Five years ago, a New Orleans native by the name of Terrell became separated from his family — his mother, his sister, his brother and his nieces — in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when he volunteered to help neighbors to safety during the category 5 natural disaster. His story wasn't unlike the ordeals experienced by many other residents in the Gulf Coast region at the time. Down and hard up on his luck, the young man was determined to reunite with his loved ones.
"I haven't slept since Monday, just transporting people through the flood to the Superdome," he told MTV News' Sway at the time, referring to the New Orleans Saints football stadium where survivors were temporarily housed. "It's a boat that I found and I'm walking through the water pulling a boat of young people and elderly people just to get them out of harm's way. Three o'clock this morning, I'm pulling the boat and I see a guy, he was holding his baby, floating in the water, they were dead. I had to take a whole 'nother route. This is what I seen with my own eyes."
Despite the difficult challenges, two days later Terrell found his family in Houston at the Astrodome, where they had been evacuated to for safety concerns.
It was only one story of hope fulfilled. But this enduring example represents what's been going on in the city since: the resolve and persistence of those affected overcoming the odds through sheer will and pride and with a flair for the dramatic. From the Super Bowl-winning New Orleans Saints to the residents of Louisiana coming together once again to fight through another setback, namely the BP oil spill, this corner of the country has proven to be the bedrock of our nation.
A study released earlier this month by the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center and the Brookings Institution shows that the city's residents are better off financially than they were five years ago, according to CNN. However, with as many as 1,800 people killed during the storm and a larger number of natives having permanently relocated to Houston, Atlanta, towns in Mississippi and other area cities, the findings may be skewed.
Tourism, though, is still a key contributor to the city's success and the pulse of the city's economy. While nowhere near the levels it was pre-Katrina (10 million-plus visitors a year), the number of tourists arriving to the city known for its musical legacy, culinary treats and Mardi Gras festivities has grown steadily from 3.7 million the year after the storm to nearly 8 million last year, according to an ABC News report.
And while corruption had been a larger part of the New Orleans government and executive leadership in the past, earlier this year, democratic mayoral candidate Mitch Landrieu was elected to lead the city, with a staggering 66 percent of the vote and carrying 365 out of 366 voting precincts. Landrieu's speech during his swearing-in ceremony perhaps best captured the new spirit of New Orleans and may ultimately prove to be the message the city wishes to send to the world.
"That first step is to declare that we are no longer recovering, we are no longer rebuilding. Now, we are creating," Landrieu told his constituents in May. "Let's stop thinking about rebuilding the city we were and start dreaming about the city we want to become. The world deserves a better New Orleans. So, people of New Orleans, hear this: Today is a new day. Today is a new time."
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