Life After Katrina

Victims of Hurricane Katrina argue with National Guard members Thursday, Sept. 1, 2005, in New Orleans as they try to get onto buses headed to Houston. (Photo: Willie J. Allen Jr.) AP Photo/St. Petersburg Times

Michelle Miller is the wife of the former mayor of New Orleans and a CBS News correspondent. She talks about her greatest fears and greatest hopes for the Crescent City.


I lived in New Orleans for nine years during what many have come to describe as a renaissance of the city - a time when racial tensions eased, police brutality and crime abated, and the population possessed a sense of faith in its leadership.

The fact that my husband, Marc H. Morial, ran the city during that time may explain my rosy perspective. But watching many hurricane victims recount faith in his leadership at this time of duress has left a sense of pride in my soul.

As a reporter for WWL-TV, the CBS affiliate in that great city, hurricane coverage was an annual event for me. I covered Hurricane Georges in 1998 and nearly lost my life during Tropical Storm Lily in 2002, an experience that gave me a new respect for the might of Mother Nature.

Like many residents of the Big Easy I, too, believed Katrina would veer east and once again spare the city the wrath of the storm surge and 140 mile-an-hour winds. So the fact that many of my friends and family stayed behind, even as they had the means to obey the mandatory evacuation, did not surprise me.

My home remains in New Orleans, though I now live in New York. And I fear either floodwaters or gusting winds have claimed my most cherished memories and possessions. But what has ripped my heart out and has given pause to the fine line between journalist and human being is the utter desperation of my fellow citizens in my former city. Time is creeping by as I watch and wait along with so many suffering people. And questions as to why it took so long after Katrina's levee breaches to evacuate those in harms way.

Questions of race and class are sure to be raised. Compared to Congress's Immediacy in handling the Terry Schiavo resolution while on vacation, it's taken the body four days beyond the Hurricane to meet on what to do during the nation's most horrific natural disaster.

Except for the deliberate delivery of hatred that 9-11's blow possessed, this disaster is by far more tragic. Affecting more people, affecting more area, impacting the nation in ways many have yet to fathom. As I talk to friends who have evacuated, they still cannot fathom that their beloved city is out of reach. Whether or not they rebuild isn't even a factor right now as so many who escaped the horrifying conditions that has befallen hundreds of thousands, still choose to believe they can return within a month - or even two.

They cannot comprehend they'll have to rebuild their lives, even as engineers and elected officials decide on how to cope with the massive rebuilding and cleanup effort. Many, I fear, won't.

My heart saddens at the thought of no glee for the ramp up of such annual events as Jazzfest, Essence Fest. And of course Mardi Gras, the celebration that has been the fabric of the city for nearly two centuries.

Seeing individuals help in the spirit of humanity in the absence of the government heartens me. And when the cavalry finally rode in, never have I felt such patriotic pride. Using our might in an effort of relief can be no nobler cause.

I hope this community that invented jazz can reinvent itself. I hope in the months and years it will take to rebuild, residents will band together as brothers and sisters in spite of social class and skin color. I hope the one thing that dies in the wake of Katrina is the intolerance and poverty too few chose to confront but too many were forced to endure. This can truly be a new hope for one of the oldest cities in our nation. Opportunity is just around the corner.
  • Lloyd Vries

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