New Orleans: a City in Limbo

updated 12/12/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/12/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

KATRINA 3 MONTHS LATER

At a time when streets across America are sprouting Christmas decorations, every free space in New Orleans seems to have a sign advertising, We Tear Down Houses. With less than a quarter of the population back in residence, hundreds of blocks await bulldozing, schools remain largely closed, and the faithful of water-damaged Grace Episcopal Church on Canal Street worship outside—and pray for good weather. "I want this city to rebuild," says Ellen Golodner, a volunteer at a musicians' community center. "I want it to get back the sheen that it had before Katrina." But while areas spared by the flood return to life again—and others languish under mud—even the optimists know New Orleans has changed forever. Says one social-work student: "I miss the city the way it was."

FRENCH QUARTER
The Show Goes On
The Storyville Stompers Brass Band (with tourists Lydia Esonomiaes and Mary Genovese) lost their signature white hats in the flood—and some lost their homes. Now, says drummer Karl Helwick, "my wife and I are staying at the clarinet player's in Metairie."

CHALMETTE
Pitching In
Curtis Navis Jr. salvaged his sister's doll from the family's ruined house, but nothing of his own. Living with nine relatives in a trailer, "I'm excited to make a new house," says Curtis, 5. "I'll get a new bed."

SEVENTH WARD
Living by Candlelight
Forced from their apartment, Chuck Braden and girlfriend Tara Stewart now live at his grandmother's 130-year-old house, without power. "It's kind of nice being so simple," says Braden, 29. "I miss all the people," says Stewart, 28.

FRENCH QUARTER
Up and Running
Three-quarters of the city's restaurants are shuttered—but not this neighborhood spot.

ST. BERNARD PARISH
Cleaning Up
National Guard teams in hazmat suits are still hauling debris from an estimated 250,000 destroyed homes. The worst, says Bobby E. Ross, 54: disposing of refrigerators. "We try to tape them up so the smell doesn't escape. But some of them get kind of rough."

UPTOWN
Back to School
With only one of New Orleans's public schools reopened, students like second-graders Nia Lawson (left), Taylor Taurlow and Harry Myers (foreground) attend the ad hoc Sugar Cane Academy, founded by parents and out-of-work teachers on the campus of Loyola University.

DOWNTOWN
Helping the Sick
Of 10 hospitals operating in the city before Katrina, only three are now open to serve a population that reaches 150,000 during the peak daytime influx. The Medical Center of Louisiana at New Orleans is now billeted in nine MASH-style tents in the infamous Morial Convention Center. Here, Louisiana National Guard Staff Sgt. Robert Oliver gets a flu shot from RN John Treuil.

ALGIERS
Final Shot
Departing soldiers take souvenir photos amid props at Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World, a tourist attraction and float-building facility.

GREENWOOD CEMETERY
Preserving Memories
Catherine Hodges, 79, wipes silt from the tomb of her first husband, William Bloemer Sr., who died of stomach cancer in '82; "We met in 1947, when all the soldiers were coming home. I was so angry when he died. He was a wonderful guy."

CANAL STREET
Outdoor Prayers
Grace Episcopal Church's congregants now gather beneath an oak tree pruned by Katrina. "We've had five weeks—count 'em—of perfect weather," says Father Walter Baer, 51. "There's grace, and then there's pushing things."

Susan Schindehette. Alicia Dennis, Katie Block and John Perra in New Orleans

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