As members of Louisiana Press Association, we took a helicopter and bus tour of devastated areas of New Orleans soon after Hurricane Katrina. On Friday, we took a bus tour of the same areas with the New York Publishers Association down here to report on progress since the storm. Unfortunately, there was little progress seen in those areas.
We got a look at the most famous spot of wreckage where the 17th Street Canal levee broke down. There was some evidence of restoring homes but very little.
Things got worse, however. Next stop was in Lakeview where expensive homes were destroyed or seriously impaired. There were some bright spots where homeowners defied the reticense of most to repair until the future of the area is clearer. A few had been returned to former elegance. But most of the area still resembled a war zone as did the other sections of the city viewed.
Then came St. Bernard Parish where the entire landscape received the wrath of Katrina from the Gulf and its surge through MR-GO. Again, there were a few bright spots but they were rare. Peering into some unrepaired homes, we could see very expensive furniture made unwanted by the storm.
And the worst was saved for last - - the lower Ninth Ward where the Industrial Canal levee gave way and swamped the area. It was hard to tell the difference between its appearance today and right after the storm. Only change we could see was the removal of a big barge that had floated ashore and an overturned school bus.
One good note on the Ninth Ward was the news that Habitat for Humanity is building shotgun houses there for musicians in a pre-ordained musicians village. Included will be a community center and park for concerts. Such an innovation could only come out of New Orleans.
Of course, other areas of the city are looking healthy again. The French Quarter, business district, Warehouse District, Garden District, other uptown sections along the river and Esplanade Ridge are functioning neighborhoods again.
The New York publishers were aghast at the destruction in the blighted areas visited. It totaled much more land than that affected by the 9/11 terrorist attack on Lower Manhattan. But the cleanup there was not any faster than it is here, they said.
It will be some time before the four blighted areas visited in New Orleans return to normalcy. But at least the city now has other areas that can conduct business as usual. In fact, the National Library Association is beginning its national convention in New Orleans this week.
There is hope ahead.