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New Orleans still a ‘work in progress’ 10 years after Katrina


New Orleans has risen from ruin 10 years after Hurricane Katrina ripped through the city’s mostly African-American neighbourhoods, although many inhabitants continue to struggle to rebuild new lives.


Helped by billions of dollars in recovery money and driven by the grit of its citizens, the ‘new’ New Orleans is whiter and more expensive to live in. African-American neighbourhoods across the city still struggle. And the murder rate is rising again.

President Barack Obama has planned visits Thursday to those locals hardest hit, including a largely African-American neighbourhood, the Lower 9th ward, where recovery remains a slow process.

"We've seen this city bounce back. I want to highlight the outstanding work that has been done, but I want to remind people that there's still work to do," he told WWL-TV of New Orleans in an interview Wednesday

Katrina killed nearly 2,000 people from Louisiana. Many of them drowned inside their homes, survivors felt abandoned and the economy shut down.

And while tourists - a whopping 9 million last year - have returned to the city, boosting its economy, the cost of living for locals has increased sharply: rents have skyrocketed by 43 percent, with thousands of families on a waiting list for subsidised housing.

Alison Plyer of the New Orleans-based think tank, The Data Centre, said the city had come to represent two distinct realities.

"You're going to hear a lot of folks say things are so much better, the economy is so improved, and other people are going to say it is so much worse," said Plyer. "And both those realities are true."

As many as 40,000 residents arrived after Katrina had passed, but the wide Industrial Canal cleaves the Lower 9th Ward from all this new progress: only one school has reopened in the neighbourhood, and very few stores.

Thousands of people haven't come back, said Darryl Malek-Wiley, a Sierra Club activist working to restore the 9th ward community.

The city is still majority black, but the numbers have fallen from roughly 67 percent before the storm to about 60 percent today. Black households earn half the income of white households, and the city's black middle and upper class has shrunk.

Known for its vibrant music scene, bars and street parades, New Orleans' changing demographics are posing a new threat to the city's cultural heritage.

Among the city’s countless musicians, many find themselves struggling to get by.

Meshiva Lake, a popular jazz singer, told AFP she was puzzled by recently proposed legislation to limit the volume of recorded and live music.

"That's part of the vibrancy, that accidental magic," Lake, said. "It's like going to France and telling them to stop speaking French."

Ten years after Katrina, New Orleans is still a work in progress, but the massive infusion of government money and philanthropy that followed the hurricane has mostly come and gone, notes Michael Hecht of Greater New Orleans Inc., an economic development agency.

"In some ways, I think the next 10 years are going to be even harder than the first 10 years," he said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)


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