By Keely Chalmers, for kgw.com
I arrived in New Orleans Monday evening. I had seen the images of Katrina's aftermath. I had heard the stories. I thought I had an idea of what it may look like. I quickly learned, I was wrong.
My friend Dawn Brown is the weekend meteorologist at our sister station WWL here in New Orleans. She picked me up at the airport. Our first stop: the Lakeview area in Orleans parish, right along the 17th street canal where the levee broke. As we drove through the neighborhood I saw house after house abandoned, devastated. All had one thing in common... an orange line at least five feet off the ground. That was the water line. A once vibrant neighborhood... and it looked like a ghost town. It was kind of eerie. But, according to Dawn, it was a lot better than it had been months ago. Some had started to rebuild, but still, only a few.
Dawn wanted to show me that, despite Katrina, New Orleans is still the city to let "the good times roll." So she took me out in the French Quarter. We met Hank, who plays the bass in a jazz band and Patrick, a bartender from the lower 9th ward. He told me that the Katrina destroyed his home, then he added, "but things are looking up."
Since I got into town, I've spoken to several folks who have lost everything. I mean everything. And I am absolutely amazed at how positive they are. I know it's been a year, but a lot of these folks are still living in FEMA trailers. At a remembrance ceremony tonight, I met a young girl named Cherie from St. Bernard Parish (where all but two homes were destroyed.) She was living in a tiny trailer with five family members. She said it was tough, but her family had no other option. She said they didn't want to leave.
I also met a young man named Corey. He and his family left their St. Bernard home before the hurricane knowing the first floor might flood. They had moved all their valuables, all their belongings, everything they wanted to save to the second floor. But when they were allowed back into the city three weeks later, they found that the water had risen above the second floor as well. Everything was ruined. He said, he only had the three sets of clothes he took when he evacuated. He said, "Gees, I wish I would have taken more." Ah, the things we take for granted.
So this morning, Dawn took me to Betsy's Pancake House on Canal Street. Come to find out when we get there that President Bush had eaten there a couple of hours earlier. The Secret Service had closed down the restaurant while he was there. No one in and no one out. I got the "Special." I wonder if George did too.
Tonight we drove through the Lower 9th. It looked as if the hurricane had hit more like a week ago than a year ago. I couldn't help but think what an OVERWHELMING task it is to rebuild these devastated communities. But, rebuilding is exactly what everyone here is committed to do.
I saw a lot of tears today. Folks remembering loved ones who lost their lives during and in the days following the hurricane. But I also saw a lot of smiles. Folks grateful for what they have, and what the future holds. I heard the word "Hope" a lot today. Something people here seem to have a lot of.