Monday, May 29, 2006

New Orleans mourns Katrina's dead with jazz funeral

Photos Sean Gardner/Reuters:

New Orleans mourns Katrina's dead with jazz funeral
Reuters on
By Jeffrey JonesMon May 29, 4:08 PM ET

Yvonne Wise recalled many customers of her clothes alteration business as she marched past smashed homes and rusting, overturned cars of New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward to the joyous sounds of a brass band.

Moments before, in New Orleans jazz funeral tradition, the Treme Brass Band's renditions were somber as Wise and dozens of others stood where a levee gave way nine months earlier to the day, sending a torrent through the streets of the Lower Ninth.

There, residents of the neighborhood read the names of more than 1,000 Louisianians killed by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Wise, 58, recognized some of them.

"It went to the heart, you know? To lose that amount of people, and there are still people unaccounted for," she said as the parade wound around the predominantly black and poor community that remains largely a debris field. "I lost a son, not in Katrina but after Katrina. I think he just basically died of heartbreak."

The Memorial Day service and jazz funeral parade was to pay tribute to the more than 1,500 people killed in the disaster, along with U.S. military personnel killed over the years in battle. It was organized by the Lower Ninth Ward Neighborhood Empowerment Network Association, formed by residents who aim to make sure their community gets rebuilt.

Jazz funerals end on a lively note with the band belting out signature tunes like "When the Saints go Marching In" and "Down by the Riverside." Monday's version was no exception.


"That's history, that's home, that's what we do," said Patricia Jones, president of the neighborhood group. The 31-year-old accountant also recognized some of the names read.

Several pastors were on hand to offer encouragement, and to lead a prayer for the newly repaired concrete floodwall three days before the start of the 2006 hurricane season.

Offering optimism is no small feat with destruction, empty homes and now, yards full of weeds, just steps away. Only a small area of the Lower Ninth has running water restored.

"What we should learn from all this is that we need to transcend or rise above what we can see with our own eyes, from our own perspective," the Rev. Oliver Duvernay of Central Missionary Baptist Church told Reuters. "We need to get up a little higher."

Post-Katrina New Orleans is a city of stark contrast. Some neighborhoods are slowly recovering, their streets lined with government-supplied trailers that are temporary homes for families who are renovating.

But not the Lower Ninth. City officials and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have warned residents here and in New Orleans East their communities face the greatest risk of flooding again in the event of another hurricane this season.

Attendees at the service were told it was not a time to point fingers over the disaster that struck the neighborhood where black families have owned homes for generations.

But residents could not hide their frustration with governments and the Corps, which have been accused by independent engineers of not adequately maintaining flood protection systems.

Across town, about 200 people gathered near the spot where the 17th Street canal breached, sending salty waters of Lake Pontchartrain through the Lakeview neighborhood. Mourners dropped 1,577 carnations into the canal's muddy water, one for each person who died in the storm last year.

A bagpipe played against the thump of a pile driver pounding supports for flood gates at the opening of the canal onto the lake. The gates are designed to stop a storm surge from swamping the canal.

(Additional reporting by Peter Henderson)

Photos AP Photo/Alex Brandon:

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