US marks 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

A moment of silence at the New Orleans Katrina Memorial, where unclaimed or unidentified victims are interred. Picture: Getty
A moment of silence at the New Orleans Katrina Memorial, where unclaimed or unidentified victims are interred. Picture: Getty
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Churches along coastal Mississippi tolled their bells in unison yesterday morning to mark the 10th anniversary of the day that Hurricane Katrina – one of the deadliest storms in US history – made landfall.

Residents in Mississippi and Louisiana marked the sombre anniversary to pay homage to those who died in Katrina, thank those who came to rebuild and celebrate how far the region has come since the hurricane struck.

In Bay St Louis, Mississippi, the ringing of church bells brought sadness and tears.

A programme of events was planned, including a morning wreath-laying ceremony with Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal and Mayor Mitch Landrieu to honour the more than 1,800 people who died.

“We must recommit ourselves to the notion that no American should ever be left behind,” Landrieu said at the ceremony. “We can only move forward together.”

The wreath-laying took place at the Hurricane Katrina Memorial, where 83 unclaimed or unidentified victims of the storm are interred. “Though unnamed, they are not unclaimed because we remember them,” Landrieu said.

Eloise Allen, 80, wept softly into a tissue and leaned against her rusting Oldsmobile as bells chimed at Our Lady of the Sea Catholic Church just across a two-lane street from a sun-drenched beach at Bay St Louis.

She said her home, farther inland, was damaged but liveable. Her daughter lost her home in nearby Waveland. Many of her friends and neighbours suffered similarly.

“I feel guilty,” she said. I didn’t go through what all the other people did.”

In Biloxi, clergy and community leaders were to gather at MGM Park for a memorial to Katrina’s victims, and last night the park hosted a concert celebrating the recovery.

The hurricane’s force and flooding caused more than 1,800 deaths and roughly $151 billion in damage across the region.

Widescale failures of the levee system protecting New Orleans left 80 per cent of the city under water.

Katrina’s force caused a massive storm surge that wrought havoc on the Mississippi coast, pushed boats far inland and wiped houses off the map, leaving only concrete front steps.

Glitzy casinos and condominium towers have been rebuilt. But overgrown lots and empty buildings speak to the slow recovery in some communities.

In New Orleans officials laid wreaths at the hurricane memorial and at the levee that ruptured in the lower ninth ward.

The neighbourhood was one of the bastions of black home ownership in America when water burst through flood walls on one side, pushing houses passed down through generations off foundations and leaving trapped residents on rooftops pleading for help from passing helicopters.

The neighbourhood still has some of the lowest rates of people who have returned after the storm, but they were having a day-long celebration to mark the progress they have made.

Across the city, volunteers spread out in a day of service working on various projects.

Other neighbourhoods such as Broadmoor and Lakeview –both recognised as post-Katrina comeback stories – also held memorial events yesterday.

Last night former president Bill Clinton headlined a free concert and prayer service celebration at the city’s Smoothie King Centre. In addition to the former president the event featured performances by the city’s Rebirth Brass Band, award-winning journalist Soledad O’Brien and Chief Monk Boudreaux and the Wild Magnolias.

The city has framed the 10th anniversary as a showcase designed to demonstrate to the world how far the city has come. In a series of events in the week leading up to the actual anniversary, the city has held lectures, given tours of the levee improvements and released a resiliency plan.

Many parts of this famous city have rebounded phenomenally while many residents – particularly in the city’s black community – still struggle.

In the lead-up to the anniversary, urban planners, politicians and community leaders spoke at panels to discuss the storm, its aftermath and how it impacts the future of the city. On Thursday, Barack Obama spoke at a lower ninth ward community centre. The president acknowledged the federal government’s slow response to the storm.

He said Katrina was a natural disaster that “became a manmade one – a failure of government to look out for its own citizens”. Obama also mentioned that cities need to prepare infrastructure for climate change and the more extreme weather events it is expected to bring.

Governor Jindal, a Republican presidential hopeful, had written a letter to Obama ahead of the event asking him to not mention climate change in his remarks.