Aug 292014

Allan Katz and Danae Columbus

It seems like just yesterday that we were packing up our TV cameras and computer hard drives to get out of Dodge before Katrina struck. Danae finally took Ray Nagin’s pleas seriously about 4 a.m. and began the long, slow journey to her parents in Arkansas with five dogs and our photographer. Allan, his sister Sandy Levy and their aged Mother, Miriam Katz, left several days earlier for Birmingham in an abundance of caution.

Danae’s then home on Esplanade Avenue did not flood and was bypassed by the looters. Allan lost everything, except his cat Alexander who somehow survived four weeks after the storm on Allan’s second floor in Lakeview. Danae and two other women rescued Alexander with the help of the Minneapolis Police Department as soon as the water receded. What Danae remembers today is how horrible the usually lush Lakeview smelled as the toxic water began to recede. In Allan’s house, he fortunately left the cupboard door opened. Alexander, a very smart cat, apparently dragged boxes of cat food out onto the floor and then opened the boxes with his sharp claws. The rescue crew that saved Alexander then transported him to a very nice veterinarian in Lafourche Parish who restored the worn-out cat to his full vivacious self. Danae was back at our downtown offices immediately with a crew of Hondurans and rented Allan an apartment in the French Quarter until she could repair his Lakeview home from the ground up.

Everyone who lived in New Orleans nine years ago has a personal Katrina story. Most of our stories have happy endings as we have rebuilt our homes, neighborhoods and our community. We will never forget the 1,800 people who perished and the billions of dollars in damages she created. We will always miss the people who found new lives elsewhere. Even this week Danae heard about a Katrina exile who yearns to come back. They are everywhere.

We also embrace Katrina’s silver lining, the young, ambitious people who moved here, some to help rebuild and later to stay, and others who came later because we became a “hot” destination for start-ups. We benefited by the billions poured into our ailing infrastructure, the vast improvements that have come to our schools, and the new entrepreneurial spirit that permeates New Orleans.

Life is good for most people in New Orleans. Sure, rents are higher; taxes have and will continue to go up; and crime is still –- and may perhaps always be — a problem. We also don’t understand why there is not retail and fine dining in New Orleans East, why the Lower Ninth Ward looks like a wasteland, why the population of St. Bernard Parish is terribly low, and why some people are still need Road Home money to finish rebuilding.

But we are resilient and we will succeed. Bishop Darryl S. Brister and his parishioners will be celebrating Katrina’s anniversary with a three-day reopening of their Beacon Light International Baptist Cathedral in Gentilly. We love stories of resilience and determination but can you imagine the anguish of nine years trying to re-open the church that the community loves? Brister held services in several cities before he brought his congregation back together in New Orleans. Many ministers from across the community will be participating in a show of unity for one of their own.

The Southern Food & Beverage Museum will also be celebrating the opening of their new building this weekend at 1504 Oretha C. Haley Blvd and part of the renaissance of Central City.

The important moments in our lives will always be described as “before Katrina” and “after Katrina.” Let us hope we never see a Katrina again. Those of us who lived through Katrina will remember our Katrina stories until the day we die. Today, we smile at the remembrance of the happy endings and mourn the tragedies.

One of the best ways to keep people from committing new crimes after they are released from prison is by helping them make the transition back into society. That’s the goal of an ambitious undertaking, The First 72, a non-profit that is opening their first transitional house at 2917 Perdido Street for those returning home.

This initiative is supported by Congressman Cedric Richmond, Mayor Mitch Landrieu, and Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc who will all be on hand at 11 a.m. Wednesday (Sept. 3) for the ribbon cutting. Joining them will be musician Kermit Ruffins, prison reform activist Norris Henderson, and community leader Calvin Duncan. It is a solid concept long overdue.

Allan Katz spent 25 years as a political reporter and columnist at The Times-Picayune, and is now editor of the Kenner Star and host of several televsion programs, including the Louisiana Newsmaker on Cox Cable. Danae Columbus is executive producer of Louisiana Newsmaker, and has had a 30-year career in public relations, including stints at City Hall and the Dock Board. They both currently work for the Orleans Parish School Board. Among the recent candidates who have been represented by their public relations firm are City council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell.

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