Today’s 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is an occasion to remember that fateful day — Aug. 29, 2005 — when the storm arrived. Yet the true test of Louisiana’s resolve came not on one day, but in the many days and weeks — indeed, the months and years — that followed. That’s when we grasped, with frightening clarity, that Katrina wasn’t a momentary monster of our imaginations, but an enduring reality that shadowed every aspect of this region’s civic life.
We were not, by the measure of many, the best equipped people to deal with disaster on an epic scale. Laissez les bon temps rouler, our national brand, caused critics to question whether we could confront the practical challenges of recovery. Yet our cultural peculiarities emerged as our biggest strength.
The state’s flair for improvisation, so central to its music and cuisine, became the guiding genius of first responders and recovery personnel. The Cajun navy, a flotilla of fishing vessels and wildlife agency boats that took the stranded to safety, became an emblem of our ingenuity in the teeth of despair. Doctors and nurses valiantly brainstormed their own solutions to power outages and scarce supplies. We made it through by making do.
Louisiana’s joie de vivre, its talent for finding joy in improbable places, sustained us through terrible times. The first Mardi Gras after Katrina — the mere fact that there was a Mardi Gras — showed that we were distressed, yet not defeated.
In a state known for hospitality, we reflexively opened doors for our own, with Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Alexandria and Shreveport accommodating thousands of evacuees from New Orleans. In doing so, we were reminded that any threat to a part of Louisiana threatens all of Louisiana.
That was the profound lesson of Katrina — that something which broke so much apart could teach us, at the deepest level, how connected we are. America and the world realized how much they needed New Orleans. Billions of dollars poured in for the recovery, and so many volunteers arrived to help that we couldn’t house them all. Cities around the nation hosted evacuees, too. They have our undying gratitude.
We’ve tried to repay that generosity by sharing what Katrina taught us. Because of the hard lessons we learned, this nation was better prepared to deal with Superstorm Sandy and other disasters.
Today, we honor Katrina’s dead, celebrate its survivors and commit ourselves to continuing what remains to be done in healing the storm’s damage. There’s still work ahead, but that we are looking ahead is a victory in itself.
On Aug. 29, 2005, no one could be sure that New Orleans and Louisiana had a future. A decade later, we’re back, with a resilience that no storm can ever wash away.