French Quarter and Ninth Ward: Tale of Two Cities

Beads and beer litter Bourbon Street, while jazz and blues encourage revelers celebrating Mardi Gras 2006. On the surface, everything seems normal in New Orleans' French Quarter six months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the area.

"You know, this is the bright side of it, but people, what they are going through, 85 percent of the houses are gone in this city," said New Orleans resident Maryann Valentino.

Just three miles away from one of the biggest parties of the year, the Lower Ninth Ward stands frozen in the beleaguered state in which Katrina left it, a testament to how far New Orleans has to go before it fully recovers.

"This city is in a world of hurt," said Mitch Landrieu, the lieutenant governor of Louisiana. "We're very slowly crawling our way back."

A new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll reflects Landrieu's measured optimism. A majority of people -- 57 percent -- estimate the city will return to normal. Landrieu emphasized the city could not do it alone.

"We can't do this without the American public," Landrieu said. "It's an American problem that requires an American response. … This story is about New Orleans as much as it is about America itself."

"There are elements [of New Orleans] that are exactly the way you left it," said New Orleans resident Maryann Lewis. "So if you love that restaurant, it's going to be there waiting on you and needing you to come back and visit and if you don't this year, well next year might be too late."

New Orleans is facing several serious obstacles. Six months after Katrina, half of the city's residents still have not returned home. The government is nearly $200 million in the red, and a survey by The Washington Post found that charities had already spent $2 billion of the $3 billion collected after the hurricane.

Landrieu pointed to other moments in history when cities had recovered from equal or worse disasters -- Europe after WWII, San Francisco after the earthquake of 1906.

New Orleans has made huge strides. Restaurants have reported strong business during the buildup to Mardi Gras, although there are only 506 restaurants operating out of the 1,882 in the city before Katrina. There are only about 15,000 out of the 25,000 hotels in the city pre-Katrina operating, but those are also filled.

"The spirit's strong here," Landrieu said. "The city's going to get rebuilt over time."

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