor of love. It is my community. It is my home. And I would do every and anything to make sure it's restored. I need to rebuild because we are a family. Nothing counts so much as family. (END VIDEOTAPE)