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Peninsula below New Orleans just beginning to clean up

NAPPY JACK, La.—This odd peninsula curbing the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico is a still life of destruction and wonder even six weeks after Hurricane Katrina.

People in the little towns that speckle the peninsula 70 miles southeast of New Orleans said it was hard to believe that it had been six weeks. Most of Plaquemines Parish has no running water and about 30 percent of it is still without electricity. Officials said anyone who returned did so at his or her own risk.

If you're wondering why oil prices have spiked, a trip to this parish down State Road 23—through the petrochemical spine of rural Louisiana—is instructive. There's goo from breached pipelines and a scene straight out of a Steven Spielberg movie: a tangle of trawlers set noses up in the middle of a four-lane road.

Though workers have been cleaning up the oil from the ruptured pipelines, Jay Friedman's home is stained black with the stuff, and he's concerned about long-term environmental effects.

"I don't think this property will be conducive to growing citrus," he said, staring at what remained of his grove of 300 orange trees.

Friedman, a Plaquemines Parish council member, maintains that he won't rebuild until the land has been tested for toxics.

Down the road, Robin Gauthier's house is little more than a hill of rubble. Oil left a dark-chocolate line on the trees.

"Hey!" someone called while wading through the muck toward the house. "Is there anything left inside that place?"

"If there is, it's covered with oil," Gauthier lamented.

Still, this land is home. And if it's safe, she'll stay.

"It's this way: Part of a home is good neighbors and friends," Friedman said. "The thing is, will people feel safe enough to return?"

Benny Rousselle, the parish president, said he needed help from the federal government with housing. Of the parish's 28,000 residents, Rousselle said, 16,000 have no homes.

Then there are those misplaced boats. Piled 40 feet high in the middle of State Road 23, they compose an oddball menagerie of ocean vessels and shrimp boats.

Trieu Nguyen climbed on his boss' shrimp boat and watched as Son Le rubbed away mold with sandpaper.

"We can't work right now," Nguyen said. "We don't have money for nothing."

Farther south, a cow—dead and decaying—lay in the grass. Another, alive but thin, wandered in the parking lot of a gutted gas station. Nearby, a skittish pup nosed the dog food someone had left alongside the road.

Surprisingly, many of the residents, including those who've lost virtually everything, are upbeat when they return to inspect what's left of their hometown. They don boots and gloves and wade into the muck. They wave at folks in passing cars. Some even laugh.

Cindy Landry and Ronald Jones spotted their doublewide mobile home about a quarter-mile from the lot where it used to rest.

"He wanted his crab pot to boil crabs," Landry said of her boyfriend, rummaging around inside the mangled home. But the pot apparently had rushed out with the water.

"I did get my deep fryer," Jones said. "I can always cook a turkey."

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(Kim Hone-McMahan reports for the Akron Beacon Journal.)

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): WEA-STORMS-MESS

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