USA Today: New Orleans Mayor touts resilience in city’s comeback

For New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, the recovery in the 10 years sinceHurricane Katrina can be defined in one word: resilience.

Landrieu spoke to the National Press Club inWashington, D.C. on Tuesday, where he emphasized the city’s progress a decade after the devastating hurricane, which struck on Aug. 29, 2005.

“The people of New Orleans took up the challenge that fate had laid at our feet,” Landrieu said.

When Katrina hit, Landrieu was Louisiana’s Lieutenant Governor and second in command at the state’s Emergency Operations Center. A son of former New Orleans Mayor Maurice “Moon” Landrieu and a younger brother of then-U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, he succeeded New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who was found guilty in February 2014 of accepting bribes, committing wire fraud and filing false tax returns. Nagin was sentenced to 10 years in jail.

Katrina is among the costliest disasters in U.S. history and the costliest hurricane on record, according to the National Weather Service. It took more than 1,800 lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

Landrieu revisited the moment when the hurricane hit and the levees broke, submerging miles of the city under as much as 15 feet of water. He used these images to emphasize the progress the city has made since 2005. He pointed to improvements in several areas: education, women’s health, hospitals, business, emergency preparedness and infrastructure — as well as drops in incarceration, homelessness and crime rates. These indicators, he said, have improved drastically since the storm, and made New Orleans a leader in the “new South.”

“The old South of slavery, Civil War, Confederate flags, monuments that revered the Confederacy, separate but equal, ‘I’ll go my way, you go yours’ — that South is gone,” he said. “The new South is a place where diversity is our greatest strength — not a weakness.”

But Landrieu said the devastation of the hurricane was not just due to the levees breaking, but also to larger problems, such as high crime rates and racism.  He likened the scenes of mostly African-American evacuees, stranded at New Orleans’ Super Dome, to “the more recent unrest on the streets of Baltimore, Ferguson and across America.”

Ten years later, he said, the USA is still falling short of honoring its commitment to racial equality. “But here’s the thing,” he said. “We can get there.”