Last week — the week of the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina — Senior Correspondent Noah Adams blogged for Mixed Signals from the Gulf Coast. NPR's Amy Walters is in New Orleans now and just sent in this observation:
After four months, I'm back in New Orleans for the fifth time since Katrina. I think that's right, it's hard to keep track — I've been here a lot.
I am proud to say that this trip is different. It's better.
Every time I return to Los Angeles from a trip down here, people ask me what it's like. My general reaction is: "It's bad and it's not improving." The French Quarter, the Garden District... they came back pretty fast. But the places that were really hit hard are basically ghost towns peppered with homeowners gaping at what's left of their lives.
The difference this time is not one thing — it's a combined affect of multiple forces. The grass in the medians — or "neutral ground" as the locals call it — is now manicured. The massive live oaks that line the streets are cut back. There is still trash outside people's houses, but less of it. The flooded cars that lined every city road are hard to find. Even the Superdome — the shredded monument to the city's trauma — now looks like a pristine white eggshell. New birth? I might not go that far, but it's better.
Behind the scenes, New Orleans and the surrounding parishes are busy devising plans for properties that will never be reclaimed. The biggest difference is the properties that have been claimed. Neighborhoods that were abandoned are now buzzing with saws, nail guns and, of course, demolition vehicles. Even the buildings being destroyed are making way for something new.
Today, I was standing on a street corner asking about people who had left their homes, abandoned them without a trace. Moments into the interview I was interrupted by incessant joyful music. When I stopped being annoyed at the disturbance, I discovered it was an ice cream truck — an ice cream truck delivering cold, tasty treats to homeowners and construction workers plowing ahead through the 90 degree heat. That's when a local said, "It's coming back." For the first time I could see it is.