Today we walked the French Quarter. I’ve never been to New Orleans so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Generally, it’s an old city. It’s history goes back 300 years, and more. So many of the buildings are VERY old and they are all crowded together with narrow streets in between. Of course, the French Quarter is known for the fancy wrought iron work on many of the buildings.
We walked along Royal Street which was filled with antique dealers. We also strolled through the French Market and visited the Cathedral. We stopped to listen to lots of good musicians playing on the streets. I put a short video here. We ate beignets at Cafe Du Monde and split a shrimp po’ boy for lunch. Delicious!
My favorite part of the day was the tour we took that showed how Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. We saw the levees and where several of the major breaches were. We couldn’t see them all because there were more than 50. We saw the 9th Ward and other places that were hit very hard. Some of those houses haven’t been touched since the day Katrina hit. We even saw several with holes in the roof where people had been trapped in their attics and were rescued. Of those houses that have been restored, many of them have been raised on stilts, some by as much as 20 feet!
After Katrina, the Coast Guard (and later, many others) went around in boats and checked each house for people who needed help. When a house was checked, they painted a big X just above the water line. The four quadrants of the X were each used for specific information—what kind of search was done, whether the natural gas was still turned on, how many bodies were found, the date of the search, the identity of the searchers, and many other details. In the 9 years since the hurricane, people have taken different attitudes toward their X’s. Some erased them as soon as possible but other have preserved them as sort of a badge of honor. Where they still exist, they indicate how high the water got because they were painted just above the waterline. In other places, especially businesses, they preserved the water line around the building in various ways when they rebuilt. Whenever you see a building with a line around it, that’s the waterline. Pictures of all these things are here.
Some facts we learned were amazing. For example, after Katrina, there were thousands of abandoned cars all over the city. It took the mayor more than a year to find a contractor to remove them. Can you imagine what it must have been like to have those flooded cars rotting on the streets for so long?
In the end, Katrina forced an older city to modernize. Many of those very old buildings had to be renovated from the studs out. We’re told it has vastly improved the appearance of the city. Another interesting thing is the school district. Apparently it was pretty corrupt and had an abysmal record. Katrina washed it completely away. Now all the previous public schools are charter schools and the level of education is much better. Some of the schools we saw that had to be rebuilt were beautiful.
Tons of construction is still going on. Most of the big projects we saw were new fire stations, police stations, community centers and schools. There are still many buildings that need to be redone, but they are the minority.
Please take a look at the photo gallery for more. I put a lot more details of our trip there.