August 29, 2005 is a date the residents of New Orleans will never forget. That is when their coastal city, with water on three sides and below-sea-level terrain, flooded from hurricane Katrina’s storm surges, resulting in widespread death and destruction. Voice of America video journalist George Bistis visited New Orleans and chronicled the efforts of Katrina’s survivors to restore normalcy in their lives. Here is the text of his TV report, which aired in various VOA languages on or around August 29, 2006.
NARRATION: One year after Katrina, life is still filled with hardship, anxiety and uncertainty for most of the people in New Orleans and the other areas of the U.S. Gulf Coast hit by the storm. A poll, taken as the grim anniversary was approaching, reveals that 84% of Katrina’s survivors say their lives are not back to normal and some even think they will never be. Only 16% have fully recovered.
Among those who returned to New Orleans is entrepreneur and community activist Chris Kanelakis. He hopes to rebuild his home by the end of the year. But part of his family will not join him.
CHRIS KANELAKIS: “My mother in law and her twin sister and her husband have been moved to Alabama. They don’t have the strength to come back. There is no medical help here. Hospitals are closed; nursing homes are not available. They just don’t have the courage to rebuild at this time of their lives.”
NARRATION: Despite the adversities, most New Orleans’ residents are back. They are determined to pick up the pieces and start anew with what is left, which for some, is not very much. Adjusting to the new reality is particularly hard for children, like elementary school students Sophia Marathonitis and Jessica Nicopoulos.
SOPHIA MARATHONITIS: “First I went to my grandfather’s house. That is the first house I saw. It had a lot of damage. He got 8 feet of water and I saw everything was on the floor. Pots and pants and a lot of mold and bugs were in his house.”
JESSICA NICOPOULOS: “The first thing when I came back was I saw my toys were not there, because they were all flooded... all my Barbie dolls, all my toys, everything.”
NARRATION: The greatest challenges for many in New Orleans today are collecting whatever aid becomes available and finding workers to help them fix up their homes. It is a struggle that often causes a lot of stress.
But the situation has also brought the best out of the local people. Everybody lends a helping hand. Countless volunteers work on rebuilding churches, schools and homes.
Spearheading such community initiatives are Louisianan business leaders like John Georges.
JOHN GEORGES: “We are not used as Americans to get help from other people. It is nice we do and we are very humble by this. We are very appreciative and thankful to the world for not forgetting New Orleans. One thing they can do for us is to visit New Orleans. It is still a very beautiful place, very historic, one of the best places in America.”
NARRATION: The music of Louis Armstrong is heard every night again at the Market Café in the colorful French Quarter. The gardens around historic St. Louis Cathedral are as inviting as ever. A street car or a horse carriage still takes you to the river for a jazz cruise with some legendary steamboat on the Mississippi. One year after Katrina, New Orleans is coming back.