Obama visiting New Orleans on hurricane’s 10th anniversary

27 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Katrina Q&A: New Orleans before and after the historic storm.

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is marking 10 years since Hurricane Katrina by celebrating the revival of New Orleans, which suffered the worst of the ferocious storm’s devastation, while again warning all levels of government to start helping communities prepare for the stronger hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires that climate change will bring. When Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast 10 years ago, she inflicted major pain on the touring industry in that region, but a decade later live music in the region is thriving. But it has also been historically wrought with challenges: Public schools were some of the worst in the country; the murder rate was among the highest in the USA; there was deep-seated economic disparity between races; and the city’s population had been on a steep decline for nearly a half-century.

The market is on solid footing these days and has, “bounced back very strongly,” says veteran promoter Don Fox, founder of New Orleans-based Beaver Productions, whose offices on West Harrison St. in New Orleans were flooded during Katrina. “Now, everybody that is on tour is playing New Orleans. He was delivering remarks at a newly opened community center in a largely African-American neighborhood, the Lower 9th Ward, that was among those hardest hit by the storm. The loss of neighborhood clubs and an increased emphasis on tourism has shaped the opportunities for musicians and the types of music they play, he said. All of the major theaters have reopened and are doing great business.” Several venues were flooded or nearly destroyed by Katrina, but none are more symbolic of both the misery Katrina brought, nor the resiliency of those left in its wake, than the Mercedes Benz (commonly known as Louisiana) Superdome. Most of the deaths came in low-lying areas such as the Lower Ninth Ward, where the collapse of the federal levees led to floods that overwhelmed homes.

The Superdome was only meant to play a small role in the Katrina saga by hosting 850 special needs hospital patients, but was designated a “refuge of last resort” by public officials the day before Katrina hit. Stranded citizens were brought in by helicopters, boats, and high-water vehicles from rooftops or wherever they were stranded, and the Superdome became the focal point of Katrina. Eighteen “essential” SMG employees, backed up by total of 225 staffers (and their families) from SMG and concessionaire Centerplate, also sought refuge at the Superdome and were pressed into service, along with about 375 National Guardsmen.

Video of residents seeking refuge on rooftops or inside the Superdome or the convention center dominated news coverage in the aftermath as Katrina came to symbolize government failure at every level. As power went out, 70 percent of the Superdome roof was lost, and water poured into “every nook and cranny of the building,” evacuees were faced with no functioning toilets, no HVAC, massive mold growth, no trash removal, and rapidly deteriorating conditions. The storm went down in history as the costliest natural disaster, and one of the deadliest, to strike the U.S., with $150 billion in damages to homes and other property. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that Obama, in addition to celebrating a resurgent New Orleans, will also stress the need for the federal government and communities nationwide to start investing in “resilience” so that they are ready for the more intense storms and wildfires a warming planet will bring. “There’s no denying what scientists tell us, which is that there’s reason to be concerned about these storms getting worse and more violent,” Earnest said.

The economy is booming, a whopping nine million tourists visited last year, and there are scores of new festivals and venues offering work to local musicians. People were breaking into and occupying the suites, drinking the liquor, and having their way, there was no way to police all of that entirely,” Thornton recalls. “Most of these folks were just plain, hard-working citizens with their families. The rescue effort included local fire and rescue squads, boat teams from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Coast Guard and Navy helicopters and thousands of National Guardsmen, as well as neighbors in smaller boats. The city has recovered much of its pre-storm population, new businesses are opening faster than the national average and better flood protection plans are in place. You had gang members, you had homeless people on the street, you had a cross-section of people thrust into a situation where they were trying to survive.

I would say we did the best that we could under the circumstances, and we may never know all the things that happened.” Six people died in the Superdome in the wake of Katrina, four of natural causes, one from an overdose, and one an apparent suicide. In recent years, Frenchmen Street has transformed from the hipper alternative to Bourbon Street into a more tourist-friendly destination, where a well-lit outdoor market and a giant gourmet hot dog stand welcome visitors. Bush was also criticized for surveying the city’s destruction from aboard Air Force One two days after the storm but waiting another week before visiting the devastated city. Bush later teamed up with former president Bill Clinton to create the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund, which has raised more than $130 million to support relief and long-term recovery efforts.

A: FEMA issued thousands of temporary trailers to Katrina victims who remained in the city and didn’t have a home, but many of those trailers were later found to have high levels of formaldehyde and other toxins. Musicians said that while tourism had a homogenizing effect on the music, the city’s changing demographics pose another threat to its penchant for improvisation. The black population has fallen by about 115,000 people, dropping from 68 percent of residents in 2000 to 60 percent in 2013, the latest census figures show. “We understand our position as musicians and culture bearers is to educate the younger ones so they can grab the torch,” he said. “Right now, we still have a lot more walking and torch carrying to do.”

This was chance to make the Superdome a better place but also a chance to reset the dial for New Orleans, repair our school system, our hotels, our hospitals. The city had to die to be reborn.” The road to recovery was a long one for the historic Saenger Theatre, a 2,800-capacity show palace on the Big Easy’s Canal Street. The Saenger, which opened in 1927, suffered four feet of water on its orchestra level and a completely flooded basement housing all mechanical, electrical and HVAC systems.

That included the daunting two-year task of recreating the venue’s intricate painting scheme that created biggest challenge, a project that took itself took two years. The Saenger is tops in the nation in subscriptions for the Broadway Across America series, is so strong it’s No. 1 market for Broadway Across America, never the case before Katrina.

The Saenger now hosts 40-50 concerts annually, and the Jackson, home of the New Orleans Opera and Ballet associations, another 10-15 concerts. “Both venues have recovered nicely and are busier than they’ve ever been. Biloxi is home to the Mississippi Coast Coliseum & Convention Center, which sits just across the Highway 90 from the Gulf, not an enviable position in hurricane season. Clearly, the people of the region were ready for a good time. “Down here, the routine was just work, clean, and repair, work clean, and repair, repeat, for so many months that it took just a little imagination and creativity to get people out to have a little fun,” says McDonnell. “It was awesome to go back down there and play,” says Brad Arnold of 3DD, which hails from nearby Escatawpa, Miss. With Wal-Mart, the BLF shipped down three semi-trucks full of supplies. “There was so much to be done there, I don’t know if we even put a dent in it,” Arnold says. “It was the least we could do.”

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