5 years after Katrina, a revival not yet complete

NEW ORLEANS -- Gulf Coast residents tried to put Hurricane Katrina behind them Sunday, marking its fifth anniversary by casting wreaths into the water to remember the hundreds killed. But part of the catastrophe lives on, in abandoned homes still bearing spray-painted circles indicating that they had been searched and whether bodies were found inside.

In the Lower 9th Ward, a neighborhood that has seen little of that recovery, it was the failures that seemed more apparent to residents.

"It don't seem like much is getting done," said Charlene LaFrance, a 42-year-old teacher who watched commemoration events on Claiborne Avenue. Brass bands played dirges and marches and politicians spoke about the nation's failure to do enough to rebuild New Orleans, in particular the Lower 9th Ward.

The neighborhood, downriver from the French Quarter, was devastated when the floodwall on the Industrial Canal toppled and unleashed a wall of water that knocked scores of homes off their foundations. Many of the 1,800 people killed by Katrina died in the Lower 9th Ward, and only about a quarter of the 5,400 homes there before the storm have been rebuilt.

Marc Morial, a former New Orleans mayor and the president of the National Urban League, told a jubilant crowd that the Lower 9th Ward can be rebuilt.

"All it needs is decent, strong levees that don't break, " he said.

The Army Corps of Engineers is nearing completion on a levee system for New Orleans that the agency says should withstand a Katrina-like storm once it is finished next summer. The Lower 9th Ward is now protected by a massive damlike structure.

Ceremonies were also held in Mississippi, where at least 175 people were killed by the storm. In Biloxi, U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., compared the Gulf Coast to the area's oak trees: scarred but strong enough to survive.

At a marble wall in Shell Beach, La., honoring the 163 people killed in coastal St. Bernard Parish, more than 100 people braved Sunday's soggy weather as parish officials read aloud the victims' names.

Diane Phillips, whose two cousins and several friends died in the storm, volunteered to lay a wreath in the bayou. Some wiped away tears as the wreath floated away.

"You think of the whole entire parish and everything that we lost that day and everything that we've brought back since then," said Phillips, 51, of Hopedale.

Gladys Nunez and Linda Wells didn't know each other before the ceremony, but both knew many of those whose names are etched in the memorial.

Nunez wrapped her arm around Wells, who was visiting the site for the first time.

"I had to come see for myself and try to put this behind me," said Wells, 50, of Chalmette.

Nunez, 68, of Toca, said: "It's something we'll live with for the rest of our life. It never goes away."