New Orleans, Gulf coast mark Katrina milestone

31 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Behind New Orleans’ comeback, frustrations of the displaced remain.

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Gulf Coast and New Orleans observed the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, one of the deadliest storms in American history, in ways both devout and festive.City leaders laid wreaths at the Hurricane Katrina Memorial in New Orleans yesterday as the city paid homage to those who died in the storm 10 years ago and sought to salute its recovery.

Church bells rang and brass bands played as people across the storm-ravaged coast remembered the past and looked to the future. “Some people said that we shouldn’t come back. Saturday morning, near the point where a levee breach unleashed the destruction of the city’s Lower Ninth Ward and beyond, hundreds gathered to mourn the hundreds of lives lost and demand attention to a population they say is still neglected. With music and parades – sombre and celebratory – residents of New Orleans showed their pride in the rebirth of the Big Easy which found itself 80 per cent submerged after the storm breached a key levee and sent water cascading through the streets.

We are putting on a nice show for everyone, “said Tamara Jackson, head of the Social Aid and Pleasure Club Task Force, which helps to support second-line parades, traditionally put on for funerals in the city. In the evening, former President Bill Clinton was set to headline a free concert in the city’s Smoothie King Center, a sports arena by the Superdome, which became the overcrowded and sordid shelter of last resort for thousands made homeless by Katrina, which caused the loss of about 1,800 lives.

While some express pride at the city’s rebounding since those days when 80 percent of it sat under floodwaters, others are angry about the disparity they say still plagues their community. “I’m coming back to show solidarity with the people who are still living there and trying to rebuild,” Caldwell said. “If the city can come back for hotels and developers, it needs to come back for those people too.” Caldwell had come to New Orleans aboard a bus chartered by the Sierra Club, one of two offering free rides to the displaced for the weekend’s events. Leading the wreath-laying ceremony at a memorial that contains the remains of 83 unclaimed or unidentified victims of Katrina were mayor Mitch Landrieu and the governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal. “We must recommit ourselves to the notion that no American should ever be left behind,” Mr Landrieu said. “We can only move forward together.” Mr Clinton was to be third US president to participate in the anniversary.

In the Lower Ninth on Thursday, President Obama noted that while the storm had been a natural disaster, it “became a man-made one – a failure of government to look out for its own citizens”. George W Bush, whose legacy was damaged by those failures after Katrina, visited on Friday, saying that New Orleans was a city “whose levies gave out but whose people never gave up”. He weighed into a debate that has bubbled up during the Katrina anniversary about whether New Orleans’ post-Katrina story is one of a city resurrected or of people left behind. Meanwhile, Dallas artist Sterling Kokroko just wanted to expose 7-year-old son Sirius to the city’s culture and history. “You can’t forget about the diaspora,” said Cherelle Blazer, a Dallas-based Sierra Club organizer. “They all feel like they’re still New Orleans residents. It’s not like they planned to move.” Caldwell, 41, whose long hair and husky build recall the character Hurley on the series Lost, felt iffy about returning.

In Biloxi, Mississippi, clergy and community leaders gathered at a newly built Minor League Baseball park for a memorial to Katrina’s victims and later that evening the park hosted a concert celebrating the recovery. He’d fled the day before along with his brother, a friend and two African exchange students who had nowhere else to go — first to Shreveport, then to Atlanta. Claude Avenue, the area’s Bywater and Marigny neighborhoods had already been starting to gentrify, and the city’s priorities, he said, became clear. After the speeches were done, a parade snaked through the neighborhood while music played from boom boxes and people sold water from ice chests under the hot sun. He came back Saturday just to find old faces from the neighborhood but he couldn’t bring himself to see the vacant lot where his house used to be. “The family home is what kept us together and it’s gone,” he said.

Thousands of volunteers spread out across New Orleans, echoing the volunteers that helped the city and region recover after Katrina and still come to the city to this day. She recounted her post-Katrina experiences — fear and thirst in a sweltering Superdome, eventual transport to Kansas — with humor, grace and at times defiance. New friends who’d moved into the area couldn’t understand what he’d gone through. “I was frantic,” Caldwell said. “Everything I knew was turned upside down.

Caldwell himself encountered people he’d worked with on social causes years earlier, including Cherice Harrison-Nelson of Guardians of the Flame, a group promoting black history and the radiantly attired black revelers known as Mardi Gras Indians. “They’re looking at all these bright houses — but they need to be looking at all these people who lost their families,” said Francine Green, a New Orleans resident for 60 years whose home was lost to the flood. “A lot of lives was taken. And I’m misunderstood.” By the start of the ceremonies, about 1,500 people had assembled in the grassy area adjoining the levee near banners bearing the names of Katrina’s victims. A series of speakers paid heed to those gone and those who remain, and talked of the need for mental healing for the young people who experienced Katrina as children. “The recovery has passed up the black community,” one said. “The people that give this city culture. When will we stand up and begin to do something meaningful for ourselves?” Then began the jubilant second-line march, a 3-mile procession through 85-degree heat — and if it seemed odd to party amid the pain, then you don’t know New Orleans.

Behind them trailed a makeshift parade of hundreds through the city they called home — a dancing procession with a singular voice that said: We are still here.

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