NEW ORLEANS (AP) — 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.
“The restaurants opened lickety split, as fast as they could,” said Tom Fitzmorris, publisher of The New Orleans Menu. “Everybody is doing well. We have very few closings. I don’t know anybody who is complaining.”
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. The Justice Department also has negotiated ambitious plans to reform the police force and improve conditions at the city’s jail.