Big Easy residents move back into homes that remain in danger’s path

While officials continue to debate the best way to rebuild New Orleans, those who lived there just want to go home. But as residents slowly but surely return, many are reinhabiting houses that may not stand up to severe weather and returning to areas planners think should be abandoned, some of which were submerged in 20 feet of water when Hurricane Katrina hit a year and a half ago. New federal flood guidelines say “substantially damaged” homes must be raised on foundations up to three feet off the ground, but homeowners are finding ways around the requirement, which can cost $50,000. “It’s terrifying,” says civil-engineering professor Robert G. Bea. “We’re doing the same things we have in the past but expecting different results.” The city’s levees are not guaranteed to withstand another strong hurricane, and buffer wetlands continue to erode, but residents like Vincent Gangi are willing to take the risk. “Something like Katrina happens only once in a hundred years,” he says. Let us all hope.