Living Katrina: 10 Years Later

Passion and Patience

By Russell Lewis

But when it entered the Gulf of Mexico, it exploded into the monster that killed more than 1,800 people.

For days I watched the nonstop, unbelievable images on television and listened to the captivating reports on NPR about how bad the situation was and how little help was making it to those who needed it most. You just knew that the process to recover and rebuild New Orleans, and coastal areas in Mississippi and Alabama, would take years.

I moved to New Orleans in 2006 and spent the next year helping coordinate NPR’s coverage of the rebuilding along the Gulf Coast. We felt it was important to have a full-time person operating our bureau in the city as reporters and producers cycled in for three and four week stints. You learn a lot about a place by simply existing in it -- especially after a disaster. New Orleans' most important virtue is patience. Things always take longer than they should in the Crescent City. 

It took three weeks for my phone service to be switched on -- despite living literally across the street from the phone company. Streetlights worked occasionally. The potholes were big enough to swallow bicycles and simply going to the supermarket was an adventure. I fully expected that I would be a victim of crime. My first or second month in town, a friend of a friend was murdered. A few months later, another friend was abducted. Everyone, it seemed, knew a crime victim.  

Nothing about New Orleans was easy. But the passion of the people. Their love of the place. This deep-seated love. The random sounds of trumpets and drums on a random evening for no reason other than the need to play some music. I mean where else would you find people who celebrate funerals with a second-line parade? New Orleans had to come back. It wouldn’t be easy. But that’s New Orleans. It’s never easy.

I return to New Orleans several times a year now and I’m buoyed by how much it’s changed. Yes, pockets of hurricane destruction remain. But it’s back. The richness of the place has returned (did it ever really leave?) The key to covering any long-term story is making a commitment to sticking with it. It would have been easy to give up on New Orleans. Buy why? It’s still one of this country’s most amazing and diverse cities.