Bells peal as Gulf states honor Katrina’s victims and celebrate recovery

31 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

3 Views On A Tragedy: Reporters Recall First Days After Katrina.

NEW ORLEANS – The residents of the city nearly destroyed by floods caused by Hurricane Katrina marked the 10-year anniversary of the catastrophe the only way they know how — with song, dance and solemn remembrance. “This is a story about resurrection and redemption,” added Landrieu, who also noted that the city would not cease working on behalf of many who are still struggling.

It appeared that the worst was over. “The city officials were glibly saying, ‘Looks like we dodged the bullet,’ ” recalls NPR’s John Burnett. “And in fact, the bullet hit us in a bull’s-eye.” Burnett and NPR’s Greg Allen were hunkered down in hotels in New Orleans at the time. Although the memorial marks the graves of those whose families never claimed them, Landrieu said they are no longer unclaimed, because “we claim them.” The day capped a week of reflection, learning and giving thanks.

They needed to see that the reassuring pronouncements from federal officials meant absolutely nothing. “Floating barges that had been casinos in the Biloxi-Gulfport area were picked up and slammed down onto the shore. Downtown, the city bustled with the crush of tourists and in neighborhoods uptown, residents walked the streets, many of them finally able to return home. “These are my roots, and this is my home,” said Jerome Merricks, 58, who evacuated from the Lower Ninth during Katrina and hasn’t been able to move back home. The three-story Copa Casino [barge], which was a pastel pink, ended up in the middle of Highway 90,” Lohr says. “And it’s just such a shock to see.” Hurricane Katrina ultimately became one of the most costly and destructive disasters in U.S. history. The Ninth Ward is “so not back,” remarked Stephanie “Dusty Mother” Magee, 49, who left the neighborhood where she grew up after the storm and never returned. “It’s like they forgot them over here.” In the Ninth Ward, many homes were built with the help of a virtual army of nonprofit organizations, faith groups and foundations during the past 10 years.

On Friday night, inside an immaculately restored Saenger Theater, the city hosted an event to thank the thousands who volunteered, donated money and supported the city in its time of need. Among those who were thanked was Houston Mayor Bill White, who according to Landrieu “never thought about saying there is no room at the inn,” when hundreds of evacuees streamed into his city not knowing if or when they could ever go home. Still, despite the billions of dollars that have poured into the city and state since the storm, it took many people, like Joyce Lambert, 68, years to return to her home.

New Orleans had dissolved into bedlam and the scale of the disaster had overwhelmed every local, state and federal emergency response plan formulated to handle a major hurricane. Katrina’s nearly 30-foot storm surge and the tornadoes that came in with the hurricane flattened or damaged nearly every home, building and business along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

And there was so much debris — piles and piles of splintered wood, sagging insulation, shattered glass and the unrecognizable tiny pieces of tens of thousands of lives. The stench was overwhelming — the rotting chicken, the sour slimy mess of debris that washed ashore, combined with natural gas leaks that smelled like rotten eggs. There was no electricity and no water and almost no way to communicate with people, unless you found them in a shelter or near the remains of their home.

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