I spent the last couple of days in New Orleans and I will never forget what I saw.
It truly is hard to imagine the devastating effects of this storm without seeing the ongoing cleanup efforts firsthand. Members of the New Orleans Police Department escorted me through the areas hardest hit. The high water line was still visible on all of the homes, sometimes being found, not on the walls, but on the roofs. Each tattered house was spray painted with code numbers detailing which of the military branches had searched it, on which date, and how many dead bodies were found inside. Whole houses had floated down the block and cars and boats were still hung up on trees. Massive piles of debris were everywhere, and demolition contractors hauled out sheetrock and roofing for miles around.
Downtown, though the flooding was not as bad, the gutters were still overflowing with the jetsam of mass exodus. Skyscrapers were pocked with shattered windows and well more than half of the businesses remained boarded up. It just seemed inconceivable that I was still in the United States. That this level of decimation could occur within our borders doesn't compute for me.
During my stay, I had the luck to meet so many fantastic New Orleans residents and hear their harrowing stories. I met Greg Meffert, the Vice Mayor and City CIO who went into an Office Depot during the flood to commandeer some equipment for the command center. I met Emeril Lagasse, who, though he didn't need to be slinging chow on a Tuesday night in New Orleans, was manning the kitchen at his place and came out to chat at our table, keeping everyone's spirits high about the City's recovery. I also met Mayor Ray Nagin, who will always hold a place in my heart for telling the Bush administration to "Get off your asses". Such stand-up people with a sincere belief and dedication to rebuilding that city.
All told, this trip was humbling. I deeply admire the folks who are heads down trying to rebuild and I hope to return for another visit soon.