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Touring city's Katrina-ravaged areas


NEW ORLEANS—Everyone has seen news footage of the devastation Hurricane Katrina wrought on New Orleans.

Anyone interested in seeing the damage in person--and much of it remains, more than 18 months later--can try a number of companies that offer bus tours through some of the city's hardest hit areas.

Most of the two- to three-hour tours incorporate drives through damaged neighborhoods with wider tours of New Orleans' neighborhoods, including the relatively undamaged French Quarter and the Garden District.

Some tours focus on the Lakeview neighborhood in the city's northwestern corner, where the 17th Street canal levee breach swamped houses in more than 10 feet of water; others take in the Lower Ninth Ward to the southeast, which was devastated by breaches in the Industrial Canal. Some tours cover both zones as well as neighboring St. Bernard Parish.

One recent tour started in the bustling French Quarter. As the van drove north, the yellowish water lines still visible on buildings and bridge columns steadily rose from only a foot or two east of Interstate 10 to as high as eight feet near City Park.

About 90% of the 1,300-acre City Park was under water after the inundation, with salt water killing or damaging grass throughout the park--including turf on three golf courses and much of the vegetation in the New Orleans Botanical Garden. Many of the park's attractions have since been restored or are in the process of restoration (see story, page T20).

Lakeview, bordered by City Park on the east and Lake Pontchartrain on the north, is still largely a ghost town. Tons of debris have been removed since Katrina struck--and while some residents have returned to rebuild their homes, many blocks in Lakeview remain mostly empty, their houses gutted or boarded up.

Across from the site of the 17th St. Canal breach, a shrimp boat still leans against a tree in someone's front yard with a misspelled message painted on the bow: "Noaha's Arc--No Politicians."

Tours by Isabelle offers a comprehensive post-Katrina city excursion that covers Lakeview, the Lower Ninth Ward, St. Bernard Parish and the Gentilly and New Orleans East neighborhoods. The tours, which run when at least three people buy tickets, are $53 per person and leave at 8:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Other Katrina tour operators include:

  • Gray Line, which charges $35 for adults and $28 for children for tours leaving at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. daily.

  • Celebration Tours, which offers a daily outing that emphasizes the progress of the city's recovery, for $45.

  • Louisiana Swamp Tours, which charges $42 for adults and $20 for children ages four to 12 for a visit of several city districts that includes the Lower Ninth Ward.

  • Cajun Encounters, which charges $42 for adults and $25 for children 12 and younger for daily city tours that visit the Lakeview neighborhood.

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