[StBernard] St. Bernard clears the way for recovery

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Sun Sep 10 19:06:13 EDT 2006

Anybody wondering why St. Bernard Parish government is taking such a tough
stance with property owners who ignored the parish's Aug. 29 gutting
deadline need only spend a few minutes with Jack Quillin of Meraux.

Passing Quillin's home at 2709 DeBouchel Blvd., one would never imagine that
it stewed in 9-plus feet of water for a couple of weeks a year ago.

"We got lucky," Quillin said Wednesday morning, taking a break from cutting
his lawn. "There was 9 1/2 feet of water here. We have 10-foot ceilings. So
we got to save our ceilings."

Like home and business owners across St. Bernard Parish, the Quillins came
home after Hurricane Katrina hit Aug. 29, 2005, to a disaster zone. Rolling
up their sleeves, he and his wife quickly set to making things right again.

"Me and my wife gutted it," he said, describing the process of removing
ruined furniture and moldy Sheetrock, pulling up destroyed flooring and
shoveling out load after load of the muck that before Katrina had lived at
the bottom of the nearby swamps. "We did everything."

Looking at the Quillin home, a like-new brick two-story in an area otherwise
pockmarked with blight, it's easy to see why many returning homeowners in
St. Bernard Parish think the Parish Council is on the right track with
action to condemn those structures whose owners have done nothing to

"I've been impressed by what I've seen the past few weekends," Quillin said
of the increased amount of work on gutting, clearing and securing
flood-damaged properties that in many cases had been untouched for a year.
"When people start seeing some teeth, then we'll see even more action."

That's exactly what the council was thinking when it approved the gutting
deadline over the summer. Thinking that a year was long enough for business
and home owners to at least clear and secure their properties, the council
decreed Aug. 29, 2006, as the deadline for having completed those tasks.

This past week the council voted to condemn some 3,651 properties whose
owners had ignored the gutting deadline. The vote was the government's first
step in the process of having them demolished, possibly at the owners'
expense. More homes and businesses are expected to be sent along the same
road in the coming weeks. In all, parish officials think as many as 4,000
structures might eventually have to condemned through council action.

Parish officials say they understand the problems many residents face --
some are fighting insurance issues, others have moved out of town, still
others are too numb from the disaster to handle even the most basic of
tasks, let alone deal with a destroyed home or business. But their
underlying reasoning for deadline is simple: Even the most hearty of
residents will think twice about returning to the parish if they're forced
to live among the ruins of decaying homes sitting on weed-choked lots.

Quillin can relate.

Half a block from the house and property he has sweated to put back together
sits a crumbling house, ungutted and festering behind a green curtain of

"And that's the first house you see when you enter the subdivision," Quillin
said, shaking his head.

Mind you, St. Bernard Parish's deadline doesn't mandate complete -- or even
partial -- renovation. Just gutting, securing, and cleaning up.

To Darren O'Connor, tidying up the lawn on his gutted house on Mayflower
Drive around the corner from Quillin, it's a matter of looking out for your

"We're just trying to keep the place looking presentable," O'Connor said of
the home, in which his son will eventually reside. "People are coming back
and they don't want to have to deal with someone else's garbage."
. . . . . . .
Bob Warren is acting St. Bernard bureau chief. He can be reached at
bwarren at timespicayune.com or (504) 826-3363.

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