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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

By Kathy Finn and Edward McAllister

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) — From the Lower Ninth Ward to the Super Dome, New Orleans launched a day of events on Saturday to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, paying tribute to its victims and homage to the city’s resilience in the face of disaster.

The day began with a somber ceremony led by Mayor Mitch Landrieu to remember the 83 “forgotten” victims whose unclaimed bodies now rest in mausoleums at the Hurricane Katrina Memorial, housed in one of the city’s historic above-ground cemeteries.

Katrina killed more than 1,500 people, mostly in flooding that left 80 percent of New Orleans under water. Thirty of the bodies remain unidentified a decade later.

“Though they are unnamed, they are not unclaimed because we claim them,” Landrieu said on a clear morning reminiscent of the calm before storm’s landfall on Aug. 29, 2005.

“This has been 10 years of struggle,” said the mayor, who was joined by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and other dignitaries. “But New Orleans is unbowed and unbroken.”

Across town, about 300 people gathered in the Lower Ninth Ward on a grass verge that abuts the Industrial Canal levee that was breached 10 years ago, causing some of the worst floods in the city. The mood was reflective but not downbeat.

Some local residents were in traditional Mardi Gras parade dress, with colorful headdresses. Vendors sold soft drinks and beer from large coolers.

“It is kind of bittersweet. We want to celebrate because we are still here, but a lot of people are not,” said Natasha Green, 36, who lived in the Lower Ninth at the time of the storm. “It is important to remember what we went through here.”

Saturday was the culmination of a week when New Orleans paused to remember the devastation inflicted by the costliest storm in U.S. history. About 130,000 people were displaced by the storm.

“A celebration would not be the right gesture for those who will never be made whole,” said Kristian Sonnier, an official at the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. “This is more taking stock and recognizing what we have accomplished and that we have a lot more work to do,” he said.

But the city also wants to give thanks for what many residents see as a remarkable rebound over the past 10 years.

As the day progresses, thousands are expected to turn out as the city’s trademark “second line” parades snake through the streets and New Orleans puts its famous musical traditions on display.

Other hard-hit parts of Louisiana will host memorials as well. At Shell Beach, in lower St. Bernard Parish just east of New Orleans, public officials and residents gathered along a waterway that burst through a levee in 2005 and killed 127 people. The ceremony will feature a reading of the names of victims, now etched into a monument there.

Similarly, Lakeview, Broadmoor, Mid-City, and a host of other areas are looking back on 2005 with mixed emotions.

A march and hand-holding ceremony is scheduled at the Super Dome, the football arena that housed thousands of displaced people after the storm and became an emblem of the chaos and hardship that engulfed New Orleans after the flooding.

Adding to the mix of emotions, there was an undercurrent of anger in the air, especially in the Lower Ninth, whose recovery has lagged the robust rebound enjoyed in more affluent parts of town.

“We have got to come together,” Malcolm Suber, a veteran city organizer, told the crowd at the Lower Ninth ceremony. “Ten years have gone by and we have not benefited at all.”

(Writing by Frank McGurty; editing by Andrew Roche)

Photo: A brass band performs in Jackson Square one day before the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Louisiana, August 28, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman