Video: NOLA comeback hasn't happened yet

By Martin Savidge Correspondent
NBC News
updated 2/6/2007 7:23:22 PM ET 2007-02-07T00:23:22

Elvira Robertson's New Orleans East home is an island of life in a neighborhood of devastation. She hopes to impress the neighbors — the ones who live out of town.

"I be trying to encourage them to come back," she says. "They see me out working, they see everything looking good, they want to come back."

So far it hasn't worked.

Pre-Katrina New Orleans had a population of 444,000. Now, according to the Louisiana Recovery Authority, it's less than half that — 191,000.

Demographer Greg Rigamer says the city will just have to get used to being smaller.

"I think within five years to be up to 300,000 would be good," says Rigamer.

It gets worse.

A recent study by the University of New Orleans found 32 percent of those who've come back are considering calling it quits.

One of the big reasons pre-dates Katrina — crime.

Dr. Peter Scharf says murder in New Orleans jumped 90 percent in the last six months of 2006.

"Fear is a motivator," says Scharf, the executive director of the Center for Society, Law and Justice at the University of New Orleans. "There may not be a city with as high a murder rate as we have now."

Another concern? The levees.

Assurances by the Army Corps of Engineers that they are as good now as they were before Katrina hardly eases the minds of those considering rebuilding. Anything better, the corps says, is still years off.

"Our goal from the administration that they gave us was to try and get that done by 2010," says engineer Lt. Col. Murray Starkel.

And then there's "The Road Home," that federally funded program tied up with red tape that offers Louisiana residents up to $150,000 per family to rebuild. 105,375 people have applied — only 506 have received money.

The biggest rebuilding job in America now rests with a man who inspects the town by bicycle. Ed Blakely is the city's new recovery czar. He says putting New Orleans back together won't be hard, it's everything else.

"The politics are hard, race issues are hard, the class issues are hard, the crime issues are hard, but building issues, no, that's not hard," says Blakely.

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