It’s hard to believe that it has been 10 years since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast region on the United States. The storm was one of the worst natural disasters to strike this country and left an indelible mark on how communities can come together after such a tragedy.
Since the hurricane struck 10 years ago, I have been privileged to go to New Orleans twice to help do what I can to rebuild homes in the devastated area. Each time I have been to New Orleans, you can slowly see the sights and sounds of a city that is being rebuilt, but that optimism is deeply contrasted by entire city blocks that have yet to be touched, and most likely, will never be restored.
The drive to Louisiana is roughly 17 hours. While there is nothing particularly comfortable about the drive, you can begin to see the devastation of Katrina hours before you enter the Pelican State. Deep in Mississippi, where once stood forests of tall pine trees, there are desolate sights of near nothingness. Such trees were snapped in half. Closer to the gulf, the devastation takes on a greater magnitude.
Perhaps there is no greater demonstration of the devastation than the actual city itself. Each Wednesday on our mission trips, our group ventures to the Lower Ninth Ward, a once dense neighborhood nestled between a shipping canal and Claiborne Avenue. Where once was an active neighborhood, are city blocks of nothingness.
The structures that once stood are basically gone. Those that still remain are uninhabitable; long forgotten by their owners, they continue to decay. One structure that is emblazoned in my mind is a five-story apartment building. It’s the only structure that high that exists in the neighborhood. On closer examination, there is absolutely nothing in it. Any remnant of life has been stripped away, leaving nothing but a shell of brick and concrete.
It’s hard to navigate these areas. Many of the street signs that were destroyed in the storm have yet to be replaced. There are still porcelain bathtubs and commodes that litter back alleys. Tall grass and trash permeate most of the abandoned properties.
I vividly remember looking at the destruction and wondering how the most powerful country in the world could still have neighborhoods that look this way years after the storm. Yet, when you look around and see the absolute devastation, you quickly realize that there is not money, or even time, to fully rebuild this neighborhood in our lifetimes.
Yet, even in the destruction, there are positive stories. Even to this day, groups and churches send much needed manpower, money and materials to the gulf coast to help rebuild homes and rebuild lives. Each time I have been to New Orleans, I hear the stories of the survivors of Katrina.
As we work on the homes of those that were destroyed by the storm, our team is reminded of the pain and the anguish Katrina brought. Jobs were lost, mental illness skyrocketed, and lives were devastated. Playing a role in helping rebuild these lives has truly been humbling.
Perhaps one of the most rewarding aspects of the work is being able to go out and meet the everyday folks from the area. Usually, when our teams first arrive in Louisiana, we head out for a nice dinner, of po-boys and fried catfish. It’s easy to see we aren’t exactly locals and when we tell them we are there to help rebuild, the emotions come out.
To a person, stories are told about the assistance they have received and how they are rebuilding their own lives after a storm. The stories are hard to hear, but necessary to understand.
Through it all, Katrina brought unprecedented pain and misery to our neighbors down south. Yet, through the devastation, lives have been positively touched through the generosity of everyday men and women who have sacrificed what they have to help those who lost everything.
There is still a lot of work to do, but there is plenty of faith, hope and love to make sure the work gets done.
William (Bill) Lutz is executive director of The New Path Inc. He can be reached at [email protected]