Bittersweet mood at Katrina events

A parade to mark the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Louisiana, last Saturday. The day was the culmination of a week of reflection about a storm that left 80 per cent of the US city under water and displaced 130,000 residents.
A parade to mark the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Louisiana, last Saturday. The day was the culmination of a week of reflection about a storm that left 80 per cent of the US city under water and displaced 130,000 residents.PHOTO: REUTERS

New Orleans honours victims, celebrates resilience to mark 10 years since hurricane

NEW ORLEANS • From the Lower Ninth Ward to the Superdome, New Orleans launched a day of events to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, paying tribute to its victims and homage to the city's resilience in the face of disaster.

Dignitaries last Saturday made speeches to honour the 1,500 who died, brass bands marched through the streets and neighbours gathered for block parties across the city, where the mood shifted in turns from sombre to reflective to celebratory.

"It is kind of bittersweet. We want to celebrate because we are still here, but a lot of people are not," said Ms Natasha Green, 36, a resident of the devastated Lower Ninth Ward at the time of the storm. "It is important to remember what we went through here."

Last Saturday was the culmination of a week of reflection about a storm that left 80 per cent of the city under water and displaced 130,000 residents. While residents and visitors alike said it was difficult to deny the rebound that New Orleans has made, there was also recognition that the poorest areas, like the Lower Ninth, have lagged.

The day began with Mayor Mitch Landrieu leading a sombre tribute for the 83 "forgotten" victims whose unclaimed bodies lie in mausoleums at the Hurricane Katrina Memorial, housed in one of the city's historic above-ground cemeteries.

A decade after Katrina, 30 of those bodies remain unidentified.

"Though they are unnamed, they are not unclaimed because we claim them," Mr Landrieu said on a clear morning reminiscent of the calm before the storm's landfall on Aug 29, 2005.

"This has been 10 years of struggle," said the mayor, who was joined by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and other dignitaries. "But New Orleans is unbowed and unbroken."

Across town, hundreds gathered in the Lower Ninth Ward on a grass verge that abuts the Industrial Canal levee that was breached 10 years ago, causing some of the worst flooding. Some locals wore traditional Mardi Gras parade dress including colourful headdresses. Vendors sold soft drinks and beer from large coolers.

The mood started out reflective but not downbeat. There was also an undercurrent of anger over the lagging redevelopment of the Lower Ninth, where empty lots and the shells of destroyed houses are still a common sight.

"The people who have given this city its culture have been overlooked," Mr Willie Muhammad, a student minister at the Nation of Islam, said to the crowd. "We shouldn't be surprised that the rebuild overlooked us."

At noon, brass bands began marching, bringing a celebratory atmosphere. Hundreds of people danced behind the blaring trumpets, horns and drums. About a dozen marchers rode horses.

Mr Chad Peterson, a 29-year-old trumpet player with one of the brass bands, was upbeat. "This is about my city. This is about Katrina. I'm just enjoying it. This is more of a celebration."

Other hard-hit parts of Louisiana were hosting memorials as well.

At Shell Beach, in lower St Bernard Parish just east of New Orleans, public officials and residents gathered along a waterway that burst through a levee in 2005 and killed 127 people. The ceremony featured a reading of the names of the victims, now etched into a monument there.

By mid-morning, a crowd was gathering with cold drinks and food in a park along Harrison Avenue in Lakeview as children played soccer nearby. Along a main street in the Mid-City neighbourhood, colourful flags swayed in the breeze from 52 wooden poles arranged across a green space as a commemoration by sculptor Michael Manjarris.

A march and hand-holding ceremony was scheduled at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the football arena that housed thousands of displaced people after the storm and became an emblem of the chaos and hardship that engulfed New Orleans after the flooding.

Later, former president Bill Clinton told crowds at the Smoothie King Centre, home of the New Orleans Pelicans basketball team: "You have got a lot to celebrate tonight.

"But the celebration must be leavened by rededication," Mr Clinton added, saying that those who died "left behind memories and loved ones and legacies that deserved to be fully redeemed by erasing the lines that divide us".

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2015, with the headline 'Bittersweet mood at Katrina events'. Print Edition | Subscribe