Video: The two faces of New Orleans

By Martin Savidge Correspondent
NBC News
updated 2/27/2006 7:55:08 PM ET 2006-02-28T00:55:08

NEW ORLEANS — As raucous as it may seem in New Orleans, many say the crowds of tourists are smaller than years past. But that doesn't bother the people of New orleans. After all, they say this year's Mardi Gras wasn't for the tourists, it was for them.

Six months since Katrina, from Bourbon Street to the Lower Ninth Ward, New Orleans is a town with two faces. It's the comeback city hosting Mardi Gras, while just locks away it's the city where most folks haven't come back.

After the storm, we met resident Alonza Moore, who declared: "We're going to make it work! We will be back, remember I said that! I'll be back."

Today, Moore says, "It's depressing, that's what it is. And it's frustrating."

Like Moore, many others have had a head-on collision with reality — slow or no insurance payments, federal red tape and the city's lack of a real plan.

"I feel like I am lost, trying to figure out what to do," says Moore.

When we first met Margaret Tolliver, she said: "I should have the right to come back in my home."

But hanging on is wearing her out. She got a FEMA trailer in November, but only got electricity last Thursday.

"When will we get the help we need to come back home?" she asks. "It's a whole lot of people that's really hurting."

New Orleans' already reduced population may soon face a second exodus as the frustrated give up and go.

That's a big worry for Johnny Blancher, who just reopened his uptown restaurant.

Of the 81,000 businesses hit by Katrina, only half are back in business.

"The biggest question, I think, for our business is can the population change sustain us in the long haul?" asks Blancher.

And there's another big question: Could it happen again?

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it will have New Orleans' levee system restored by the start of this hurricane season.

"The program is just over 40 percent complete," says Col. Lewis Setliff.

But there's only four months to go.

The city itself is also struggling to stay afloat. New Orleans is $120 million in debt and somehow needs to find an additional $200 million just to cover things like police, fire and garbage collection, after the party is over.

So as they try to forget about their cares this Mardi Gras, many in New Orleans are wondering if they or their city will be here next year.

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