Still Not Easy In The Big Easy

A boat with graffiti that reads " What's the plan Ray" sits on the sidewalk a block away from the Superdome, background, in downtown New Orleans, early Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2006. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
AP Photo/LM Otero
It was one year ago - August 29, 2005 - that Hurricane Katrina, one of the worst natural disasters ever to hit the United States of America, came ashore. Over 1,800 people were killed in Louisiana and Mississippi, 80 percent of New Orleans was flooded, and hundreds of thousands were uprooted to shelters and temporary homes all over the United States.

Katrina grazed Florida before making landfall at 6:10 a.m. on Aug. 29, 2005, in Buras, a tiny fishing town 65 miles south of New Orleans on one of the fingers of land jutting out into the Gulf of Mexico. Entire blocks of houses, bars and shops vanished, whipped into the Gulf by a wall of water 21 feet high.

The category 4 storm then roared into the Big Easy and Mississippi, and things began to look better in New Orleans as the sun came out and winds subsided.

But it was only a calm before the deluge – as the levees broke and America saw catastrophe on a scale previously unimagined.

President Bush and other officials are in the Gulf Coast for anniversary ceremonies and assessments of progress in rebuilding.

"My message to the people down here is that we understand there's more work to be done," Mr. Bush said Monday night at dinner with Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, pledging continued government assistance with the recovery. "The federal government will remember the people ... this is an anniversary but it doesn't mean it's the end."

First lady Laura Bush says her husband understands that many people in the area blame him for the slow response.

"He's very committed to the Gulf Coast. And I actually think that the people in the Gulf Coast know that," she said on CBS News' The Early Show.

"The outpouring of support for the people of the Gulf Coast from Americans and from people around the world is unprecedented," Bush told Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith. "I know that the people of the Gulf Coast know that the American people are standing with them."

"Money is beginning to go out the door so people can rebuild their lives," President Bush said Monday in Biloxi, talking about rebuilding efforts in that state. "In Louisiana, it's been a little slower."

But Nagin is promising the good times will roll again in New Orleans.

"We will have probably one of the biggest construction booms that they've ever had, so we will have an updated city with the quality of life issues that people have in other cities," he said on The Early Show. "But this is for pioneers. This is hard work and it's going to take us a good three to five years to rebuild this city or to get it to some semblance of what we were accustomed to prior to Katrina hitting us."

Throughout New Orleans, trailers still line driveways in neighborhoods where debris is stacked up in piles and unchecked weeds have overtaken abandoned houses. Only half the population has returned. Many of those who have have elected to take on long-time financial hardship and start rebuilding, rather than waiting any longer for federal assistance, reports .

Emergency medical care is doled out in an abandoned department store, while six of New Orleans' nine hospitals remain closed.

It's estimated that only half of New Orleans' 2,300 doctors have returned since the storm — and there are even fewer nurses. "It's full out, emergency medicine, sick people and lots of 'em, all day long," emergency services specialist Dr. Tracy Legros .