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The Lower Nine: Irrepressible 

My friend and I drove down to the Lower Nine one day after it momentarily opened. We came across a young man near Caffin Avenue helping his family prepare their house for the insurance adjuster. It was his first time back.

"They left us back here to drown," he said in disgust. His anger was deep and silent like the deadly undertows of the Mississippi River. "They don't want us to come back here." His words were bitter and defiant.

The legendary Ninth Ward, which once held nearly 13 percent of the city's black population, has been decimated and is unlikely to see many of its former 45,000 residents return. The problem is particularly acute in the Lower Nine, among the poorest of the city's most distinctive neighborhoods.

I asked if anyone else in the neighborhood had come back. Not really. "My grandma stays down there," the young man says, pointing down the street. "Her house is gone. Over there is where my Aunt stays. Her house is gone, too. So is my sister's -- the one next to the blue house."

Did anyone in the neighborhood die? Yes. The man around the corner. Both he and his daughter drowned. No one knows how it happened and no one wants to talk about it.

His best friend used to live across the street. They just sent his body back from Iraq before Katrina hit. A withered American flag bunting on the porch is the only reminder of his friend's wake.

"His medals all washed away in the flood," he said, glancing down at the street.

The sun was setting and we had to leave before last light and the curfew. I asked if we could take his picture. He flashed a big smile. I could not believe that there was still a smile left in the Lower Nine. But there it was: irrepressible, generous and forgiving.

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