First in a series
All images by Ray Laskowitz unless otherwise identified. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Seven years ago, I was standing on Washington Avenue and LaSalle Street with hundreds of onlookers as the sun set behind the Magnolia projects. It was spring in New Orleans, St. Joseph’s Night.
We all were waiting for the arrival of the Mardi Gras Indians, a colorful part of the city’s black Mardi Gras tradition that I’d flown 1,200 miles to see.
The elementary school I’d once attended, the church where I was christened, every home where I and my family had lived in New Orleans, stood within a one-mile radius of that spot.
Scarcely five months later, I was crammed aboard a KC-135 aerial tanker with soldiers of the California National Guard, retracing those 1,200 miles back to New Orleans — and we weren’t coming for the gumbo.
Two days earlier, Hurricane Katrina had collapsed the city’s levee system and left 80 percent of its homes, businesses, schools and churches underwater.
In the thin sliver of unflooded land that could be patrolled on foot, we saw downed power lines, church spires cracked and shattered, large trees snapped like twigs. Everywhere else, we went in boats, over the tops of cars and God knows what else.
House after house was flooded to the ceiling. Others had collapsed into piles of boards. Some had been home to friends, to family. To me. Hurricane Katrina had drowned 80 percent of the city’s home and buildings — and 100 percent of my heritage.
This summer, for the first time since the storm, I went back to see what had become of both. I wanted to see what seven years of rebuilding, bureaucracy and that hard-headed New Orleans resilience of which I wrote in 2005 had created in Katrina’s wake.
In this series of blog entries, you’ll see what I saw, and get to meet a few of the people who make New Orleans perhaps the most special of American cities.
You’ll see it with the help of photographer and New Orleans resident Ray Laskowitz, whose work will be featured throughout this series.
Thomas Wolfe once famously wrote that “you can’t go home again” — and he was right. But sometimes, you have no choice.
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“Go ‘head on.”
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