Katrina Pols Weather Legacy of Storm's Trials

VIDEO: Former New Orleans mayor says the city is "different but the same."

Hurricane Katrina remains significant not only for the devastation it wrought across the Gulf coast but as a test of leadership and mettle for an entire class of elected and appointed figures at all levels of government.

It was a defining moment for mayors, governors, state and national lawmakers, and a president and his administration pushed to limits few anticipated or planned for. And five years later, it's clear the experience became a shining moment in the careers of some, while straining or breaking others.

"Everybody involved in that storm got proved in some fashion or another," said former Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco. "My 24-year career in politics stretched over a great deal more than a double hurricane experience, but that was the most publicly and nationally profiled experience that I had."

VIDEO: Former New Orleans mayor says the city is "different but the same."
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Indeed, the performance of leaders like Blanco has been thoroughly analyzed by congressional committees, the news media and victims of the storm. But experts say that perhaps the most meaningful assessment of their actions lies in the public's confidence, or lack thereof.

"As is often the case in major crises, you get the rally-around-the-flag effect, and leaders tend to immediately benefit," said University of Mississippi political scientist Richard Forgette. "But then that dissipates, and that can have consequences."

President George W. Bush, who shined after Sept. 11, 2001, as the country united around him, has been dogged with criticism for his role during Katrina, an ordeal that has become a stain on his domestic legacy.

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"It was a serious moment for Bush, not just because of this one disaster but because it seemed to fit into an emerging narrative," said Brian Brox, a political scientist at Tulane University. "So many things happened that he didn't seem capable of solving them."

Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown was the first head to roll after the storm, after the public lost confidence in his abilities. He "resigned" weeks into the recovery effort but now insists he was fired. (Brown is working on his memoir, "Deadly Indifference," to tell his side of the story.)

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And, Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff, a seasoned crisis manager who took the brunt of official criticism for the federal government's response, served through the end of the administration but has remained relatively silent on explaining his role during those months in 2005. Chertoff now runs a strategic security and risk management advisory firm.

The scale of the disaster and politics of the storm's recovery effort also took an emotional toll on the individuals tasked with leading it.

Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who left office in May, moved to Dallas, Texas, with his wife and daughter, and is still deciding on his next career.

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"The scars and wounds of Katrina are still with us and they will be for a long time," he said. "With Katrina, she came, she did a devastation, and I was the last man standing, if you will, because Bush left, Kathleen Blanco the governor did not run for reelection, so I took most of the brunt of the anger."

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