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September 19th, 2006

New Orleans After Katrina

My first trip to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina was a bittersweet one.  While I saw some progress, the overall feel was of a city struggling to survive.

The French Quarter, if you can imagine it, was nearly bare.  There was hardly anyone about. Jackson Square, for instance, usually teeming with people on a sunny, not-too-hot Sunday late morning and early afternoon, was only sparsely occupied.  There were only a handful of artists hanging around it - maybe 2 Tarot readers and one or two artists selling their work.  I heard someone asking the horse & carriage drivers how they'd "done yesterday" and heard him say "I had only two rides - all day."  It didn't even fully dawn on me until later that "yesterday" had been a Saturday.  Two rides; it shows you the lack of tourists in New Orleans - a hard blow for an economy that largely depends on tourism revenue to survive.  And don't think it's not hurting the overall state as well; Orleans Parish usually accounts for 44% of all tourism revenue in the State of Louisiana.  Tourism is also the second largest employer in the New Orleans region.

We talked to a lot of the local artists, and they were struggling hard.  But we thanked them for staying and supporting the city, and they thanked us for coming and supporting the city.  We plan to buy an art piece every time we go - even if we can't afford it.  This time we got one from some guy that's been out there 15 years; Sam Infinity - it's a wild, dark but colorful little piece of Pirate's Alley (one of my favorite places because William Faulkner's house is there and is now a bookstore).

I saw progress, but not as much as I would've expected.  This is a major city - wherein lies an international airport!  This is a city that is the 5th largest convention destination in the nation, that hosted 10.1 million visitors in 2004 - a city that, without it, "each household in Louisiana would need to spend an additional $2,969 annually if the New Orleans travel industry did not exist"!!  The French Quarter isn't in disrepair so much as the rest, but the impact of loss of tourism is evident.  Other parts of the city were heartbreaking to see - entire streets lined with nothing but trashed and vacant fast food joints, mini-malls and gas stations - their parking lots filled with debris; like a ghost town.  Entire neighborhoods demolished, tarps on roofs, homes obviously never moved back into.

It will be years - many years - before that city is "okay" again.  And for those of us that hold her so dear in our hearts, it's a painful truth to accept.

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One Response to “New Orleans After Katrina”

  1. Kat
    Kat says:

    Devastation on that scale coupled with gross mismanagement of resources... I haven't been to New Orleans but was in Beaumont last month to see my mother (Rita - the forgotten hurricane they say there). Mom told me what bad shape it was in, etc., but it's looking pretty good. There are still blue roofs but for the most part it looks pretty cleaned up.

    Hopefully New Orleans won't be too far behind, but I don't know.

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