"The gift that keeps on giving." That's what residents here in New Orleans are calling the aftermath of Katrina. Comedy is a great recuperative tool, but it's not much relief for the 1,300 or so people whose heat routinely cuts off in the middle of a chilly winter night, because their natural gas fuel line has a water bubble in it.
Among them: A wonderful little old lady with whom I spent an afternoon. Her name is Thais Noriea. She's 90 years young, tough as overcooked andouille sausage, and willing to deal with what whatever Katrina throws her way. But no heat? That's where she draws the line. During our visit, plumbers arrived to fix the gas line and soon got an earful from Ms. Noriea.
Most of the four million gallons of water that poured into the city's natural gas lines was flushed out after Katrina. But some of it hides in pipes throughout the city, and all it takes is a teaspoon to block fuel from getting into a home. Plumbers tell us all they can do is blow it out, but that it then travels to another neighborhood, another home like Ms. Noriea's.
Another area of the city's infrastructure that remains compromised is the water system. Most of the floodwaters that overran New Orleans dried out in just weeks. But many underground pipes were busted by the roots of toppled trees and homes lifted from their foundations. Also, the salt water that poured into the city is corrosive and continues to ruin still more pipes. And there is a shortage of both workers and equipment to fix them.
Officials estimate there are 35,000 leaks to plug. And consider this: They've already sealed an equal number. About 50 million gallons of water leak out through these pipes everyday, officials say, water that people could use to drink, water for which residents are paying.
Ms. Noriea is not happy about the state of the city's battered infrastructure. But she isn't leaving. You'll meet Ms. Noriea tonight, and if you're like me, you'll come away with a better understanding of what it means to be resilient.