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New Orleans after Katrina: Back to Stone Age
Updated: 2005-09-07 08:59

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana -- The 21st century was swept away here. The winds and the floods and the disasters that followed took it.

Robert Fonteaine holds his puppy, Gangster, as he watches New Orleans firefighters try to save his house after it caught fire on the east side of the city Tuesday. Fonteaine's house was a total loss. [AP]
Some strange, more primitive time took its place, amid the useless computers and cars of the modern world. Those stranded were left behind to forage for food and water, share what little they have with neighbors, and find somewhere safe before night falls.

"Say goodbye to the Jetsons," Aaron Broussard, president of next-door Jefferson Parish, told residents on the all-night radio station and news lifeline. "We're back to the Flintstones."

Life is hand-to-mouth, if it continues at all. On Rampart Street on the edge of the French Quarter, a wooden handcart became a funeral bier. An elderly man's dead body was left atop it, wrapped in a shroud made from a child's bedsheet and tied with twine.

Still, many survive, emerging from their homes determined to find ways to stay alive. A shopping cart is a wonderful tool -- mobile, lightweight, the basket high enough to stay above the foul-smelling puddles. A woman used one to move her family's belongings to a ramshackle sidewalk camp. Then her children turned it into a jungle gym.

On the edge of the very poor Ninth Ward along the Intracoastal Waterway, a man and women wade stomach-deep, pushing a rowboat to a higher, drier stretch of grass. They scavenge for whatever might be useful -- a bucket that won't leak, a solid piece of wood, tools.

A block or two away, where the water drops to knee-deep, to puddles, and then to dry land, the scene recalls a movie set of a war zone. Abandoned buses line a larger avenue, one every few blocks. A building burned to the ground smolders. A charred car, its front doors gone, sits in an intersection.

"We've all got guns," said Katha Fields, who lives down the street. Weeks ago, when this city was a place of tourists and jazz and jambalaya, she was a tour guide. Now, she and her neighbors gather at dusk, weapons at hand, and keep watch.

They're all getting a lesson in how to live without.
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