SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

September 16, 2013

Phelps: There is hope eight years after Katrina

Boarded up homes, collapsed roofs, shuttered businesses and empty overgrown lots lined the streets as I drove into the Lower Ninth Ward on the outskirts of New Orleans. It broke my heart to think it’s been eight years since Hurricane Katrina devastated the region.

Over the years, there’s been significant progress with families returning and homes being rebuilt — some 150 new homes alone built with funds from a foundation started by superstar Brad Pitt. Among the remaining devastation, I saw kids riding bikes, people sitting on front porches and families gathering outside for dinner as the sun set.

While I saw signs of life, I was overwhelmed by the amount of work that still needs to be done. I questioned: Has America forgotten?

I traveled to the Big Easy earlier this summer with a group from Grace Chapel in Lexington to work with ReachGlobal, a relief organization affiliated with the Evangelical Free Church of America. I didn’t know what to expect going on the trip until I saw the wreckage with my own eyes. Like many others I had become numb to the aftermath of the tragedy.

Hurricane Katrina is considered to be one of the most catastrophic natural disasters in recent U.S. history. More than 1,000 people died across the Gulf Coast and hundreds of thousands of others were displaced. Who can forget the images of the floodwaters overtaking much of New Orleans when the levees broke?

Lionel Lewis Jr. sure hasn’t. He was trapped on his roof alongside his elderly mother, brother, sister-in-law and niece after the flood waters overtook his home in the Upper Ninth Ward.

“You couldn’t see the street signs, which are eight to 10 feet tall,” Lionel recalled. “They were totally engulfed by water.”

They were eventually rescued by helicopter.

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