Five years ago, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the U.S. Gulf Coast. Recovery from the massive storm has been a long and painful process. Among recorded Atlantic Hurricanes, Katrina was one of the most powerful, ranking sixth all-time. More than 1800 people were killed either during the storm's landfall or in the floods that followed, and total damage was estimated at $125 billion.
Recovery from Katrina continues to this day. And residents along the U.S. Gulf Coast are marking the fifth anniversary of the natural disaster with ceremonies aimed at burying the past and moving forward.
The Archbishop of New Orleans, Gregory M. Aymond, presided over one of the largest ceremonies on Saturday in St. Bernard Parish. "Today, we come together to bury Katrina. Where was God five years ago on this day? Here, weeping with us, and trying to console us in the midst of a natural tragedy."
A casket was filled with messages written by residents. After the lid was closed to symbolize the end of a traumatic period in their lives, Archbishop Aymond said "I am sure, like you, I have been present for many funerals, but I must say that today was the first time, when the casket was closed, that there was an applause. That does not usually happen, even if the person may not be the most popular, there usually is not an applause when they close the casket. But there was one, and I would say, a very appropriate applause."
Susan Showalter is a resident of St. Bernard Parish and attended the service. "We needed to do this. It's getting old. It's getting so old,” she said. “You try to move on. Everything's moving forward, and every now and then, like he said, a smell or a certain event will trigger this. So, I'm hoping this is the last time I'm crying for it."
Another local resident, Warren Minter, said the memories of the disaster will never really go away. "You will never bury Katrina. But you will always have the memories. But this helps a little bit with closure. There's a lot went on. Everybody in this parish has a story. It is never all going to be told," Minter said
Nancy Guy moved to St. Bernard Parish after the storm, and says Hurricane Katrina will always remain a big part of the local community. "You know, it is always going to be part of you. Just like somebody who passes away, you know, you never forget them. You know? They leave something behind, but you know, you try to grow from it - from everything."
The storm surge from Hurricane Katrina flooded about 80 percent of the bowl-like city which sits mostly below sea level. More than 50 locations failed along the 560-kilometer long system of levees and flood walls.
The $15 billion allocated by the U.S. Congress is being spent to fix areas that toppled. Water pumping facilities are being upgraded and new floodgates are being installed. The new design is considered much stronger and is expected to be completed by next June.