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On The Scene

Lower 9th Ward like a surreal movie set

It was hard to be prepared for the devastation

By Daniel Sieberg
CNN

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CNN correspondent Daniel Sieberg

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On the Scene
New Orleans (Louisiana)

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- I'll admit it. I wasn't prepared for what I saw. And I can only begin to understand what it was like for the people who lived there.

On Thursday, I rode along with residents from the devastated Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans as they toured the area by bus.

For some, it was the first chance to see their homes, their neighbors and their belongings. But they weren't allowed to get off the bus. This angered some; others knew there was simply nothing to salvage. (Watch as residents take the bus tour -- 2:13)

Officials said this restriction was because the houses aren't structurally sound, and because bodies are still being recovered. We did see at least one K-9 cadaver team during the tour.

Home after home was destroyed by the flooding after the breach in the levee beside the Industrial Canal. Block after block is nearly unrecognizable as a place where people once went about their daily lives.

Even the residents on the bus described it as looking like a movie set.

There's just nothing else to compare it to. Foundations flattened. Cars upside-down. Children's toys on the road. Mud and debris everywhere. These were the homes where people needed airlift evacuations shortly after the waters rushed in.

We were allowed to stop at one home to get an idea of what the others look like.

We could barely open the front door. Inside, the rotting contents of the home were pushed all over the floor. Insulation and wood support beams hung from the ceiling. Windows were shattered. Dirt covered every surface. Complete destruction.

As the bus drove up and down the streets for about 90 minutes, I spoke with the eight or so residents on board.

Bishop George Albert Jr. and his wife, Vernette, got a chance to see their house, and even managed to convince the driver to stop for a few minutes while they got out.

In their front yard, blue and red ribbons remained from a party Vernette had hosted for her son just before Hurricane Katrina hit August 29.

Albert's church is in the neighborhood, and he spent time on his cell phone talking with members of his congregation and taking photos to show the damage to those who couldn't make the bus trip.

For him, it was a small feeling of closure, and he firmly believes he'll return to live one day. He also made a passionate plea to not portray the people of the Lower 9th Ward as all poor or uneducated.

When you see people suffering in a case like this, it's almost impossible not to think of your own house, your own neighborhood. And what it would be like -- to be scattered to live in a shelter or a temporary home.

I've been in New Orleans only since Monday, and the pictures on TV really don't do it justice.

Seeing it in person, I can't seem to wrap my head around it. Even as I read over my notes, I can't believe it.

Maybe it'll get easier.

Somehow I doubt it.

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