Lawrence Kampa, 84, outside his uninhabitable New Orleans home.
Cornell Campbell  /  NBC News
Lawrence Kampa, 84, sits outside his now uninhabitable home in New Orleans, where he lived for 45 years.
By Producer
NBC News
updated 2/23/2006 1:45:59 PM ET 2006-02-23T18:45:59

Lawrence Kampa sits outside his uninhabitable home, in an abandoned street in the New Orleans neighborhood of Gentilly, where he has lived for 45 years.

“I thought living through the Depression was something, but living through this is worse, it's a lot worse,” said Lawrence, a former army sergeant, fighting back tears. 

He feels helpless, he can’t clean up, his knees are shot and he needs a walker to get around. At 84 years old, the last thing Lawrence thought he would be doing in his “golden years” is starting all over again.

“Everything I have is gone, the only thing I have left is my car.”

Trying to salvage a few memories
Lawrence Kampa’s wife of 60 years, Rose, is inside their moldy home, trying to salvage any clothes, pictures or mementos of their life together.

“You cry sometimes and then you have to get over it,” said Rose, who is 82 years old. 

Rose Kampa inside her moldy New Orleans home
Cornell Campbell  /  NBC News
Rose Kampa, 82, works inside her moldy home, trying to salvage any clothes, pictures or mementos of her life in New Orleans.
The rotten smell in the house makes it hard for her to breathe and stay inside, but she is determined to find something to take back to the small apartment where the couple is currently living.

Lawrence and Rose are luckier than most, they have children to help gut out their home. Some elderly must rely on the kindness of others, or hire contractors if they have the money.  

The Kampas are part of the 200,000 elderly who were displaced after Hurricane Katrina in the New Orleans.

Godfrey White, executive director for the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Elderly Affairs, said that before Hurricane Katrina his organization serviced 2,000 elderly in Orleans Parish, but that number is now down to 250. However, White said that he expects that number to increase as more and more elderly are trickling back to the city as basic services are restored.

But not soon enough for the Kampas. They have had a FEMA trailer for a month, but without electricity or running water in their neighborhood, they can’t move into the trailer and are still confined to other temporary housing.

What kind of future is there?
Then, there is also the question of who is coming back to their neighborhood — or, better yet, what neighborhood?

“There is no drugstore,” said Lawrence. “You can’t get anything done; everything is closed.” He thinks some of his neighbors saw the destruction around them and gave up.

“There don't seem to be anybody that's really interested in getting the neighborhood back the way it was.” He pointed to the homes around him, all empty, except for his neighbor’s house across the street that had contractors working on its roof. It will take the Kampas months to rebuild, if they rebuild at all.

Like many others, they are waiting to see the city’s rebuilding plan and how that will affect them.

“It’s slow fixing,” said Rose. She also fears that Lawrence is a lot more negative than she is. Physically he is not well, and losing everything has shaken him to the core.

“It will all straighten out, I guess, but we won't see it,” said Lawrence as he lowered his head. He doesn’t think he will live to see his neighborhood restored to the way it once was.

Maria Alcon is an NBC News producer on assignment in New Orleans.

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