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Four Years After Katrina, Communities Show Their Resilience

September 09, 2009 11:00 AM
by Shannon Firth
Though thoughts of Hurricane Katrina may have faded in other parts of the country, efforts to revive stricken areas continue as townspeople commemorate the fourth anniversary of the tragedy.

Katrina Revisited

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“When the levees fell apart … we were left to grieve not only the loss of more than 1,400 people who died in the disaster but the loss of the very fabric of our neighborhoods,” a Times-Picayune editorial reported on the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

In New Orleans, bells were timed to ring when the floodwalls collapsed, wreaths were placed at Claiborne Bridge and London Avenue, and a “holy hour” was held at a church to remember the people that died as a result of Katrina. But in the spirit of strength that Katrina inspired, there were “moments of thanksgiving as well,” according to the editorial, “for the revival that has taken place here and for all the people who have helped us over the past four years.”

Homeowner Richonda Bridges survived not only Katrina but also battled breast cancer and a corrupt contractor during her quest to rebuild her home. With help from the St. Bernard Project, a grassroots organization and winner of CNN’s “Hero of the Year” award last year, Bridges spent Aug. 29 working with volunteers to install her new floors.

"There's no other way to spend the fourth anniversary," David Emond, a supervisor from the St. Bernard Project, told The Times-Picayune. “We are all about trying to get people the home they deserve to live in [and] the dignity they deserve.”

At Loyola University in New Orleans, 100 incoming freshman helped local nonprofits and schools with reconstruction and maintenance projects on the anniversary of Katrina. Jamie Broussard, a junior and a writer for The Maroon, Loyola’s newspaper, explained, “Now is the time for students to get their hands dirty, immerse themselves in the community and bring their education outside of the classroom.”
 
Others have been focusing on the land itself. Martha Boyce, a teacher for more than 35 years, started the Mississippi Renaissance Gardens Foundation soon after Hurricane Katrina. The movement aims to replace the trees and plants lost to the storm, and develop new public gardens throughout the area.

Boyce began gardening after losing her leg in an accident. “For me, the best thing that grew in my garden was me,” she told the Sun Herald. Her personal transformation inspired her to reach out to her community. “We’ll partner with Mother Nature and overcome what she did to the landscape in Katrina,” Boyce said, according to the Sun Herald.

Opinion & Analysis: Mississippi a forgotten casualty of Katrina

Stan Tiner, vice president and executive editor of the Sun Herald, a Mississippi daily, contends that the media has consistently overlooked Mississippi in its coverage of Hurricane Katrina. He says that the trend for national media was to present South Mississippi as an afterthought, referring to the whole area as “the Gulf Coast.”

“That trend has become virtually universal now,” Tiner writes, “and during the recent fourth anniversary media assessment of Katrina, the people of ‘the Gulf Coast’ have receded into the hazy status of non-people whose story is untold.”

Setting his frustrations aside, Tiner urged journalists to visit Mississippi next year for Katrina’s fifth anniversary in order “to expose truth, and fairly report the fullness of human pain and triumph in Mississippi.”

Related Topic: Making better use of volunteers during disaster relief

In February 2008, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced the creation of a new post that gives head of California Volunteers Karen Baker a prominent role in disaster preparation and response planning.

Baker, whose new title is the secretary for service and volunteering, told Time Magazine that "[g]overnment can't do it alone, and that's why I think the governor's smart to elevate” the role of citizen volunteers.
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