Katrina had a tremendous impact on the black people in New Orleans

...Some of the Dispossessed say they won't return

NEW ORLEANS — Displaced residents of this city — especially the poorest blacks, who were hardest hit by the storm — are pondering whether they will try to return to a town the tour guides often missed, one that has suffered decades of crime, corruption and grinding poverty.

«Katrina had a tremendous impact on the black people who lived here,» said Lance Hill, director of a diversity training program at Tulane University. «This city was tough on a lot of them even before the hurricane. A lot of them were already unemployed or had minimum-wage jobs. Many of them were renters. They don’t have anything to come back to. A lot of them are just not going to come back.»

Before the storm, most Americans knew New Orleans as a blend of old Southern elegance and Bourbon Street decadence. The aftermath, however, has highlighted a primarily black city in which one-third of the African American population — more than 100,000 people — lives below the poverty line. Many of those hardest hit by the storm are not sure whether they want to go back.

«I didn’t have no money for gas,» said Thomas Lallande, a 60-year-old black man, as he rubbed his raw feet after finally evacuating.

Lallande said he wanted to leave before the storm but couldn’t afford to. As the flood rose chest high last week, he waded from his submerged apartment in the 9th Ward to the Superdome, where he and thousands of people — nearly all of them black — waited for days without food, water or security.

Lallande escaped New Orleans — he was recuperating at a Baton Rouge shelter Monday — and, for now, he has no plans of going back: «What for? I don’t have nothing back there.»

And where some saw grim images and shattered futures, the city’s most destitute saw rare opportunity.

«Actually, some people were a little better off after the storm,» said a 26-year-old man who spoke on condition of anonymity as he took groceries out of a store last week. «I had gotten to the end of my rope. Now, I got a little something.»