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Gulf Coast Marks Katrina Anniversary   08/30 12:37

   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. Church bells rang and brass bands played as people across the 
storm-ravaged coast remembered the past and looked to the future.

   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. 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. Some people said that we 
couldn't come back," said New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. "Yet 10 years later 
here we are. Still standing."

   The storm killed more than 1,800 people and caused $151 billion in damage, 
in one of the country's deadliest and most costly natural disasters. Many of 
the dead came in New Orleans when levees protecting the city burst, submerging 
80 percent of the Crescent City in water.

   The dead and those who still struggle to rebuild were not far from anyone's 
thoughts Saturday, from Mississippi where church bells rang out to mark when 
the storm made landfall to a commemoration at the New Orleans memorial 
containing bodies of people never claimed or never identified.

   As the church bells rang, 80-year-old Eloise Allen wept softly into a tissue 
as she leaned against her rusting Oldsmobile.

   "I feel guilty," said Allen, whose house in Bay St. Louis was damaged but 
inhabitable after the storm. "I didn't go through what all the other people 
did."

   Saturday was a day to remember what "all the other people" went through. 
Those who were lifted from rooftops by helicopters, those who came home to find 
only concrete steps as evidence of where their house used to be, those whose 
bodies were never claimed after the storm.

   But the mourning Saturday was balanced by a celebration of how far the 
region has come.

   At the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, thousands of people gathered to 
take part in an evening of prayer, music and speeches including by former 
President Bill Clinton. He had helped raise money for Katrina victims.

   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. Tourism in the Crescent City is booming, real estate 
prices have skyrocketed and the city's population continues to grow after 
Katrina. But the recovery has been uneven with many neighborhoods --- 
especially African-American ones --- still struggling. Clinton said the city 
should be happy and celebrate its progress but at the same time keep working.

   "Have a good time New Orleans. You earned it," Clinton said. "And tomorrow 
wake up and say 'Look at what we did. I bet we can do the rest too.'"

   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.

   During a prayer service at a seaside park in Gulfport, former Mississippi 
Gov. Haley Barbour praised volunteers who worked on the Katrina recovery. He 
said more than 954,000 volunteers came from around the country to Mississippi 
in the first five years after the storm, and many were motivated by faith.

   "They thought it was God's command to try to help people in need," Barbour 
said.

   Katrina's force caused a massive storm surge that scoured the Mississippi 
coast, pushed boats far inland and wiped houses off the map.

   Glitzy casinos and condominium towers have been rebuilt. But overgrown lots 
and empty slabs speak to the slow recovery in some communities.

   In New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward, residents and community activists gathered 
Saturday at the levee where Katrina's storm waters broke through and submerged 
the neighborhood.

   Once a bastion of black home ownership, it still hasn't regained anywhere 
near its pre-Katrina population. But a day of events illustrated how attached 
the residents who have returned are to their community.

   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.

   Clarence Davis' family home was four blocks from the levee. He evacuated 
before Katrina and eventually returned to the region, but now lives in the 
suburbs. 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. His 
family is scattered now in Houston, Atlanta and Louisiana as are many of his 
neighbors.

   Thousands of volunteers spread out across New Orleans, echoing the 
volunteers who helped the city and region recover after Katrina and still come 
to the city to this day.

   In a city where people form strong bonds over neighborhoods, from the Lower 
9th Ward, to Broadmoor, to Gentilly and Lakeview, many choose to stay local on 
Saturday in one of the many neighborhood events across the city.

   "New Orleans will always be in my blood," a silver-haired Juanita Fields 
said Saturday in what was the badly flooded Pontchartrain Park, an 
African-American neighborhood near Southern University New Orleans.

   She recounted her post-Katrina experiences --- fear and thirst in a 
sweltering Superdome, eventual transport to Kansas --- with humor, grace and at 
times defiance. She finally returned in 2012. She is happy about the city's 
recovery, but not about the unevenness of that recovery that saw the city's 
poorest suffer. She believes some "grieved themselves to death," over the 
destruction and their inability to return or rebuild.

   But she's optimistic that the city will continue to recover. "It will. It's 
going to take us a while."


(KA)


 
 
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