COOPER (voice-over): IdaBelle Joshua spent most of her 79 years living in this house in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward.
IDABELLE JOSHUA, LOST HER HOME: I had three kids here. It meant my life.
COOPER: After Hurricane Katrina flooded her home, IdaBelle says she spent more than $5,000 on repair work, and then went to city hall to make sure her home wasn’t on the demolition list. She says two city employees assured her it wasn’t. Two days later, however, she got a disturbing call.
JOSHUA: My nephew told me that my house was gone.
I said, you got to be kidding. I have not received any notification from anybody.
And he said, auntie, it is not there.
COOPER: Today, a concrete slab is all that’s left. Idabelle has joined others who say their homes were demolished in a class action suit against the city.
KAREN GADBOIS, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: These are all on the list.
COOPER: Community activist Karen Gadbois spends her days photographing many of the 1,700 homes on the city’s imminent health threat list, and she tries to notify their owners.
GADBOIS: Our first pass-bys of these properties, we were truly — we were shocked.
COOPER: Karen says the list includes many homes with little damage. She also says that the notification process is ineffective. Basically, the city posts the addresses in the local paper, online and mails a notice that the house will be torn down in 30 days. But many people have moved and, because the mail isn’t certified, they never receive it.
GADBOIS: I’m just looking for these people and trying to help them navigate this system, which is an unjust system.
COOPER: The city attorney, however, insists the system does work.
PENYA MOSES FIELDS, NEW ORLEANS CITY ATTORNEY: Homeowners do have a responsibility to understand the law. We’re two years after the storm, and it’s a public health risk that’s at stake. And so they need to immediately take action.
COOPER: But even those taking steps to rebuild say getting their property off the list is nearly impossible.
Terry Dicarlo has been fighting to save her 92-year-old mother’s historic home.
TERRY DICARLO, TRYING TO SAVE HOME: It’s beyond frustrating. It’s heartbreaking. It’s like going through a maze, and you don’t know which way to go. There’s something very sinister going on here.
COOPER: There could be motivation to speed up the process.
STACY HEAD, NEW ORLEANS CITY COUNCIL: FEMA will stop picking up for the Corps of Engineer’s work to demolish houses in September. And so yes, the city wants to get all of the properties that need to be demolished, demolished right now.
COOPER: The city attorney denied the FEMA deadline is a factor and insists changes have been made to improve the process, including a revetting of the entire list and written confirmation of the status of the house.
But for Idabelle Joshua, it is far too late.
JOSHUA: It was home to us, and we were very proud. And as a senior citizen, I’m struggling and starting all over again.
COOPER: Hard to imagine.