New Year for New Orleans

This weekend, the spotlight will be on New Orleans — this time, in a very positive way. The Saints, a football team that has been towards the bottom rung of the NFL ladder for years, are in the playoffs. With everything the team and the city had to overcome, this is an amazing feat.

Our Dallas crew covers the southwest region for FOX News Channel. That includes all of Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. My photographer, Scott Gill, and I typically spend a week out of each month in the cities. We have covered many Katrina-related stories, including the recent soaring crime rate, and how the police force is coping with it.

Each time we visit, I see progress. But many residents of the city tell us they don't.

My first visit was in January 2006. At that time, months after Hurricane Katrina, everywhere you looked, it seemed like time had stood still — as if the storm happened days ago, not months ago. Nothing was being done and people, the ones who had returned, had nothing good to say about their city or its leaders.

In late December 2006, I was back in the ninth ward. From my view point, it is completely changed. A majority of the damaged and moldy homes have been demolished. The toppled trees and brush have been removed, and the abandoned cars hauled away. There are no more cement stairs leading to nowhere. Lots are ready for people to rebuild. And most important, people have returned. An estimated 200 of the 9,000 original residents are back. They are stacking construction supplies outside their homes. City leaders believe that, as more power is restored in the ninth ward, more homeowners will return.

In other parts of the city, where water damage was limited, there are few Hurricane Katrina reminders. Only a few homes in most neighborhoods still have blue tarps stretched over rooftops. There are some FEMA trailers in front yards, but there doesn't seem to be as many as there used to be. The hammering of nails can be heard, and construction trucks line the streets. A mailman I spoke to says his letter bag is getting heavier — another sign that people are returning.

But, some businesses are still boarded up, in the downtown business district that surrounds the French Quarter. Passers-by will tell you that the boarded-up stores are the ones that were looted right after the storm, and insurance checks have still not come in yet.

Hotels and restaurants are packed, but customer service is slow — businesses need employees. The employees that are there don't seem eager to help. One woman was in the middle of helping us at a Subway sandwich shop, when she glanced at the clock and saw that it was her time to go home. She simply took offer her gloves, walked to the back room and left without a goodbye. As stunned as I was, I tried to remember that the residents of New Orleans have been through a lot.

Last week, our Dallas crew was staying in the Hilton Hotel on the Riverfront, while the Louisiana State University football team was playing in a bowl game. The atmosphere was electric. People were high-fiving each other. There were smiles on everyone's faces. That will most likely be the same story this weekend, when the Saints take to the field. It will be an opportunity for the city to get some good PR, which will ultimately give the residents something to feel positive about, while their city continues to rebuild.

Kim McIntyre joined FOX News Channel (FNC) as a Dallas-based correspondent in 2006. She previously worked as a freelance producer in FNC’s Washington, DC, bureau. You can read the rest of her bio here.