As we landed at Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans yesterday afternoon the skies were dark and cloudy and there was a light drizzle.
Driving into the city, I found a good talk show on the radio so I could get immersed quickly into what the local folks were talking about... I was listening to a pre-game show for the NFL Saints game which was being played in Jackson, Miss until their return to the Superdome in September. Within minutes the show was interrupted with a news bulletin on the track of Tropical Storm Ernesto which has now turned into the first Hurricane of the season.
Seeing some of the physical and painful reminders of the devastation a year ago - the still dilapidated houses, the permanent water damage on buildings, street lights not yet erected again. It really brought back the enormous shock and horror of the physical and mental damage that this place had suffered and continues to rebuild a year later. I was caught off guard hearing that news bulletin and I began to try to wrap my mind around the enormous amount of angst and alarm that the people of New Orleans must be feeling at this moment. I don’t think there is a single person here that wants to become a two-time hurricane survivor with 12 months.
There are a lot of signs of a rebounding New Orleans from the massive construction efforts along the highways and throughout the neighborhoods, the removable of much of the debris and the sight of people living their lives again. But nothing says "We’re Back" louder than a vibrant and jam-packed French Quarter.
It felt like Mardi Gras might be happening this Saturday night with Bourbon Street in full swing, people were dancing and throwing beads from balconies and the sound of live music poured out of the bars. I had a fantastic dinner at a landmark French Quarter steak house with a person from FEMA. And I even managed to conduct an interview with an official from the Army Corps of Engineers from the home of the World Famous "Hurricane" libation at Pat O’Brien’s Courtyard.
The latest track on Hurricane Ernesto is good news around here as it appears that New Orleans will be spared for now. And despite the debate over the condition of the levees, my Army Corps of Engineers source was absolutely confident that if Ernesto does come here that the levees "will hold - no question about it."
So we wait, watch, hope and pray. And I must admit that it is very surreal being glued to the news to see if history will be repeating itself in the worst possible way. C. Ray Nagin is on NBC’s Meet the Press right now and all of a sudden I really don’t feel so good anymore...