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Landrieu: On 1-10 Scale, NOLA Recovery Is a 6

While New Orleans was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina, the real trouble started when the storm had passed and the levees failed.

Americans watched in disbelief in 2005 as New Orleans was drowning, and it seemed no one knew how to throw it a life line.

Hours turned into days of chaos and misery. Much of the city was left uninhabitable. Many residents left. More than 100,000 never came back.

There are 50,000 empty houses in New Orleans, reports "Early Show" anchor Harry Smith. They're either in some state of destruction or have been simply abandoned.

"When it comes to government, a lot more gets said than done," Lower Ninth Ward resident Tormas Jones told Smith.

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Five years later, there is a spirit here that didn't exist before Katrina. The survivors share a kind of grit and determination.

"The big story here is one of resilience," Mayor Mitch Landrieu told Smith. "It's one of a deep abiding American spirit that reached back into the depths of people's souls and stood them back up again. That's the real story.

"This is our home and we intend to be here for a long period of time," he said.

"We've got a ways to go but there are some extraordinary things going on here," the mayor's brother, Senator Mary Landrieu, D-La., told Smith on The Early Show." " We're building a brand new public school system, basically, from the ground up, because so many of our schools were destroyed, a new health care system, and as you heard this morning, the restaurants and the food are back, which is the most important thing!"

Sen. Landrieu thanked everyone who has contributed help and praised recovery efforts so far and, though she said on a scale of one to ten New Orleans' recovery is currently at "about a six."

Sen. Landrieu cited New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward as "our most challenging neighborhood," but said there were some "extraordinary things" happening there, including work by Brad Pitt's Make It Right Foundation.

"The Lower Ninth Ward has small businesses, middle class families, a very strong sense of community," Sen. Landrieu said. "They didn't have as many resources as some of the other neighborhoods, so we've got to help them especially.

"But Lakeview, Mid-City, Broadmoor, the neighborhood I grew up in - my parents had seven feet of water in their home - those neighborhoods of mixed income are coming back strong because our leaders made strong decisions. We decided we weren't going to lose this community. We were going to fight for every neighborhood and that's what we're going to do."

When asked what was the hardest for residents to endure, she said, "One of the most difficult things was to have faith in the levee system. Because when those levees broke, it was not just Katrina, it was a catastrophic failure of an infrastructure system that has protected this city for more than 300 years. And It failed catastrophically and put this entire region under anywhere from 6 to 14 feet of water. Now, the Gulf Coast was a surge, but here was just a massive flood. So people lost faith that the levees would hold.

"So, we had to invest $14 billion. I have to give credit to the Corps of Engineers. Once they got the money, we let them go, they built it ahead of time and under schedule. So, that's been terrific."

Much of the city and its suburbs are now protected by miles of new flood walls, and by a massive surge barrier. Its price tag: About $14.4 billion.

The Corps has said the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal (IHNC) surge barrier will sustain a 100-year storm.

(Army Corps of Engineers)
"This is a very robust system," Col. Robert Sinkler, Commander of the Corps' Hurricane Protection Office, told Smith. "There's nothing like it anywhere in the United States, and probably anywhere in the world."

(Left: This graphic details the operations of newly-designed surge barriers to protect New Orleans from flood waters flowing from Lake Pontchartrain.)

But Sen. Landrieu isn't satisfied with that.

"We have a long way to go, because a hundred years isn't going to do," she told Smith. "The Netherlands protects themselves for a storm every 10,000 years, okay? We're struggling in America to protect our people from storms and surges once every 100. So that's why we continue to fight for coastal restoration and more levee protection."

For more info:
New Orleans Hurricane Recovery (Army Corps)