As the last of the unidentified victims of Hurricane Katrina were laid to rest at the Charity Hospital Cemetery, most New Orleanians spent the third anniversary of Katrina preparing for another storm. With Hurricane Gustav building up strength in the Gulf, New Orleans canceled its plans for a traditional jazz funeral procession for the unidentified victims. Nearly 1,500 white flags representing those who died in Katrina covered the ground of the Metairie Cemetery. And on Friday, August 29, those gathered at the Katrina Memorial for the burials rang hand bells 9:38 a.m., marking the exact time three years ago that the levees broke and flooded 80 percent of the city.
Fortunately, the damage from Gustav was minimal and will unlikely cause any major setbacks in the effort to rebuild New Orleans. But just because they've survived the latest storm isn't reason to stop thinking about the region. A recent poll from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation shows that most New Orleanians are cautiously optimistic about the future of their city. Habitat for Humanity and the St. Bernard Project have together rebuilt nearly 300 homes in the hardest hit areas of the Crescent City, but locals worry that they are being forgotten. There is still plenty of work to be done, and luckily, we can all help.
One of the best ways to help New Orleans bounce back from Katrina is to visit. Many of the Big Easy’s tourist hotspots – the French Quarter, Downtown, and the Garden District – escaped Katrina without severe damage, so businesses are up and running. One of my personal favorites is Pat O’Brien’s, home of the famous Hurricane drink. Head to Mulate's for traditional Cajun cooking and dancing, and after dinner make your way to the Cat's Meow for karaoke. And, of course, no visit to New Orleans is complete without a stop at Café Du Monde for beignets, French-style donuts loaded with powdered sugar.
If you want to take the more hands-on approach to rebuilding the city, sign up to volunteer. Various organizations, including Acorn (which focuses on the Lower Ninth Ward), Common Ground (which works to build sustainable houses and community gardens in damaged areas), Habitat for Humanity, and the St. Bernard Project can always use volunteers.
And keep your eyes peeled, as the Big Easy might be coming to you. In July, a refurbished 1920s train car left New Orleans for a cross-country trip to raise money for the city. The Music in Motion Tour, spent the summer making stops in major cities across the U.S., collecting donations for the St. Bernard Project and Preservation Hall, a music education program founded in 1961 to support New Orleans jazz. The tour ends in New York City, where music memorabilia collected during the trip will be auctioned off. If you can’t make it to New York, don’t worry. You can bid on items on the Music in Motion website as well.
Photos: Erin FitzPatrick, via flickr. Metairie Cemetery (top). Work still needs to be done (middle). A row of houses in the Lower Ninth Ward built by Habitat for Humanity (bottom).