New Orleans after Katrina: A tale of two cities

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina's assault, the story of New Orleans is very much a tale of two cities. In some parts of town, rebirth and restoration; in other parts, few signs of any recovery. Our Cover Story is reported now by Martha Teichner:

As if we needed reminding, even after ten years, how terrible Katrina really was -- and what a colossal fiasco.

The horror show at the Superdome, where close to 25,000 people were trapped for days in the heat and stink. Desperation on overpasses, where thousands more baked along the Interstate, crying out for help that didn't come.

More than 1,800 people died across the Gulf Coast.

How could this be happening in the United States of America? Who seemed more out of touch -- President Bush, or FEMA director Mike Brown? ("Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job!")


New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin let loose on a radio broadcast: "Now get off your asses and let's do something, and let's fix the biggest goddamned crisis in the history of this country!"

Eighty percent of New Orleans was flooded. Billions and billions of gallons of water swept over the city, not so much because of the storm itself, but because the levees gave way. The floodwalls broke.

"Being there in those first months, it felt like, 'Am I witnessing the death of a great American city?'" said Gary Rivlin, who covered Katrina for The New York Times.

Rivlin's new book about New Orleans in the years since, "Katrina: After the Flood," has just been published by Simon & Schuster (owned by CBS).

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Simon & Schuster

"People talk about Katrina being an equal opportunity storm, [how] it didn't make a difference if you were black or white, rich or poor," Rivlin said. "But it wasn't exactly an equal storm. If you were a black homeowner, you were more than three times more likely to have lost your home in the flooding than if you were a white homeowner.

"And just like it wasn't an equal opportunity storm, it has not been an equal opportunity recovery."

Read an excerpt from Gary Rivlin's "Katrina: After the Flood"

When Connie Uddo returned to her neighborhood, Lakeview, she found a mound of debris 10 stories high. "I just remember pulling to the side, stunned, and I just began to weep," she told Teichner.

Yet, despite the destruction in her middle-class, overwhelmingly white neighborhood, she says she was fortunate. "Because my home is a triplex. Because we lived on the second and third floor, we didn't lose everything."

After moving six times, Uddo, her husband and two children dared to go home in January 2006, four months after the storm. "It was a very sad place to be," she said. "As long as I was in my house, I was okay. When I walked outside, I would feel myself just kind of slide. And got to the point where I told my husband, 'I don't think I can do this.' And so he said, 'I think you have to find a purpose.'"

A few months later, the former tennis teacher had become a combination Angie's List and Mr. Clean -- a whirlwind, running the St. Paul's Homecoming Center. Her job: connecting people to resources, marshaling volunteers to get her Lakeview neighbors back in their houses.

"I realized we were in a fight for our life, to save our neighborhood, to save our city," she said.

"How did you go about this assault on the storm?" asked Teichner.

"Do not wait for the government -- that became our motto," she replied. "People would say, 'Well, I'm gonna wait for this. They government's going to do this, right?' I was like, 'No, I don't think so. Government didn't even show up when we were stranded at the Dome for five days. Why do you think they're gonna show up to help gut our schools and churches and businesses? Why do you think that? We need to do this.'"

And they did -- Connie Uddo's organization and others. She showed Teichner a house her group worked on: "We helped this homeowner rebuild. It was a guy with no flood insurance."