NEW ORLEANS — Drive through New Orleans today and you may wonder which isthe real city: The deserted lots and crippled traffic lights or the mailmen — like Wayne Treaudo — delivering letters in the Ninth Ward to a new generation of "early settlers."
It's just one example of a city being reassembled in pieces. A school here, a new Home Depot there. A year after Katrina, construction supplies are selling so well that New Orleans' sales tax revenue is stronger than expected.
New phone service means Gene Taglialavore can open his butcher shop after a year of cleanup he did practically by himself.
"You just go ahead and get working," Taglialavore, owner of Tag's Meat Market, says. "And you work 'til you can't go no more."
It's a sharp contrast from last summer, when choppers swarmed above us. Pets we encountered were dazed, and airboats rescued residents on Napoleon Avenue.
Today, that upscale neighborhood doesn't seem to have lost any of its charm. We've seen neighbors walking dogs, flags on porches, the airboats replaced by a steady stream of cars.
But if you didn't own your house, there's a good chance you can't affordto move back. Fewer homes mean skyrocketing rents.
Long stretches of New Orleans are uninhabited, and uninhabitable — the population now thin enough that the white and yellow pages are one book, which is distributed by workers like Maria Williams, who is 85.
"I think I'm still in a nightmare," Williams says. "I just wish somebody would pinch me hard!"
In Mississippi, which took a direct hit from Katrina, the poor may be gaining traction. Those who lost their jobs, like teacher Dee Barnett in Biloxi, are learning skills still in demand, like working in the local casino.
"Gambling has really brought us through so far," Barnett says.
Tonight, there are a million questions about the future, the levees. But this much is certain: The region's recovery still rides on individuals taking risks, working for something — some placethat's bigger than themselves.
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