Canoeing Through A 'Ghost Town'

There are many neighborhoods in New Orleans that remain completely inundated with water, despite progress in recent days in pumping it out of the city.

Many of the sectors still underwater have been largely abandoned and, reported The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith, that's given them a very eerie quality.

He noted that the only way to get in them and really look around is by boat.

So he decided to paddle himself around in a canoe, as cameras followed.

"Welcome to the surreal zone," Smith said, paddling all the while through an area near the Superdome.

"A city in water like this for what? More than a week now? And how many days ahead? The kind of mold and funk and nastiness that's gonna be growing in everybody's homes" is unimaginable," Smith said.

"These houses don't look like they were in all that great a shape to begin with, and after sitting in … water for all these days, can you recover a house like that?" Smith wondered.

Even though Smith navigated only a few blocks, "What you have to understand is that this scene is repeated on untold hundreds and hundreds of blocks throughout New Orleans," he observed.

Continuing to paddle, Smith described the floodwaters beneath the canoe as "Just putrid. Horrible. Fetid. Stinky stuff. Craziness. This is really craziness."

Military helicopters crisscrossed the skies above Smith, searching for stragglers who had yet to leave the city. After the choppers pass, there was an eerie silence.

"It's a poor neighborhood," Smith noted. "Probably a public housing project. It should be teeming with life. Kids getting ready to go off to school. People jumpin' on buses, heading to work. Old men sitting around playing dominoes. This is … a watery ghost town now. You wonder if they'll ever come back."

And, Smith continued, you wonder where they went: "Are they in a shelter in Houston? Are they in a shelter in Baton Rouge? Are they in Minnesota, or Colorado? … It gives you an idea, as you get the kind of ghost town feel to all of this, all of the woe and all of the sorrow that goes with all of the empty buildings. It's very sad. It's very sad."

Smith said, "We thought we were alone, but on a porch, a pit bull, standing sentry, chained to a porch post, and somebody's bags packed, ready to go.

"Is anybody home? You need a way out?" Smith shouted.

There was somebody inside, but he wouldn't show his face.

"I'm waiting for the boat to come," the man told Smith.

"Our mystery man embodies the mystery of why so many have yet to leave the city," Smith said. "Perhaps it's fear of leaving the familiar, fear of leaving the neighborhood, fear that if you leave, you might never come back."

When Smith's self-propelled tour ended, he and his CBS News crew noted the man's address and notified authorities, so he could be evacuated.
  • Brian Dakss

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