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
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
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
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
Johnson presented LeBlanc with a signed jersey and two tickets to the
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