"The fabric of this city will never be the same”
It's really time for the presidential candidates to step up and tell the people of New Orleans and the other Gulf communities that were devastated exactly what they will do to address government sins of the past and how they plan to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening in the future. (GW)
Commemorations for a City 2 Years After Storm
President Bush stopped in, dining at a famous Creole restaurant and visiting a restored school in the Lower Ninth Ward. But his brief visit appeared to mean little to citizens still focused on day-to-day struggles and mourning the storm’s continuing losses.
There were ceremonies — marches, Masses and speeches — all over town Wednesday. But the city hardly needs an anniversary to help it recall a disaster that upended the life of virtually every resident here. The still-ruined neighborhoods and, beneath the surface, the mental scars, are merely exclamation points for what Hurricane Katrina has become for people in New Orleans: a fixed point of reference around which conversations and lives continue to revolve.
At a memorial ceremony at the Charity Hospital Cemetery, Mayor C. Ray Nagin choked up, evoking “the young who cry every time there’s a hard thunderstorm, because they’re afraid another storm is coming.” Mr. Nagin rang a bell at the precise moment a major levee broke two years ago, and the musician Irvin Mayfield, who lost his father in the storm, played a raucous and angry dirge on his trumpet in the sweltering heat.
On a forlorn street at the edge of the Ninth Ward, Darrel Ellis, a truck driver, sat on a stoop, ignoring a nearby parade protesting the lagging recovery. “It’s a depression going on,” Mr. Ellis said. “It’s not like the ’20s and ’30s. It’s right here,” he said, tapping his temple. “Let the world know, the depression is on.”
At the historic St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter, its cream interior brilliantly illuminated in the gloom of a summer thunderstorm, parishioners who lost homes and friends found solace in a gentle memorial Mass. “It helps a bit, to think about things in a calmer vein,” said Cliff Sanders, who lost his house in a fire after the storm.
“Most of my good friends are not here any longer,” Mr. Sanders, 74, said. “That’s one of the things that’s wrong. The fabric of this city will never be the same.”
Earlier, and several miles away, Mr. Bush paid a quick morning visit to the gleamingly refurbished Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School for Science and Technology, traveling past boarded-up houses and empty lots to get there. The president briefly greeted students in several classes at the school, which had been inundated with up-to-the-roof water, before pushing on to Mississippi.
Government at all levels is not popular here, viewed as having failed citizens who have been forced to rebuild largely on their own. The quick visits of Democrats in recent weeks have not mitigated this feeling. Mr. Bush is no more and no less a target than other officials — the mayor and the governor, both Democrats, chief among them — though he showed some awareness Wednesday of an uneasy feeling common in New Orleans: that Washington, and the rest of the country, have grown weary of the city’s troubles.
“It’s one thing to come and give a speech in Jackson Square,” Mr. Bush said, referring to his visit immediately after the hurricane that has been derided as simply an orchestrated photo opportunity. “It’s another thing to keep paying attention to whether or not progress is being made. And I hope people understand we do; we’re still paying attention.”
Still, as the modest protest march from the Lower Ninth Ward made clear, Mr. Bush remains the favored target of the fervent activist community that has blossomed here in the wake of the storm. “George Bush, you can’t hide!” the marchers shouted, though Mr. Bush had already left town by then. Onlookers peered curiously from a fried-chicken restaurant as the protesters, led by a clownish figure on stilts, made their way up St. Claude Avenue; some along the route hung back.
“This is a purposeful noise we’re making here,” said one of the marchers, Levon Leban. “If nothing else, I hope people around the country will understand it’s not over, just because the water has receded.” A man held a sign out of a car window that read, “The Right of Return for Everyone,” and anti-Bush slogans resounded.
“Nothing’s changed in two years,” said Robert Goodman. “Everything the mayor and president do, that’s just for show.”
At the Industrial Canal, which obliterated the Lower Ninth Ward two years ago when its levees failed, political figures and religious leaders dropped flowers into the murky waters from the Claiborne Avenue Bridge.
“It’s still a struggle,” said Reynard Green, who showed up to be a part of it. “I’ve got a job, but my family’s not back yet,” said Mr. Green, a waiter in the French Quarter who lost his house in the upper Ninth Ward. “It’s hurting. They want to come back, but there’s no place for them to stay.”
Some scoffed at the day’s ceremonies — “It’s just another day, to God, that’s all it is,” said Mr. Ellis, the truck driver — but others suggested that they felt the intense need to memorialize the disaster that is common here.
“To come down here in the pouring rain for the Katrina victims, it’s the least I could do,” said Earl Wadsworth, after the Mass at St. Louis Cathedral.
At the cemetery, officials were breaking ground on a permanent memorial that will also contain the remains of several dozen unclaimed bodies. New Orleans, Mayor Nagin said at the ceremony, is still “struggling,” a “city that is in recovery.”
In the cathedral’s vestibule, Al Bernard said it had been “a very spiritual trial we went through.” Wednesday was “a special day,” Mr. Bernard said. “We suffered so much, and we are still suffering.”