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Ninth Ward residents get glimpse of devastated neighborhood

NEW ORLEANS—Jessie Davis joined a bus tour Thursday of the area most devastated by Hurricane Katrina, even though he already knew his house was gone.

He saw it vanish while he spent two nights as one of three men in a leaky boat, fending off rats.

Davis, aboard a transit bus named Discovery, is an independent trucker hoping to find his 18-wheeler, the source of his family's support.

"That's what I'm looking to see, my truck. That's the main thing," he said. "I went through so much to try to keep it from being repossessed. I made a lot of sacrifices."

Davis was participating in a "look-and-leave" bus tour, which gives residents of the upper portion of the Lower Ninth Ward an opportunity to see what's left of their neighborhood. The area has been closed since the hurricane because it's dangerous. In many cases, homes were shredded or flowed to new locations. Many of the structures still standing are on the verge of collapse.

Residents' reactions to the devastation vary. "It runs the gamut," said Col. Jerry Sneed with New Orleans Homeland Security. "Some people have already prepared themselves for this. Most of them will shed a tear or two, then they say, `Thank you.'"

Many of the people on the bus sat quietly. Davis, 37, used his cell phone to give a play by play to his wife, Tonya, who's in Mississippi with their 7-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter.

"That's my truck on the road. I see it. It's in the middle of the road," Davis said.

He guessed it had moved more than a mile from where he'd parked it.

As the bus crept along, Davis continued talking with his wife.

"That old man I used to work with, his house is smashed."

"Damn. Amazing. Amazing."

"You know James? James' house ain't even there."

The conversation turned back to his truck. He said he would get it out somehow.

"I'll make a flower pot out of it. I ain't getting rid of it, I'll tell you that."

"We're on Reynes (Street). Damn. Damn. Tore up. They're going to have to dig, dig."

"You see things that you know are in the wrong place."

The truck topic came up again. "I wish I could pick it up, put it in my pocket. I wonder what it's doing up by Caffin (Avenue)?"

Davis mentioned residents wanting to get back in the neighborhood to start gutting houses. "You can't do that yet. You can't do that."

"It's like piles and piles. Cars."

Davis was in his home on Lizardi Street when the levee broke. His family had already left. He said water went from his ankles to his chest in minutes.

He went to a neighbor's home, then they went into the attic. With the water still rising, they broke a hole through a vent to try to climb onto the roof. Then a small, aluminum boat floated right to them.

"The Lord must have sent us that boat," Davis said.

They tied the boat to a house. Then another neighbor jumped rooftops to join them.

Davis said he heard people in attics "suffering and hollering" during two nights he was on the boat.

"Oh, man, we had rats and opossums all by us. They were trying to get in the boat with us. We were fighting them off," Davis said.

Davis said he never understood the trials of the Biblical character of Job. He does now.

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

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

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