Four Years Later, New Orleans Still Recovering

Saturday marks the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. How is New Orleans and its people faring, now that the national spotlight has moved on to other places? Host Scott Simon speaks with two New Orleanians: Chris Rose, columnist for The Times-Picayune in New Orleans and author of the book, One Dead in Attic, and Randy Adams, Weekend Edition's friend from the city.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This week marks the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the storm that smacked into the Gulf Coast, killed an estimated 1,600 in Mississippi and Louisiana, and put much of the city of New Orleans under water, destroying homes, leveling whole old neighborhoods, scattering thousands and shattering lives.

Chris Rose of The Times-Picayune in New Orleans evacuated the city with his family. But he returned to continue writing a column which has helped people in the city cope with the damage inside that they still feel.

Chris Rose is also the author of "One Dead in Attic," a collection of stories about people affected by Hurricane Katrina. He joins us from member station WWNO in New Orleans.

Chris, thank you for being with us.

Mr. CHRIS ROSE (Writer): Thanks for having me.

SIMON: And when you...

Mr. ROSE: Thanks for remembering...

SIMON: Well, I...

Mr. ROSE: ...that today is Michael Jackson's - would have been his 51st birthday. So we're afraid that's going to lead off the newscast tonight, that America has forgotten us.

SIMON: Well, I hardly think that's the case. But one of the reasons why I want to talk to you is, well, to find out what it's like now when you look at your city.

Mr. ROSE: That's a good question. You know what it looks like? It looks like New Orleans. It looks like, a lot like New Orleans always has, but a fresh coat of paint on all the buildings that have been rehabbed.

Then pock-marked here and there, mostly in the outlying areas with little bits of decay and desolation. But I think, here on the fourth anniversary - I don't know, there's a term we've been throwing around for a couple of years: The New New Orleans. I think this is it.

SIMON: Can I get you to talk about the damage we can't see? So many of your columns have been about that.

Mr. ROSE: Yeah. I think that's probably the greater toll today than the physical toll in the city. Obviously what happened here triggered off an amazing array of, I don't know, psychic and social ills.

For a long time I would tell people you could go to parts of New Orleans - the French Quarter, the Garden District and Uptown - which is where most visitors and conventioneers and tourists go, anyway - and see no physical manifestations left of the storm. That is, until you looked into the eyes of your waiter or waitress, and that might tell a different story.

With everything, with time comes healing. I don't think it's as bad. I think there's still a lot of people here are hurting, and for good reason. The trauma of this event cannot be overstated. But I think we're coming out on the good end. It's a better place than it used to be.

SIMON: Chris, you know, we began the interview, you talked about thanks for not forgetting. There's some news interest now on the fourth anniversary, certainly there's going to be next year on the fifth anniversary. But I think you're quite right. You know, you get to six or seven, at some point people say, look, what happened was a tragedy but life goes on.

Mr. ROSE: Exactly, and I guess as it should be. I mean, we don't need to wallow in victimhood forever down here. We were victims in a sense to a terrible federal failure both in - and after the fact and in the levee construction. And maybe that served us well for a while. But that's the great thing - life does go on, life will go on, and down here it's a pretty good life. We got it okay.

SIMON: Chris Rose is a columnist for the Times Picayune in New Orleans, author of "One Dead in Attic." Thanks for speaking with us.

Mr. ROSE: Thank you.

SIMON: One thing that our show gained from Hurricane Katrina is a special friend. Met him by phone from a Red Roof Inn in Memphis where he, three members of his family, their dogs, and many other people were getting their bearings in the days following the storm.

Mr. RANDY ADAMS: The United States Marine Corps Band based out of New Orleans is staying here. They put on a performance for us last night. That was a tremendous stress reliever until they played "When the Saints Go Marching In," and then I broke down again. It's just, you know, how does one start over, and we're finding out piece-by-piece, step-by-step, how one starts over.

SIMON: Randy Adams led many of our listeners through life after Katrina. He is a New Orleans native and a survivor. He joins us now from the studios of Audioworks in New Orleans. How are you, my friend?

Mr. ADAMS: Doing very well. Thank you, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: Well, I'm fine. But let me repeat that: How are you? How's life?

Mr. ADAMS: Life is good. Slowly but surely, you know, the pieces are put back together, and by God's grace my life is back to normal and is better than it was before.

SIMON: When you say your life is better than ever before, what does that mean?

Mr. ADAMS: That means a newfound appreciation for things that you do have and things that are cherished. My wife is my new best friend. We have dinner as a family much more often. We do things as a family. In fact, this year we went to Disney World. I had never been. And we went on a family vacation for the first time with all of us since my children were probably grade school age.

SIMON: How are your neighbors doing? You have a tight-knit neighborhood, as I recall.

Mr. ADAMS: Yes, sir. We are very close. Most of us have been there many years. Everybody's doing well. Some slowdown based to the economy, some belt-tightening, and that's not just in my neighborhood. That's everywhere, as we all know. A few of the houses have become vacant now - three on my block. But you know, we have to look at that and know what's going on and make sure we adjust our lifestyle, you know, to fit the times, as they are.

SIMON: Randy, don't you have some kind of barbecue coming up?

Mr. ADAMS: Yeah, absolutely. Labor Day is coming - you know it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ADAMS: We hadn't decided whether if going to barbecue or we're going to boil seafood. Of course, we had a couple of seafood boils already this year and we barbecue very regularly, as you know, as you just eluded to.

SIMON: So…

Mr. ADAMS: As we say down here - (French spoken)…

SIMON: That's let the good times roll and don't let the seafood boil over?

Mr. ADAMS: That's correct.

SIMON: Randy, you know, we've learned a lot from you.

Mr. ADAMS: I've learned quite a bit through this experience myself. And I thank you guys for being there. You guys gave me some good strong moral support at a time I most desperately needed it. And I just want to thank everybody out there that helped, that wrote and prayed for me, gave support, and let them know, you know, we got through it.

SIMON: Randy Adams in New Orleans.

You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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