We enjoyed beignets at Cafe Du Monde, visited Mardi Gras World (and met Blaine Kern, known as "Mr. Mardi Gras"), toured the Garden District, stopped by the National World War II Museum, and of course, walked through America's rowdiest locale, Bourbon Street.
I found it amazing that just 2 1/2 years after Katrina left 80% of the city under water, a family could conceivably vacation in New Orleans and barely see a sign of the hurricane's devastation.
But once we hopped on Isabelle's Post-Katrina Tour, and headed beyond the popular tourist spots, reality struck. We saw Lower Ninth Ward neighborhoods that looked as they did when the water receded -- with yellow and black water marks spanning the front of house after house. Some of these grim reminders were more than ten feet from the ground.
Equally horrific were the spray-painted "X's" on the front of homes that indicated when rescuers made it inside -- and what they found. In many cases out-of-state National Guard units didn't get to residents in areas like St. Bernard Parish until nearly a month after the hurricane struck. (A high percentage of Guard units were deployed in Iraq.) At the bottom of the "X" we usually saw a zero, indicating no bodies were found. But in some cases we saw no number, which meant at least one body was recovered. Most of the dead were elderly.
On a positive note, we rode through Musicians' Village, a rebuilding effort co-chaired by Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis. Habitat for Humanity is putting up 72 homes for musicians and other qualifying families. As you can see from the photo at the top, they're making great strides.
Tourism -- one of the area's biggest industries -- is obviously more important than ever. I spoke with Fred Elliott who's run the Elliott Gallery in the French Quarter since 1976. With business off considerably, Fred needed an SBA loan to keep his business going.
To help bring tourism back to pre-Katrina levels, Cox Communications and about ten other cable companies donated media worth around $12 million. Their research indicated the $12 million donation will result in an estimated $1.3 billion in visitor spending. New Orleans businesses need many more billions in visitor spending to get residents back in their homes -- and back to work.
When you get a chance, visit the area and meet their amazing residents. In the meantime, donate to New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity here. As many of you know, New Orleans represented a small fraction of Katrina's impact on the Gulf Coast. Donate to Habitat's Gulf Recovery Effort here.