On the very streets where floodwaters once surged, evacuees fled and looters walked defiantly, today Mardi Gras parades march, and they are defiant, but in a different way.
New Orleans is nearing the climax of its first post-Katrina Mardi Gras exactly six months after the big storm hit, and progress on rebuilding the city is looking mixed.
The New Orleans Convention Center downtown, which was the scene of so much horror six months ago, is once again a staging ground for Mardi Gras parades. And it’s preparing to serve thousands at post-parade balls due to be held here this Mardi Gras, sending a message to convention organizers everywhere that it is safe to come back to New Orleans.
“Katrina didn’t win,” said Convention Center Board President Warren Reuther. When convention organizers come to New Orleans they’re going to see things in good shape, he added. “With all the people … the Mardi Gras, the parades and the floats — all the things that we do best.”
But away from downtown, time has barely budged in New Orleans. They’re still trying to move the barge that crashed through the industrial canal levee, flooding the Lower Ninth Ward.
As workers race time to repair the levees by the start of hurricane season in June, the homes that remain destroyed just beyond the walls now being rebuilt are a constant reminder of what hasn’t changed here.
“You don’t ever get immune to it,” said Stuart Waits of the Army Corps of Engineers. “You see it every day.”
The only Mardi Gras parades in the city’s Ninth Ward are cleanup crews. They go from street to street, picking up debris that others have shoveled out of houses.
But even in some of the most heavily damaged sections of New Orleans, a few people are determined to rebuild, if only because it’s the only home they’ve ever known.
“I think it’ll be worth coming back,” said Ninth Ward resident David McGraw. “But it’ll never be the same.”