On anniversary of Hurricane Katrina storming ashore, residents mourn, celebrate life | VailDaily.com

On anniversary of Hurricane Katrina storming ashore, residents mourn, celebrate life

NEW ORLEANS – The first anniversary of the biggest calamity to befall this city was marked Tuesday with a moment of silence, wreath-layings, the tolling of bells and, in true New Orleans fashion, a wailing jazz funeral through the potholed streets for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.Jazz musicians marched ahead of a horse-drawn hearse, a symbol of the city’s watery death. They played a dirge for the more than 1,800 people killed when Katrina came ashore. But the ensemble soon exploded into a joyful rhythm, the marchers opening colorful parasols and hoisting them toward the hot sun as they danced the city back to life.Sandra Brown has made a point of wearing a black skirt or top since the hurricane, but she was shimmying behind the musicians on the roughly one-mile procession from the city’s convention center to the Superdome – both scenes of the storm’s misery.”I mourn for the lives lost. I still cry when I see the footage of last year,” she said. “But you have to be hopeful.”Residents held vigils in pockmarked neighborhoods choked with weeds, in church pews and in gutted community centers. They rang bells to mark the collapse of the city’s biggest levee and laid wreaths at the site of each successive break in the cement structure protecting the city.They bowed their heads and closed their eyes in prayer, both for those no longer here and for the city’s rebirth.At a midday interfaith prayer service, Mayor Ray Nagin told the city it was time to take responsibility for rebuilding.”If government can’t get you your check on time, it says you need to do something,” Nagin said. “It says your neighbors need to come together and all you need to do is cook a pot of red beans and they’ll bring over the hammers and the nails.”Nagin met with President Bush, who bowed his head for the dead in St. Louis Cathedral, the city’s mother church, and made an impassioned plea for the living.”I know you love New Orleans, and New Orleans needs you,” the president said. “She needs people coming home. She needs people – she needs those saints to come marching back, is what she needs!”On his way out of the city, Bush’s motorcade drove to the shattered Lower Ninth Ward, where water from the buckled levees tore homes from their foundations and spit them into the street. He stopped at the destroyed home of New Orleans rock ‘n’ roller Fats Domino.Not far away, people danced, sang and wept at the new concrete levee that replaced one that had split open on the Industrial Canal in the Lower Ninth.Cedrick Johnson, 25, wiped away sweat and tears as he talked about the death of his grandmother, a longtime resident of the neighborhood.”Look around. Look at all these empty lots. Why us?” he said. His shirt bore his grandmother’s picture and the words: “Why Geraldine. Why?”In Mississippi, where Katrina left 231 people dead, workers and families gathered for tearful remembrances, but there was also celebration. The $800 million Beau Rivage casino in Biloxi, one of more than a dozen casinos battered by the storm, reopened with 3,800 employees – 400 more than before Katrina.In Gulfport, Miss., two unidentified victims of last year’s storm were given symbolic names – “Will” and “Strength” – before their bodies were laid to rest in a city-owned cemetery.”God knew who these people were. He knew their names,” said Chris Chavers, 38, of Lucedale, Miss.At a memorial erected outside New Orleans’ convention center – where a year ago thousands of haggard refugees waited on the pavement in the sweltering sun, begging for food and water – relatives of the dead came bearing flowers. They laid white carnations in front of the monument, one by one, reciting the names of lost loved ones.Joyce Brulee was there to remember her 99-year-old father, Benjamin Francois, who died in a New Orleans nursing home. “He was so looking forward to his 100th birthday,” Brulee said, adding that she was not able to claim his body until January.The reminders of the destruction – and how far the city still has to go – are everywhere. White trailers still line driveways in neighborhoods where debris is stacked up in piles. Only half New Orleans’ population of a half-million has returned. Emergency medical care is doled out in an abandoned department store, while six of city’s nine hospitals remain closed. Only 54 of 128 public schools are expected to open this fall.—Associated Press writer Stacey Plaisance and Becky Bohrer in New Orleans, Mary Foster in Buras, La., Michelle Roberts in Chalmette, La. and Michael Kunzelman in Gulfport, Miss. contributed to this report.

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