Rebuilding Historic New Orleans

The Texas Historical Commission has sent a team of experts to New Orleans to help local preservationists in the effort to rebuild and preserve that city's historic homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports.

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Because storm and flood damage is so widespread, the New Orleans Preservation Resource Center is overwhelmed and asking for help, and the American Institute of Architects is responding by sending in volunteer teams of preservation experts from all over the country to offer assistance. Architect Lyman Labry is leading the contingent from the Texas Historical Commission, and he says they know they have their work cut out for them.

"It's a challenge, you know, but this is what we do though. We work with homeowners in trying to salvage their historic resources, with communities to salvage their properties. It's a big task. There's a lot of people from all over the country who've contributed to this effort in New Orleans alone, and also along the Gulf Coast area."

Labry says he and his group will be meeting with homeowners in New Orleans most historic neighborhoods to help them get started on the way to rebuilding.

"We'll be working particularly in the Lower Ninth Ward and the Holy Cross area in the four days that we'll be there. And we'll have contacts and visit with individual homeowners as a group, and we'll do some assessments and some evaluations, photographs and make recommendations."

So far, the New Orleans Preservation Resource Center has visited and accessed fewer than 300 of the estimated 80 thousand homes that were damaged or destroyed by Katrina. Coordinator David Fields says that shows how far they have to go, but he thinks many homes can be saved and restored. He's not optimistic that the city of New Orleans can ever be restored to its former glory.

"I don't believe so. New Orleans is never going to be the way it was before the storm, but we certainly can make it better. This is an opportunity to do things differently than we've done in the past. And we certainly have the housing stock that can make a beautiful city rise again, but to say that it's going to be same as before, I think you're fooling yourself."

As for how long the repair and restoration will take, Fields says he can't see that far into the future but they're moving ahead anyway. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.

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