All this week at Tell Me More we are taking a look at one of the events that changed the landscape of a city I have come to love.
The Mardi Gras Indians have paraded in the annual New Orleans celebration since the mid-19th century.
I’m speaking, of course, of New Orleans, and how it and the other communities along the Gulf Coast changed so dramatically nearly five years ago – when Hurricane Katrina came ashore.
I had the opportunity to go to New Orleans as a producer back in the spring of 2008 – nearly two and a half years after Katrina. At the time, I didn’t know what to expect. My first visual indication came as our plane made the approach into Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport and I saw one of the more emblematic fixtures of post-Katrina New Orleans - roofs of houses dotted with blue tarps.
There were so many, I soon lost count.
During that three week stint in New Orleans, I met and talked with a lot of people from all different walks of life. I soon learned that there were unique barometers residents used to illustrate their experiences - lines from where the flood waters crept up, how long it took them to leave, when they came back (if they came back) … these all became the new vernacular of post- Katrina New Orleans.
I learned a lot from those conversations. I learned about how people began that process of starting over.
New Orleans might have been changed by Katrina, but it wasn’t defeated.
You see it in the tambourines and feathers of the Mardi Gras Indians. You hear it just up the block where a Second Line is starting up. You taste it in the food (my personal favorite: the fried chicken at Willie Mae’s Scotch House). You feel it in the determination and resiliency of people who love this city like it is a member of their family.
I was back on the Gulf Coast back in early June producing some of our coverage in the wake of the oil spill.
Once again, I saw the resolve of the area’s residents put to the test.
Fishermen and oystermen spoke about their jobs not just as a paycheck, but as a fundamental part of their identity. Families wondered where the money would come from. Marinas, once bustling with fishing traffic, were now primarily populated by journalists reporting the latest news. And while I saw a lot of people hurting and questioning their futures, I also saw what I saw when I was in New Orleans back in 2008: a kind of resiliency that they seem to be born with on the Gulf Coast.
It’s been almost five years since Hurricane Katrina.
But, New Orleans, I love you, and I’m going to make sure that none of my friends and colleagues forget you. You’re too important to our national cultural fabric to be overlooked again.