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Sinking homes, damaged roads: How a New Orleans community struggles against subsidence

A driveway has separated from the ground sinking below at a home in the Village de L’Est neighborhood in New Orleans. Julie Dermansky/Floodlight By Sara Sneath 

In the early 1990s, James Wright lost his family home in New Orleans’ 9th Ward when a new school was built on his block.

“They basically took our houses because they gave us very little money for them,” he said. “And most of the people were old Black people who owned their homes.”

After he lost his property on Lamanche Street, Wright bought a house from his brother in the New Orleans East neighborhood in 1992. But he’s once again losing ground. This time quite literally.

The ground has been sinking all across New Orleans as the Mississippi River soil that created the city dries out and compacts – but few places are as bad as in a section of New Orleans East known as Village de L’Est, a predominantly Black and Vietnamese community. A few years ago, Wright’s boat, stored in his backyard, was nearly swallowed by the ground.

“I can tell the house is sinking. You see how the driveway is falling apart?” he said, pointing to cracked and slanted cement.

A study conducted in 2016 by NASA identified groundwater use from a nearby, now-shuttered power plant as the primary cause for the sinking.

Entergy New Orleans, which owns the plant, denies responsibility for the subsidence. Recently it built a new power plant that relies on surface water, not groundwater. But residents are still left with sinking homes, crumbling foundations – and nowhere to turn for help. 

This reporting co-published with the Guardian, the Louisiana Illuminator, The Lens and WWNO. 

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