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New Orleans Residents Ponder Next Steps

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

New Orleans made very public signs of recovery over the weekend. There was music on Bourbon Street and a church service at a French Quarter cathedral. In the end, though, New Orleans' future may be shaped by countless private decisions. Steve Inskeep is in New Orleans this week for MORNING EDITION. He will talk with residents of the city as they consider their future.

Father PAUL HART: (Singing) Let us proclaim the mystery of faith.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Churches in parts of New Orleans held services Sunday, including the church of St. Andrew the Apostle in a neighborhood called Algiers.

Fr. HART: This is so awesome to see you here in these numbers. I'm so glad to have you back, and today we celebrate the 27th Sunday in ordinary time, but it ain't ordinary.

INSKEEP: Father Paul Hart wore a green robe yesterday and stood before the biggest congregation he's seen since Hurricane Katrina.

Fr. HART: For me personally, I had trouble believing in God. I had trouble practicing which I preached every Sunday. I couldn't pray. I was thinking about the people that were leaving me forever. I was thinking about the people I lost in death. And then I thought to myself, `Everybody's going through that, stupid.'

INSKEEP: Father Paul, as he's called, went on to affirm that he's staying in New Orleans. He's staying even though he expects some members of this Catholic Church to move away. Many are wrestling with the question of whether to restore their old lives or let them slip away.

Ms. JEAN-MARIE MAYFIELD(ph) (Resident): I used to have five- and 10-year plans. That stopped in August. I didn't know where I'm going next week, you know, or what I'm doing today.

INSKEEP: Jean-Marie Mayfield is back in New Orleans for the weekend with her husband, her son and a 13-year-old daughter who's holding her hand. Even though her home suffered only light damage, her husband works for an oil company that relocated the family for at least a year. She gave up her own job and put her kids in a different school. The changes didn't hit her until she attended a different church.

Ms. MAYFIELD: I started to cry, because I knew what I lost, you know. We were people here, and I knew, sitting in that church, that this was going to be my new church. And that's gonna be really, really hard to go somewhere else and call something else home.

INSKEEP: The choices here are even tougher for those whose homes were ruined, like the man we found raising a flag in St. Bernard Parish. It was a US Air Force flag, which Ambrose Ard(ph) just recovered from the layer of mud that now covers his yard. His house is knocked off its foundations. From the wreckage inside, his wife recovered her wedding rings and almost nothing else of value. In the entertainment center, they found a water-logged copy of the movie "Titanic."

Can you tell me what your thoughts are about whether to stay, whether to go?

Unidentified Woman: He doesn't want to stay. I want to come back. I don't know why. I guess 'cause I work out at New Orleans East at the National Finance Center. I've been there--it's gonna be 16 years, you know.

INSKEEP: Mr. Ard is retired from the Air Force. He's a little more flexible, so...

Mr. AMBROSE ARD (Retired, US Air Force): I'll move in a heartbeat.

INSKEEP: How are you going to decide?

Mr. ARD: I usually decide with her.

INSKEEP: You'll sit down and talk about it.

Mr. ARD: Oh, yes.

Unidentified Woman: Oh, yes.

INSKEEP: Is there something worth staying for besides your job?

Unidentified Woman: I think a lot of the people--I think a lot of them aren't going to come back.

Mr. ARD: They want to bulldoze down my house. They tell me I gotta bulldoze my house down, and if they do that, I mean, do we start over again? I'm still young enough to start over again. I ain't that old, I don't think, 52 years old.

INSKEEP: In this desolate neighborhood, Ambrose Ard found a single old friend, a fireman who stopped to embrace him on the lawn.

Unidentified Man: Hi. How you doing, man?

Mr. ARD: I'm doing good. You?

Unidentified Man #2: Everybody's out. Everybody's all right.

Mr. ARD: It's gone. It's all gone.

Unidentified Man: Oh, I know. I know. I lived it. You ain't got to tell me.

Mr. ARD: All the neighborhood's gone.

Unidentified Man: I know.

INSKEEP: So many social networks are disrupted, yet some people aren't willing to give them up. On the other side of New Orleans, Ann Levy(ph) and her husband Stan had seven feet of water in their home, yet they want to stay. She is a Holocaust survivor from Poland. After World War II, her family emigrated to New Orleans where she met other Holocaust survivors.

Ms. ANN LEVY (New Orleans Resident): As a matter of fact, I spoke with Felicia Fuchsmann(ph), who is the president of the survivor group. It was so sad to talk to her yesterday that here at her age, like she said, `I've lost everything again.'

Mr. STAN LEVY (New Orleans Resident): We've thought about moving away, but at 70 years old, where you gonna go, you know? You spent your whole life here, you know, and so we're--I think we're going to be here.

INSKEEP: Can we end, Ann, at the beginning? Can you tell me an early memory of New Orleans?

Ms. LEVY: Oh, my gosh. I remember from the minute we stepped off the boat--they took all these refugees off the boat and brought us to the Jewish Community Center and that's where they--you know, we had our first meal in the States. And I guess it's why I love this place so much is because this is where it all started. That's where my Americanism started.

INSKEEP: Ann Levy is among the many hoping to see another beginning here in New Orleans, and throughout this week we'll listen as New Orleans residents debate their future. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.