New Orleans Struggles to Shed 'Wild West' Feel

For centuries, New Orleans, built on marshland below sea level, stood as a marvel of engineering -- a symbol of man's will over nature.

Then came Hurricane Katrina.

When two levees broke, 80 percent of New Orleans went underwater. Rooftops became islands of desperation. A cry went out for volunteers with boats.

"You can still see the waterlines on the houses," said John Cassidy, who was among hundreds who answered the call, revisiting the Ninth Ward.

Some have wondered whether it's worth it to pour billions of dollars into an area that's eroding faster than anywhere else in the world. According to the Army Corps of Engineers, southern Louisiana is losing a piece of land the size of a tennis court every 38 seconds.

Count New Orleans Deputy Mayor Greg Meffert among those who have no doubt it's worth it.

"If you don't mind living in a world without a New Orleans, then I feel sorry for you, I really do," he said. "And you're the victim, not us."

'Like the Wild West'

The official statewide Katrina death toll in Louisiana is 1,080, according to The Associated Press. But the New Orleans mayor's office says 2,000 people are still missing and more than 1,000 bodies have yet to be identified.

With more than 200,000 homes lost due to Katrina, 230,000 people were displaced and 30,000 are still waiting for trailers.

But people are making their way back, Meffert said.

"It shocks people to find there are 250,000 people already here," he said, "people living with their mom or their aunt or their whoever. And they're coming back to a town that isn't exactly easy to live in."

"It's kind of like the Wild West," he added. "It's a real time to build and be a forefather of this city."

Waiting for Money

But the residents are returning to a city that's still waiting for a lot of promised financial aid to come through, to a city where the police are working out of a hotel lobby.

"We've seen the announcements and have the feeling that a lot of things are on the way," Meffert said, "but actually have struggled in terms of going through the process, if you will, the bureaucracy of actually getting to the dollars that we need to help rebuild the city."

The image of New Orleans that gets passed around in political circles is a devastated city, not a recovering one, which could be hurting the city.

"Meanwhile, we're a real city," Meffert said. "We're not a cause or a symbol and you got 500,000 people coming here this weekend to see us for what we are, which is a city and not just a political football."

Meffert believes money exists in the federal budget to fix New Orleans faster, but it's "just a matter of priorities as a country."