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Phased Returns Begin in New Orleans

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Yesterday it was business owners; today it's residents' turn to re-enter New Orleans. Only the dry parts of the city are open, and residents are being warned that they're entering at their own risk. Most areas still lack power or clean water. Still, for many evacuees, this is the first time they've been able to see the homes they left more than four weeks ago. NPR's Ina Jaffe talked to some neighbors in the Carrollton area on the west side of the city.

Unidentified Man: Tilt towards me once.

INA JAFFE reporting:

Moving a refrigerator is bad enough, never mind a stinky one leaking a scary-looking brown fluid. It's leaving a trail of yuck out the door and down the front walk of Philip Kellerickle's(ph) house on Burdette Street. He and William Youngblood are struggling with it together. They've never met before today, says William's wife, Jeannette(ph) Youngblood.

Mrs. JEANNETTE YOUNGBLOOD: We came to help some friends. We don't know these people. They are friends of our friends. And they asked us to come help. And William said, `Certainly.' So we brought a neighbor's dolly, helping these people. So--like everyone's doing. Everyone's doing that.

JAFFE: Philip's wife, Kevitha Mackeo(ph), looks inside the house with relief. The disgusting fridge, it turns out, was the only major problem.

Ms. KEVITHA MACKEO: I think we were actually pretty lucky. It looks like the water came up to our front step but didn't actually get into the house. So we're very grateful for that. Our roof is intact, and other than our garage getting water in it, we're very lucky.

JAFFE: Philip and Kevitha will not stay here till there's power, and maybe not right away after that. They're medical residents at Tulane University Hospital. Until that's open again, they'll be working at other hospitals out of town. Meanwhile, their 17-month-old daughter is with Kevitha's parents in Atlanta. But they're not quitting on New Orleans yet.

Ms. MACKEO: You know, we definitely think about staying here. You know, we've really enjoyed our time here. And we're from Atlanta originally. But definitely I think after a while, New Orleans grows on you.

JAFFE: Around the corner on Pinellas Street, Earl Maddox is standing outside the yellow frame house he's been renting the past three years.

Mr. EARL MADDOX: All my stuffs there. A little bit of a mess, but it's a great relief. I felt like I was kicked in the stomach for the last few weeks.

There's Teddy. Teddy!

Ms. TEDDY LOCKE(ph): Hey, ...(unintelligible).

Mr. MADDOX: I'm glad to see you, honey.

Ms. LOCKE: Oh...

JAFFE: Teddy Locke and her husband Chris Jennings(ph), both teachers, live across the street. The neighbors embrace with affection.

Ms. LOCKE: Everybody's so friendly. We're driving around. Everybody's, like, so excited. People are back. They're going, `Hi! Hi!' And that's really kind of neat.

Mr. MADDOX: My tiki bar's still standing.

Ms. LOCKE: I know. I've looked at the tiki bar when I was down there.

Mr. MADDOX: The tiki bar is still standing. We're having a drink at the tiki bar.

JAFFE: Teddy and Chris' house also came through OK, though you'd never know it from the outside. The front is nearly hidden behind piles and piles of downed tree branches. Inside, there was water on a basement level, but the house proper is fine. And the real miracle is a green and gold lovebird named Peaches.

Ms. LOCKE: She's in the house. She got in the house. Hey, Peaches.

I just--I'm not real good at having caged animals, so she just lives on the porch. And I just left her a huge thing of food and water, and she did really well. I'm so excited.

(Soundbite of lovebird)

JAFFE: The bad news of the day for Teddy and Chris has nothing to do with their house. The bad news comes from their neighbor Earl. He's been staying in Atlanta since the evacuation. Now he's moving there.

Mr. MADDOX: I've already moved to Atlanta, and I've started playing music again there, and my little acting career's starting to take off again up there. So I'm moving, going back.

Ms. LOCKE: Earl, I'm crushed.

Mr. MADDOX: I know you're crushed. I'm sorry, Teddy.

Ms. LOCKE: I'm crushed.

Mr. MADDOX: And you had to hear it now. But I just--I don't think I'm--I just don't want to deal with all this. I'm just going to go on and--I'm going on back to Georgia.

JAFFE: Even for those who didn't lose their homes, there will still be so much loss coming from Katrina, says Teddy: the neighbors who in New Orleans' close-knit communities become part of your life. Ina Jaffe, NPR News, New Orleans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ina Jaffe is a veteran NPR correspondent covering the aging of America. Her stories on Morning Edition and All Things Considered have focused on older adults' involvement in politics and elections, dating and divorce, work and retirement, fashion and sports, as well as issues affecting long term care and end of life choices. In 2015, she was named one of the nation's top "Influencers in Aging" by PBS publication Next Avenue, which wrote "Jaffe has reinvented reporting on aging."