Rescuers, survivors mark Katrina anniversary with conflicted sentiment
By Cain Burdeau
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved
NEW ORLEANS — As bells rang out the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's landfall in New Orleans, residents paused from their grim rebuilding effort Wednesday to remember the dead all their neighbors still unable to return.
Katrina was a powerful Category 3 hurricane when hit the Gulf Coast the morning of Aug. 29, 2005, broke through levees in New Orleans and flooded 80 percent of the city.
By the time the last of the water dried up weeks later, more than 1,600 people across Louisiana and Mississippi were dead, and a shocked nation was looking at miles of wrecked homes, mud and debris from the worst natural disaster in its history.
"We ring the bells for a city that is in recovery, that is struggling, that is performing miracles on a daily basis," New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said at a groundbreaking ceremony for a memorial that will be the final resting place for more than two dozen still unidentified victims.
After he spoke, a large bell tolled a dozen times and a crowd rang hand-held bells for more than a minute to remember the victims.
"The saddest thing I've seen here is that there are 30 human beings who will be buried here one day that nobody ever called about," said David Kopra, a volunteer from Olympia, Wash., holding back tears. "It says something to my heart. This city needs so much care."
President Bush led a moment of silence at a recovering school in the Lower 9th Ward — a predominantly black, low income area that was all but obliterated by the storm.
"Better days are ahead," Bush said as he sought to assure residents that his administration had not forgotten the region and would make good on the promises of aid.
"We're still paying attention. We understand," the president said.
Protesters, remembering the government's slow response in the storm's immediate aftermath, planned to march from the Lower 9th Ward to Congo Square to spread their message that the government has also failed to help people return.
"People are angry and they want to send a message to politicians that they want them to do more and do it faster," said the Rev. Marshall Truehill, a Baptist pastor and community activist. "Nobody's going to be partying."
The anniversary was a reminder of the desperation that filled New Orleans' flooding neighborhoods in the days after Katrina hit. Images of dead bodies, people in the flood zones calling from their roofs and waiting days for help, and of the thousands of evacuees packed into the grimy and damaged Superdome, are still fresh in many minds.
Politicians have used the date to pitch policy. Scholars and activists have released a steady stream of reports on the state of recovery.
An international people's tribunal, spearheaded by legal activists trying to build a case under international law accusing the United States of human rights abuses during and after Katrina, has also been convened to take testimony from victims.
In Gulfport, Miss., Gov. Haley Barbour urged people to see the positive. About 13,000 of his state's families are still living in FEMA trailers, but that's down from a peak of 48,000, and he expects they could all be out of the temporary housing in a year.
Biloxi, Miss., Mayor A.J. Holloway said he was grateful for how far his city had come.
"God has been good to Biloxi and its people of the Mississippi Gulf Coast," Holloway said. "We have a new outlook on life and a new appreciation for what's really important in life. It's not your car or your clothes or your possessions. It's being alive and knowing the importance of family and friends and knowing that we all have a higher power."
In New Orleans, a candlelight vigil was planned in Jackson Square at dusk Wednesday, right around the time the French Quarter last year started getting tipsy with street parties and residents choosing to remember the anniversary in their own unique way.
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