The Norman Transcript

August 29, 2009

Four years later, and it seems like yesterday


Four years ago on this date, Hurricane Katrina roared ashore in the Gulf Coast and began churning damage throughout the region.

By the time all was said and done, the storm had been the most costly, financially, in U.S. history. And of more importance were the deaths of more than 1,800 people, a majority in the New Orleans area.

Thousands fled the city and never returned. Many wondered if the city would ever come back at all. By all accounts it has, albeit a little bit at a time.

We remember the horror stories as if they happened yesterday, instead of four years ago. Thousands trapped inside the Superdome for days without food or water. Whole neighborhoods washed away as failing levees couldn't do their job. Some of the poorest neighborhoods of the city damaged almost beyond recognition.

In the time of need, individuals and the entire community reached out for help. Criticism afterward of the federal government, namely the Federal Emergency Management Agency, seemed to be coming from all sides.

The city's recovery was slow. The airport didn't even open for more than a month, and electricity wasn't back on in parts of the city for longer than that.

It also caused the population to scatter. Tens of thousands wound up leaving and never coming back. Many wound up in south Texas. Still others ventured further. I remember encountering a half-dozen or so people in Norman in the weeks and months after the hurricane.

The storm actually lent an assist to Oklahoma City's future financial well-being. The city opened its doors and arena for the New Orleans Hornets for the next two basketball seasons.

That was a big part of showing the city and state could handle an NBA team and since a local group purchased and brought in the Oklahoma City Thunder, which begins its second season on the court in October.

The Hornets are back in New Orleans again and the people I've talked to who have visited the city have had a good experience, even if they didn't see the parts of the city that still are in bad shape.

Louisiana's leadership has commended many of the efforts of the Obama administration in helping clear up red tape. While Gov. Bobby Jindal this week said the administration's efforts are "incomplete," many in the region are happier than they were with the team of President Bush.

Jindal told the Associated Press the Obama team has brought a "more practical and flexible approach" than the previous administration.

"They never recognized the enormity of what we're working through," Paul Rainwater, the Louisiana governor's recovery coordinator, said. "We're not just trying to rebuild buildings here but entire communities."

There is still much more to this recovery story that would take much more space than is here. Other areas of the coast toward Mississippi were devastated by the storm. And this doesn't even address the damage done in south Texas by Hurricane Rita in the weeks after Katrina.

Four years can be a long time. But with a challenge like this, it seems to many probably just like a blink of an eye.

Christian Potts 366-3531 cpotts@normantranscript.com