NEW ORLEANS – It's been 11 years since the wind, rain and subsequent levee breaks associated with Hurricane Katrina deluged New Orleans.
On Monday, officials marked the occasion with wreath-laying ceremonies to remember those who lost their lives to the flooding and celebrations to commemorate those who survived.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu joined state Sen. Wesley Bishop, state Rep. John Bagneris, city councilmembers James Gray and Nadine Ramsey and other officials for an event at the newly built multipurpose community center in the Lower 9th Ward, one of the hardest hit areas still recovering.
"These events are always very sober, but it's important to remember the lives lost, especially at the interment site, and important to note though lost or unclaimed these lives will never be forgotten," Landrieu said.
The mayor noted the nation remains interested in the city even 11 years later.
"People are always interested in the progress New Orleans is making. They're still wondering how in the world we pulled ourselves back up," he said.
At the Andrew P. Sanchez & Copelin-Byrd Multi-Service Center, a nearly $21 million facility that opened last year, Gray said officials mourned the loss of friends and family but reveled in the face of the tragedy.
"But the event was more to commemorate the strength, resilience and endurance of people in the Lower 9 to overcome obstacles and move on," Gray said.
Landrieu said it was important to remember the lives lost while also highlighting the 9th Ward's accomplishments since the devastation, including the opening of new retail stores and a fire station.
Still, both he and Gray said there remains much to do.
"We're moving at a very good pace at this time," Gray said. "There's a new school, new playgrounds, new fire stations. The city has just awarded 188 properties to developers who are promising to build. Amazing progress is coming, and we hope to soon celebrate that."
Gray's office said before Katrina the Lower 9th Ward had about 20,000 residents. Now that number is in the 7,000 to 8,000 range. "The city has put into place the infrastructure needed to try and stand up the Lower 9 and in the next year or two everyone will be impressed with how it and parts of eastern New Orleans are revised."
Gray said the old slogan linked to the area, "I'm from the 9 and I don't mind dying," has been replaced by something coined by Bishop, "I'm from the 9 and I don't mind trying."
"I immediately fell in love with that phrase," Gray said. "There are tons of hard things yet to be done but the celebrations are coming, the celebrations are coming."