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A New Orleans Stoop: Solace After the Storm

After Hurricane Katrina, Times-Picayune columnist Chris Rose's porch became an unofficial town hall and community center. Neighbors gathered there to sing songs, commiserate about the state of the city and "solve" New Orleans' problems.

There were so few people in Rose's neighborhood, he says, that "if you went out on your front porch and popped open a beer or brought out a cup of coffee, inevitably, people would begin to gather. So it began to happen every night. Even if I wasn't here, people would gather."

Rose's own porch -- or stoop, as they're known in New Orleans -- is a simple concrete structure, with three steps that feed onto the sidewalk. People congregated to vent, cry and laugh; he likens it to a "24-hour therapy session."

But sometimes, stoop-sitting wasn't enough.

Rose recalls a woman he calls "the New Orleans girl," about whom he writes in his book of Katrina essays, 1 Dead in Attic.

She and her fiance fled to Atlanta during Hurricane Katrina. But she had "an almost pathological need" to live in New Orleans, so the couple returned to the city. They moved in across the street from Rose and became a part of the stoop-sitting group.

They held each each other up, Rose says, until despair and darkness consumed them, and they made a suicide pact. But in the end, only the fiance followed through. After the death, a months-long run of stoop-sitting on Rose's porch came to an end.

Elsewhere in the city, the role of the porch is playing an important role in the recovery process.

In pre-Katrina days, stoop-sitting was a great pastime and tradition of New Orleans culture, Rose says. And once again, in neighborhoods around the city, people are gathering on their porches.

He says that in some parts of the city, it's almost comical: People are "sitting there, drinking beer, talking to their friends and neighbors, and you look behind them and the house is completely gutted."

"Everywhere you go, there are people out, and I think what serves as the primary therapy for most people is just telling their story."

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