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Some New Orleans residents stage raid to check out damaged homes

NEW ORLEANS—They gathered at 3 a.m. Friday in their yardwork worst and high rubber rain boots, ready to do battle with the city's checkpoints and roadblocks.

About 30 residents of New Orleans East, tired of being barred from their homes in one of the areas worst hit by Hurricane Katrina, decided not to wait for Mayor Ray Nagin to call their number.

Even as Nagin opened the city to eight new ZIP codes Friday, the New Orleans East renegades drove in a caravan from Baton Rouge to a closed area that was flattened by nature's A-bomb and then flooded by a levee breach. Ultimately, they got through with the help of City Council member Cynthia Willard-Lewis and Police Capt. Bob Bardy, who met them in a parking lot off Interstate 10 and simply told them to be out by 3 p.m.

Residents of the working and upper middle-class neighborhoods, where streets before the hurricane were shaded by tall trees and lined with neat brick bungalows, said they were tired of unfair treatment.

"If you keep some out, you have to keep all out," said Mack Slan, one of the group's organizers. "All we have asked for is to go home and assess the property and leave, so we can make provisions for the next four to five months and get on with our lives."

For some, the opportunity brought apprehension.

"I don't know if I want to open that door," social worker Ann Lyons Jackson, 48, said in the darkness as she headed for her first glimpse of her house, which her parents bought four decades ago. "If I CAN open the door."

Jackson's 91-year-old mother, with whom she now shares the house in the Gentilly area, doesn't want to return and asked her daughter only to bring back pictures of her late husband and Jackson's grandparents.

But when Jackson arrived, the sour stench of mold forced her to pull up her dust mask, and a soggy mess of upended furniture kept her speechless on the front porch. She couldn't bear to go inside. Floodwaters to the ceiling had toppled even the refrigerator and had split a solid wood front door into paper-thin sheets.

Jackson broke down in tears when she thought of her grandparents' antique bedroom set, now in ruins in the front bedroom.

"I'm glad my mother is not here," she said, shaking her head.

In the Little Woods area, Bobby and Linda Lenoir were looking on the bright side of a home that received only 2 feet of water but was wrecked inside by mold in psychedelic blue and green splotches. Even the kitchen cabinets were fuzzy and green.

Before Katrina hit, the Lenoirs had bought land and had an architect's design for their dream home, where they planned to retire soon. They knew Friday their plans were on hold.

"Life, limb and family are more important," Linda Lenoir said. "This is all material; it can be replaced. Maybe we'll have to work a couple years longer than we thought, but we will be able to retire, and we will be comfortable."

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(Corcoran reports for the San Jose Mercury News.)

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

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

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