New Or­leans mourns dead on Ka­t­rina an­niver­sary


New Or­leans re­mem­bered the dead and cel­e­brated its painstak­ing come­back from dis­as­ter on Satur­day, a decade af­ter Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina ripped through the “Big Easy” leav­ing dev­as­ta­tion and chaos in its wake.

City lead­ers placed wreaths at a me­mo­rial to Ka­t­rina’s scores of un­known vic­tims, mark­ing the hour that the Cat­e­gory 5 storm struck with cat­a­strophic force, over­whelm­ing the Louisiana port’s sys­tem of lev­ees.

More than 1,800 peo­ple were killed across the U.S. Gulf Coast when Ka­t­rina made land­fall on Aug. 29, 2005. A mil­lion peo­ple were dis­placed and the fi­nan­cial toll topped US$150 bil­lion.

New Or­leans was plunged into a night­mar­ish scene of death and loot­ing af­ter Ka­t­rina bar­reled her way through and gov­ern­ment help was painfully slow to come, some­thing which still ran­kles in the city.

Mayor Mitch Lan­drieu, at a solemn cer­e­mony at­tended by about 400 peo­ple at Char­ity Hos­pi­tal Ceme­tery in the Mid-City neigh­bor­hood, struck a de­fi­ant tone.

“New Or­leans will be un­bowed and un­bro­ken. We’re still stand­ing af­ter 10 years,” he de­clared.

“We have risen and we will rise again, but we can only do it if we hold each other up and we don’t leave any­body be­hind.”

The me­mo­rial to the un­claimed Ka­t­rina vic­tims holds the re­mains of bod­ies which were never iden­ti­fied or claimed.

“We know that even as New Or­leans is re­build­ing, there are those who are griev­ing the deaths of their moth­ers, their fathers, their sis­ters. I want those fam­i­lies to know that our thoughts are with them,” Gover­nor Bobby Jin­dal said.

The wreath cer­e­mony gave way to pa­rades, marches and par­ty­ing, cap­ping a week of re­mem­brance that in­cluded a visit from U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama.

Bar­beque smoke and mu­sic filled the sti­fling New Or­leans air, as brass bands and revel­ers cel­e­brated the re­cov­ery of a city syn­ony­mous with Dix­ieland jazz and the rau­cous Mardi Gras.

Gwen Truhill, a lo­cal from the Ninth Ward, said: “We’ve come a long way, but yet still so far to go.

“It’s good to see ev­ery­body come to­gether and re­mem­ber what hap­pened, to see that peo­ple are still in good spir­its. It’s still kind of bit­ter­sweet.”

Neigh­bor­hoods and cul­tural cen­ters held par­ties and pa­rades be­fore for­mer pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton spoke at an evening com­mem­o­ra­tion, with per­for­mances by a num­ber of Grammy-win­ning mu­si­cians.

‘Sea of mis­ery and ruin’

Some 80 per­cent of New Or­leans was swal­lowed up by floods which rose as high as 6 me­ters af­ter the low- ly­ing coastal city’s poorly built levee sys­tem burst from the pres­sure of a mas­sive storm surge.

The wa­ter came up so fast that some peo­ple drowned in their homes. Hun­dreds more were stranded on their rooftops.

The few dry spots in the city de­scended into an­ar­chy as tens of thou­sands of in­creas­ingly des­per­ate peo­ple with lit­tle food or clean wa­ter waited for help to fi­nally reach them.

“All of us who are old enough to re­mem­ber will never for­get the im­ages of our fel­low Amer­i­cans amid a sea of mis­ery and ruin,” for­mer pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush said in a visit to a New Or­leans school Fri­day.

Bush, who faced in­tense crit­i­cism for his han­dling of the cri­sis, said he was moved by the city’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to “re­build bet­ter than be­fore.”

Ten years on, col­or­ful homes on stilts have re­placed many of the rot­ten hulks left be­hind by the stag­nant and ef­flu­ent-tainted flood wa­ters.

Mu­sic and the smell of gumbo — a spicy stew — once again waft through the bustling streets of the French Quar­ter.

The tourism in­dus­try is boom­ing once again, with 9 mil­lion visi­tors last year and the city has man­aged to at­tract a grow­ing num­ber new busi­nesses.

Crime — while still high — is im­prov­ing, with the mur­der rate hit­ting a 43-year low in 2014 and the pop­u­la­tion in city jails down by two-thirds.

Chang­ing City

Some of the city’s 385,000 res­i­dents say its Cre­ole and Afro-Caribbean iden­tity has been al­tered in­deli­bly by the storm.

A large por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion never came back and New Or­leans now has 100,000 fewer peo­ple than it did be­fore Ka­t­rina, and many are new­com­ers.

The black pop­u­la­tion has also fallen, from 68 per­cent of res­i­dents in 2000 to 60 per­cent in 2013, latest cen­sus fig­ures show.

But plenty of white New Or­leans res­i­dents also found the emo­tional and fi­nan­cial cost of re­build­ing to be too high, though their num­bers are harder to mea­sure.

“A lot of things have changed, but some­times change is for the bet­ter,” city Coco said.

“It’s not the same New Or­leans that it was when I was grow­ing up, but as long as they get the best of it, that’s all that mat­ters.”




Khaleah Jones, cen­ter, skate­boards near a con­cert mark­ing the 10th an­niver­sary of Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina in New Or­leans, Louisiana on Satur­day, Aug. 29.

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