Tornado aftermath still felt in New Orleans East neighborhoods

NOLA East Tornado Recovery

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - On Feb. 7, the most powerful tornado in Orleans Parish's recorded history ripped through New Orleans East, and signs of destruction still fill the neighborhoods.

"The whole area has changed," resident Paul Davis said. "It's been quiet. It's been real quiet."

Most of the debris is gone and the streets are clear, but the recovery effort has a long way to go. Many homes have been repaired or rebuilt, but Schaumberg Elementary School still sports a blue tarp over most of its roof.

Dozens of homes torn apart sit untouched, a few of them with damaged cars still in the driveway. Some homeowners left town, either by bulldozing what was left or by selling what was repaired.

The residents working to get back into their homes continue to push toward normalcy. FEMA has devoted more than $2.5 million to the tornado relief and helped more than 3,000 people after the storm, according to the agency.

"Whenever I travel down Chef [Menteur Highway], I do a tunnel vision. I don't ever look from side to side. I look straight ahead because I don't want to see it no more," Betty McKenzie said.

McKenzie's insurance did not cover the damage to her home.

"We didn't know until the tornado hit that [our insurance] excludes wind and hail damage," she said.

McKenzie has a letter from FEMA telling her repairs to her home would cost a little more than $2,200. But after her contractor told her it would be more than $50,000 to repair her home, she has paid out of pocket to fix her roof and is saving up for other repairs on her list.

"The tornado is worse for me [than Hurricane Katrina] because I didn't get no help with it," she said. "I'm trying to get everything repaired so I could get my mom back home and we could go on with our life."

"It takes time to get things done," Barbara Gomez said.

Gomez watched as the landscape changed in her neighborhood. She was one of a few homeowners on her block completely back home this Memorial Day weekend.

"That means a lot to me, because I just didn't think I was going to make it through all of this," she said. "But God has been good, and I've been thankful."

Though the recovery may seem slow, businesses like Sam's Liquor convenience store - which had the roof torn off - are coming back.

The tornado may have shattered homes and devastated neighborhoods, but it has not broken the spirit of those wanting to return.

"I'm going to do it. I did it for Katrina. I'm going to do it now," McKenzie said.

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