Katrina's scars hard to see as game looms
Published: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 at 2:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 at 2:02 p.m.
New Orleans has celebrated plenty of milestones on its slow road to recovery from Hurricane Katrina, but arguably none is bigger than hosting its first Super Bowl since the 2005 storm left the city in shambles.
To see the remnants of Katrina's destruction, fans coming to town for Sunday's game will have to stray from the French Quarter and the downtown corridor where the Superdome is located. Even in the neighborhoods that bore the brunt of the storm, many of the most glaring scars have faded over time.
Billions of dollars in federal money has paid for repairing and replacing tens of thousands of homes wrecked by flooding. Gone are the ubiquitous FEMA trailers that once dotted the landscape. Levees that broke and flooded 80 percent of the city have been fortified with the intent of protecting the city from another epic hurricane.
The city's lifeblood tourism trade has thrived despite the double-barrel blow of Katrina and BP's massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Seafood is plentiful as the harvest rebounds from effects of the oil spill.
Crowds at Jazz Fest and Mardi Gras, two of the city's signature events, have at least matched pre-storm levels. Lured by tax credits, filmmakers have flocked here in droves. And the hospitality industry has been an economic engine for the city, which has more restaurants now than it did when the storm made landfall.
Sunday's Super Bowl is the city's first since 2002, but New Orleans already has hosted a BCS national championship game, a men's Final Four and other major sports and entertainment events in the past 18 months alone.
"That is an extraordinary run of events for a city that seven years ago was 15 feet under water and the last on every list in America that mattered," Mayor Mitch Landrieu said last week. "Now we find ourselves in a city that's on the world stage."
Yet, as far as the city has come, decades-old problems persist. New Orleans remains plagued by violent crime, political corruption, a troubled police department and poverty.
Crime rates briefly dipped after Katrina scattered residents all over the country but quickly soared again as people returned home. Landrieu has made crime reduction one of his top priorities, but the murder rate has remained stubbornly high since he took office in 2010.
After the storm, federal authorities launched a sweeping effort to clean up the police department. Several investigations yielded charges against 20 current or former officers, many of whom were linked to deadly shootings in Katrina's chaotic aftermath.
Separate probes of City Hall corruption revealed that some officials enriched themselves while New Orleans struggled to rebound from the storm. The latest and most prominent target so far is former Mayor Ray Nagin, who was indicted earlier this month on charges he accepted bribes and payoffs in exchange for steering work to city contractors.
For the city's poorest residents, life hasn't gotten any easier since Katrina. Housing costs have skyrocketed while the region's unemployment rate has risen along with the rest of the country. A months-long moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf after the BP spill didn't help matters, either.
Few residents are dwelling on the negative, however, as they prepare for the big game, the legions of celebrities it will bring and the annual Carnival parades that culminate on Feb. 12 with Mardi Gras.
Add Grammy-winning R&B singer Fantasia to the growing list of musical acts heading to New Orleans Super Bowl weekend.
Sherri Shepherd, host of ABC's "The View," and Grammy-winning gospel musician Kirk Franklin, are hosting the Super Bowl Gospel Celebration with performances by Fantasia, Donnie McClurkin, Marvin Winans and Bishop Paul S. Morton of New Orleans.
The NFL-sanctioned event is in its 14th year and will be held on Friday at the UNO Lakefront Arena. Ticket prices start at $40.
The gospel celebration will include a performance by this year's NFL "Players' Choice" hip-hop Christian artist Lecrae, as well as the NFL Players Choir, composed of about 40 current and former players.
Alicia Keys is adding her voice to the Super Bowl show for the third time.
The Grammy-winning R&B singer will perform the national anthem before the NFL championship game.
She sang "America the Beautiful" before the 2005 game, and was part of the pregame show in 2008.
All the single ladies — and fellas — will have a chance to join Beyonce on the field. Pepsi announced that fans will introduce the Grammy-winning diva when she takes the stage. A contest allowed fans to submit photos of themselves in various poses, including head bopping, feet tapping and hip shaking.
Those pictures will be used in a TV ad to air ahead of Beyonce's halftime performance, and 50 of those who submitted photos — along with a friend — will be selected to introduce the singer.
Stevie Wonder is the latest in a parade of entertainers that will perform.
The Rock ‘n' Roll Hall of Fame singer is headlining an outdoor concert on Saturday near the Wyndham Riverfront Hotel.
Also that night, Justin Timberlake is appearing in his first concert in more than four years during "DIRECTV Super Saturday Night," an invitation-only concert that will include a performance by Miami rapper Pitbull.