Hawks Get First-Hand Look At Hurricane Katrina Aftermath

Hurricane Katrina victim Phyllis Montana LeBlanc
spoke to the
Hawks about living through the devastation

Katrina: Two Years Later
Hawks get first-hand look at New Orleans two years after the storm

by Micah Hart

  • Photos of Hawks Visit

    NEW ORLEANS (Oct. 24, 2007) -- It's hard to put into words what it's like to look at the areas affected by
    Hurricane Katrina. It's something you have to see for yourself to realize the
    magnitude of the damage caused by the storm and it's aftermath.

    That's what the Hawks did yesterday, most of them for the first time (only
    Speedy Claxton had been to New Orleans since the storm; he played for the
    Hornets in the first season post-Katrina, when they played most of their home
    games in Oklahoma City). They saw areas of New Orleans East, where literally
    several thousands of homes remain uninhabitable over two years later. They also
    saw the Lower Ninth Ward section of the city, where all that remains of what was
    once a heavily populated section are acres and acres of overgrown lots with
    scattered bricks the only remnants of the homes that once stood there.

    "We don't realize sometimes just how lucky we are," said Hawks coach Mike

    Katrina affected many areas other than New Orleans - the Mississippi gulf
    coast was almost totally destroyed and Alabama took a significant hit as well -
    but New Orleans is the spot that has gained the most attention nationally
    because of it's stature in the American cultural landscape. And when you hear
    that maybe half the population of the city has yet to return since the storm, it
    dawns on you that the city they call the Big Easy may never be again what it
    once was.

    As I
    in the weekly podcast
    on Monday, we have a tendency in this country to
    mourn a tragedy for a short period of time, then move on. Sadly, there is always
    something else to come at us to divert our attention - just look at the
    situation right now with the wildfires in the area around San Diego, and the
    water-shortage issue at home here in Georgia. It's easy to put the horrors of
    what happened to the people affected by Hurricane Katrina on the backburner and
    just assume that everything is ok. But to travel around down here, you clearly
    see that everything is not OK.

    It's been over two years, but to drive through the bulk of New Orleans East,
    you'd swear it happened a few weeks ago.

    "That really surprised me," said Hawks rookie Al Horford, who played in the
    NCAA Tournament in New Orleans in 2005 and saw some of the devastation then. "I
    thought after two years things would be in much better shape. I was really
    stunned to see the conditions that a lot of the city is still in."

    The team got an up-close-and-personal look at how residents have been
    affected when they met with Phyllis Montana LeBlanc, a resident featured
    prominently in Spike Lee's HBO documentary "When The Levees Broke" (a must-see
    for anyone interested in what happened to the city in the aftermath of the

    Hawks VP of Public Relations Arthur Triche, who spent the first 26 years of
    his life in New Orleans, arranged for the team to visit her at her sister's
    house, where she and her husband have lived in a FEMA trailer (her "FEMA
    condominium" as she called it) for the last two years.

    "New Orleans is my home, and I'll never leave," she said, echoing the fierce
    pride most of the New Orleans population feels for their city. "We are committed
    to rebuilding it and getting it back to the place it was before. We just need
    help to make that happen."

    LeBlanc exhorted the Hawks to contribute in any way they could, either with
    their time or money, because it all makes a difference. Despite her situation,
    she maintains a positive outlook that seems almost hard to believe given what
    she's been through.

    "I don't know how she did it," wondered Hawks G Anthony Johnson. "I can't
    even fathom what it was like to go through what they went through."

    Indeed, it is very difficult to imagine living through the chaos.

    New Orleans Police Deputy Superintendent John Bryson gave the team a glimpse
    into what it was like, captivating the team as he served as their tour guide (if
    you want to call it that) into the lower ninth. He explained what happened when
    the Industrial Canal burst, causing water to shoot into the neighborhood at
    speeds of up to 300 miles per hour, and showed waterlines on some of the houses
    that reached upwards of 20 feet off the ground.

    Bryson also took questions during the tour, enlightening the team on looting
    and the lack of evacuation leading up to the storm. He took issue with much of
    the mainstream media coverage, explaining that most of the looting was for
    essentials, and those who did steal TVs and stereos were unable to get the
    merchandise out of the city and were therefore caught. Similarly, he noted that
    most of the population didn't refuse to leave - they couldn't afford to.

    Afterwards, Hawks G Salim Stoudamire voiced his thoughts on seeing the

    "It made my stomach churn," he said. "These people had no hope."

    Though the storm has long since passed, the people still deal with what
    happened on a daily basis. And though much of the country has moved on, the
    residents of New Orleans know how important it is to keep their city on the
    national radar. That's why it was so important to Triche that the team see how
    much further the rebuilding effort has to go.

    "I hope the little glimpse the team got will make them realize how fortunate
    they are," said Triche. "It's important that these guys see what the people here

    Judging by the looks on their faces afterwards, I'd say there is no doubt
    that if they didn't before, they certainly do now.

    FEMA trailers outside of a house in New Orleans East

    New Orleans resident Phyllis Montana LeBlanc met with the Hawks to talk about
    her experiences

    Hawks listen as LeBlanc tells them about what happened during the Hurricane

    guys get a look at LeBlanc's "FEMA condominium"

    Hawks broadcaster Steve Smith, Josh Smith, and Speedy Claxton pose with a New
    Orleans resident

    Johnson presented LeBlanc with a signed jersey and two tickets to the
    Hawks-Hornets game

    Assistant coaches Larry Drew and Alton Lister thank LeBlanc for telling her

    look at the lower ninth ward as the bus entered the area

    church in the lower ninth ward

    Most of the houses were destroyed completely, but some still wait to be

    LeBlanc was the team's guest at the Hawks-Hornets preseason game