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Controversial Tour of Katrina Disaster; Former Pro Athlete Helps New Orleans Ministry


New Orleans suffered during Hurricane Katrina. Its image suffered too -- including TV images of displaced poor people apparently abandoned in a sports arena. The bad publicity continues. Now, the devastated city is the subject of disaster tourism.

It appears innocuous enough -- tourists in a bus seeing a city. In this case, however, the city is New Orleans. The sights are the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina.

Some, like New Orleans resident James Christana, are outraged. "I don't think they should make money off showing devastation in Louisiana. It just doesn't seem right."

Other residents, such as Neal Fisher, believe the planned tours serve a constructive purpose. "It's important people from out of town have the opportunity to see the damage around here first hand,” he says.

Bus officials say this is a way to help rebuild New Orleans. But some feel the bus company is profiting from their misery.

"Certainly if I were a Katrina victim, I wouldn't be excited about tour buses screaming down the street," says visitor Derek Robinson.

Morale in New Orleans is dangerously low. A recent study says the suicide rate in the town once called the "Big Easy" is currently more than double the national average.

The violent storm and its aftermath left many in despair over their damaged homes and businesses. Insurance experts estimate reparations for property damage from Hurricane Katrina will reach more than 40 billion dollars.

Amidst the devastation and despair, there are some, like Danny Wuerffel, who are trying to help. Once a star college and professional American football player, Mr. Wuerffel turned his back on fame and fortune to help the poor in New Orleans.

"I actually said a prayer. I said, ‘Lord, I want to be a part, while I'm here in the city, to do something good’."

When Mr. Wuerffel retired from pro football, he devoted himself to working in the Desire Street Ministries, helping educate children in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the U.S.

Then came Hurricane Katrina, which left the entire neighborhood underwater.

"The first concern was finding the kids,” said the former football player. “Hoping that the kids got out. Where was our staff? Where were the extended families?"

Mr. Wuerffel started looking for a new home for the school. He found one, through his alma mater, the University of Florida.

Mr. Wuerffel and all those connected to what was once Desire Street Ministries were grateful.

"One of the true blessings of the storm is that maybe more people will be aware of what's going on,” Mr. Wuerffel said. “The real tragedy is not the violence that happened after the storm, but the reality that many people lived with that before the storm."

Next summer, the school will relocate once again, to Baton Rouge, Louisiana.