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New Orleans Slowly Rebounds

Hear NPR's Cokie Roberts

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Cokie Roberts, of course, is a native of New Orleans. And our news analyst is with us now to analyze her home city. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, you've been back just about every month since Katrina struck. What are you seeing?

ROBERTS: Well, as you've heard all week, there are pockets of city that are wonderful and need tourists back and can accommodate them. The French Quarter, the Garden District looks beautiful, the Central Business District. But then you start going over to St. Bernard Parish, through New Orleans East, and you go through mile after mile of shuttered stores, boarded up office buildings, closed churches. But there will be these pockets, Renee, that are remarkable. The Vietnamese community in New Orleans East has come back all around Our Lady of Vietnam Church. And there, their houses are all back with statues of Mary in the front yard. And the Gulf Coast, where my family lives, is looking much better.

And the odd thing is, is that even in the utterly devastated places like the Ninth Ward there's a beauty to it because it's such fertile soil, you know, that you plant a fencepost and its sprouts branches. So there are these marsh grasses that have grown over where the houses were.

And you say, there were houses here. Really, people lived here for generations. And you have to sort of point out that that was the case. So it's a very odd situation still.

MONTAGNE: Hmm. For many people, not just there in New Orleans, but other areas directly affected by Katrina and elsewhere, the storm has become a symbol of failure of the government at all levels. Is that one of its legacies?

ROBERTS: I think so, unfortunately. You heard David talking about the federal level, the state level, people very upset about the governor. And it looks like the state's about to elect a Republican governor after a Democrat was there during Katrina. Anybody who was in office doesn't fair well, although the mayor was reelected. But the biggest responsibility of government, as far the citizens are concerned, remains strong, safe levees. And every poll shows that's the biggest concern of the citizens of New Orleans.

So that is a question of getting through this hurricane season intact with the levees holding. And then I think the confidence comes back in much stronger force.

BRAND: Well, who is making a difference the way you see it in New Orleans today?

ROBERTS: Well, it's just been remarkable to see the difference that people in the city, particularly restaurant tourists and musicians have made. But you've been hearing about volunteers and it is incredible. People coming in from all over the country and all over the world, particularly college kids, church groups. And they are really making a difference not only in rebuilding, but in lessons learned. So I really do believe that eventually the educational system, which was awful, will be better; that the health care system, which was deeply flawed, will be better. And people are learning from foundations, educational institutions all over the country and the world how to make it a better city.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, thanks very much. NPR's Cokie Roberts.

Later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, how the mentally ill are cared for - or not - in New Orleans. And at npr.org you can hear more Katrina survivors tell stories of rebuilding.

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