But today, there are signs of resurrection throughout the city. Restaurants and nightclubs have sprung to life, and crews of dedicated volunteers are making a significant dent in the cleanup.
CBS News national correspondent Byron Pitts reported for The Early Show on one woman who took matters into her own hands.
Becky Zaheri was always a neat freak, but these days she has found a higher purpose for her cleaning habits. Tired of complaining about the towers of garbage all over New Orleans, she called a few girlfriends, e-mailed a few more and suddenly she had an army called the Katrina Krewe.
"I just couldn't come home and get back into my normal, everyday life and be surrounded by this and just look at it and wait for somebody else to do it," she told Pitts.
Becky and her family evacuated from their home for more than three months because of Katrina. Since her return, she has been a woman on a mission.
"I was never an activist or community person, or politically inclined, or any of those things before. But this was just simply a catastrophe that happened to our city," she said. "If we wanted to live here and continue raising our kids here, I had to try and do something to make it better. I couldn't just sit at home and watch."
What began with 15 friends in November has reached 300 volunteers, some from out of state, one from Europe. She also gets inquiries every night by e-mail.
Becky is gratified by the success of her efforts, but is getting by on just four hours of sleep a night. So after working so hard to clean up her city, she is ready to have some fun. Even though much of the city is still in ruins, .
Quint Davis, director of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, says it's an important opportunity to show the world that the city is still alive and kicking.
"Telling people to give up Mardi Gras is like telling us to give up sex and food and music. We have the best of those in America, and we're not giving them up," Davis said.
Reporting from New Orleans, Pitts pointed out that in the past, the Mardi Gras festivities have been mainly for the tourists. This year, they're for the city itself.