Main Street Journal

Beyond Katrina: Two years after the costliest disaster in United States history


The following is an excerpt from our September issue:

By Jonathan Lindberg

It’s Saturday night in New Orleans and Rosie’s Diner is out of gumbo soup. Not a good sign for a restaurant in the French Quarter, famous for its gumbo soup. “We only have one cook in the kitchen tonight,” the waiter explains. “He just hasn’t had time to get around to preparing the soup. We haven’t had gumbo for days.”

Though the restaurant is large, there are only two waiters working the floor. They hurry among tables, balancing orders along with apologies for the slow cook time. When the tables begin to thin, the waiter stops to tell me they have been running crazy like this all day long. I ask him about the crowds I had seen on Canal and Bourbon Streets, in the heart of the French Quarter. “A lot of tourists have come back,” he says. A good sign to be sure. “So things are looking up? Nothing has changed?” He looks at me for a moment. “No. Everything has changed.”

He leaves it at that.

Two years have passed since Hurricane Katrina battered the Gulf Coast, and New Orleans is still struggling with recovery. To date, only 22% of the federal funds that Washington had set aside to rebuild Louisiana have been spent. Entire sectors of the city still remain in disrepair. But beyond the visible signs of damage, evidenced by vacant lots and slumped houses and piles of rubble still clinging to curbs, are the deeper problems New Orleans now faces, basic economics, housing and workforce woes, government gridlock frustrating the rebuilding effort, political scandals, and the fundamental question every city official is hoping to solve – how do you rebuild a city that was already worn at the seams? (more…)