New Orleans, Up Close

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Newscenter 11's guide for a trip into the heart of New Orleans was Dr. Leonard Lucas, a pastor in the Lower Ninth Ward of the city.

We were joined by Meridian pastor, the Rev. Rick Spells, a longtime friend of Lucas.

What they had to show us boggles the mind. It is, quite frankly, the worst thing this reporter has ever seen.

We began our tour right in a spot where almost every single business and home was either destroyed, flooded, or both. Dr. Lucas got into the van with us to take us through the rest of what was once a neighborhood, until the Lake Ponchartrain levee broke, sending more than ten feet of water into this area.

"All gone, unbelievable. Trees uprooted, automobiles turned upside down," said Dr. Lucas.

From the top of the new temporary levee now being built, you get a good idea of exactly what happened. A barge slammed into it, coming into the neighborhood and bringing with it a lake full of water. When it did, it destroyed everything

If you look closely, you can find clues that a neighborhood once existed here. A slab of concrete where a house was. A fence. A rake that helped care for what was once a yard.

But the signs of life are few. The people are gone and so are most of the houses, especially those nearest the levee.

As you drive further away from the levee, you begin to see homes, but most of them are not where they once were. The flood waters picked them up off their foundations and took them far away.

One of those houses is where Lucas' sister lived and where his brother died.

"He ended up in her house, which floated away and he drowned. Couldn't swim," said Lucas.

Lucas' own home still stands, but it has been heavily damaged. The only way to get in is to crawl through a window. Once you're in, you can see the damage the hurricane caused.

The floods didn't get Lucas' house, but the winds did. Part of his roof blew off, destroying most of his valuables. He sat down in what was left of his master bedroom to talk about it.

"The reality is, you wake up 40 years later, and everything you worked for, everything you've preached for, everything is gone," Dr. Lucas said.

Lucas has lived his entire life in this community. He has preached here for four decades, devoting his life to the people here.

"He could have lived anywhere he wanted to, but he chooses to live right here where the people are in the greatest need," said Spells.

It's a place Lucas loves, and a place he wants to see come back better than it was before the hurricane.

Lucas is currently trying to mobilize former residents of the ninth ward to come back home and take part in the cleanup and rebuilding process.

He says the jobs available now for that purpose are better than anything the area has ever seen before.