The Facts About What Happened
Hurricane Katrina was the greatest natural disaster in the history on the United States. The Women of the Storm, an organization formed by the women of New Orleans gathered the following statistics. 80% of New Orleans flooded, that's an area equal in size to SEVEN Manhattan Islands. 1,500 people died; 134 were still missing two years after the storm. 204,000-plus homes severely damaged. Over 800,000-plus citizens were forced to live outside of their homes, the greatest diaspora since the Dust Bowl of the 30's. Tens of thousands New Orleanians still reside outside of Louisiana. 81,688 FEMA trailers were originally occupied, many of which are shown to have unsafe levels of formaldehyde toxicity. 1.2 million families received Red Cross assistance. 33,544 persons were rescued by Coast Guard. 34 years worth of trash and debris was spread around New Orleans alone. There were 900,000 insurance claims at a cost of $22.6 billion.
New Orleans flooded mainly because the ill-constructed levees broke. In June 2006, Lieutenant General Carl Strock of the Army Corps of Engineers, accepted responsibility on behalf of the Army Corps Engineers for the failure of the flood protection in New Orleans, calling it "a system in name only." He also said the report showed that "we missed something in the design."
The loss of the natural wetlands that formerly protected us from flood surge was also a contributing factor in our devastation. That fact was worsened by the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MR GO) built by the oil companies through the wetlands for their interests. MR GO funneled the rising storm surge directly into St. Bernard Parish and Eastern New Orleans.
Since Hurricane Katrina, many levees have been reconstructed, Mr Go has been closed, and our fight to save our wetlands has finally been noticed around the country. For more information about the Louisiana Wetlands and our fight to preserve them go to the America's Wetlands Foundation's website.
New Orleans NowIf you are thinking about spending time in New Orleans, whether for pleasure or business, here is some information you need to know. This is from the point of view of a lifelong resident, not a politician or a reporter. My only agenda is presenting the real picture. I realized recently that people in cities very nearby still ask us how we are doing--one gentleman from Baton Rouge, about 70 miles outside of New Orleans, recently posed that question.
New Orleans is Alive!
The French Quarter, which most tourists associate with New Orleans, was not structurally damaged by Katrina. The old city took care of itself, and the Quarter looks pretty much as it has for years. Jackson Square is still beautiful and inviting, surrounded by artists painting, fortune tellers seeing the future, mimes, musicians, and dancers. It is alive with spirit. The restaurants, hotels, and clubs are vibrant and welcoming, as always. It is almost impossible to be disappointed if you are a returning visitor, for you know what to expect--charm, music, food, and fun.
The St. Charles Streetcar has been up and running for some time now, and the beauty of the Avenue is nearly intact. Try taking a tour of the city on a streetcar, or a walking tour of the Garden District, still the most informative as well as pleasant way of seeing this part of the American Sector. Most tours start at Lafayette Cemetery across the street from venerable Commander's Palace. Uptown is full of great restaurants and even the venerable Camellia Grill has re-opened, causing great joy among the locals.
The Warehouse District, with its museums, art galleries, and entertainment, is much as it ever was--less bohemian than the Quarter, not as decorous as Uptown, and always a lot of fun. New places are opening, and old places are thriving. The convention business is flourishing, and those in the industry have been more than up to it--according to conventioneers polled, they have excelled at providing any and all services necessary to conduct business and offer fun along the way.
Are Restaurants, Hotels and Other Tourist Needs Available in Post-Katrina New Orleans?
You may still see a few shuttered storefronts in some areas of town. It's true--small businesses suffered after the hurricane due to insurance issues, personnel problems, and other financial concerns. While many smaller businesses have struggled, lots more are blooming. A number of new stores have opened on Magazine Street, to join your old favorites, making it the most successful retail area in town. You can still buy your high end antiques and stylish clothing in the Quarter as well. The port has been reopened for a long time, and cruise ships regularly sail from the river near Woldenberg Park. There are more restaurants open now then before Katrina. New Music venues have opened. Bourbon Street appears to be returning to its jazz roots--Irvin Mayfield has a club, The Jazz Playhouse, in the Royal Sonesta. Frenchmen Street, made famous by the HBO series "Treme" is open and filled with patrons.