August 31st, 2008
08:07 PM ET

NOLA residents: We’ll see you on the other side

Sean Callebs
CNN Correspondent

I have watched the city sort of claw its way back since Katrina. I’ve lived here the past three years.

I have seen tourists slowly return, convention business pick up, and certainly the slowest sign of recovery –people rebuilding their homes and lives.

I watched with complete amazement as people poured out of the city in about a day, instantly turning New Orleans into a ghost town once again.

So, last night I decided this could be the last time I have some free time to myself in a long time, so jumped on the mountain bike and took a ride along the levee next to the Mississippi River.

It was dusk, as I wound my way around and I had a chance to look down at all the homes wondering if they would all be there intact on Tuesday.

But soon, I was focused on the people as they were packing up their cars to leave the city. This wasn’t like three years ago when people packed for a couple of days thinking Katrina would be an ugly little blip and then life would go on. There were big suitcases, grown-ups hugging, kids wondering what the next 48 hours held.

I stopped at a friend’s house, a lawyer from Chile who is set to move back to South America in two weeks. It’s safe to say she is freaking out. She’s now in Tallahassee anxiously waiting for Gustav. When I think of all the work people, PEOPLE, not the government, have poured into this city –I am reminded of that famous NASA line during the Apollo 13 crisis, “Failure is not an option.”

But sadly, people will watch from a distance having to put all their faith in work the Army Corps of Engineers has done on porous levees over the past three years. I have covered a lot of natural disasters, but this is the first time I have lived in a city in the cross-hairs.

It feels odd, and all I can do is cross my fingers and say, “we’ll see you on the other side.”

Filed under: Hurricane Gustav • Sean Callebs
soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. LaVone Doucett

    Thank GOD,for all the people who help evacutes keep their family pets.

    September 1, 2008 at 2:43 am |
  2. Louise

    It's 12:30 AM on September 1, 2008. My main concern is that the 5 foot levees on the West Bank of New Orleans will hold !!!!!!!!!!!!

    September 1, 2008 at 1:31 am |
  3. Badtux

    For the guy above talking about "lowering the water level in Lake Ponchartrain", Lake Ponchartrain is a natural lake, not a man-made lake, and is open to the sea through a passage at its lower end. The lake's level is pretty much sea level though enough fresh water enters the lake to keep it from being entirely salt water. There has been talk of putting a control structure at the lower end of Lake Ponchartrain that could be closed to keep storm surge out of the lake, but it isn't even in the planning stages yet. There's no money for flood control structures, just for wars.

    The biggest problem is going to be the back levees of the West Bank, which almost collapsed during Rita, which hit much further to the west. If Gustav pushes even more water up into Terrebonne Parish compared to RIta, then the West Bank is underwater. And if the Harvey Levee is already open as was suggested above... well.

    September 1, 2008 at 1:14 am |
  4. Chuck

    I guess that if a devastating hurricane is going to hit anywhere, it's a good thing that it's hitting in the middle of the presidental campaign. How did we wind up with three presidents scrambling to be in charge of relief and reconstruction efforts? Isn't this supposed to be FEMA's job?

    September 1, 2008 at 12:44 am |
  5. kim

    For those that don't want to pay for New Orleans to exist. Watch the news, do you use energy at all? If you do chances are you get it from us. Oh and one more thing, we are paying for it as well. The goverment takes a very large part of my paycheck each month and if the goverment does not want to spend the money to improve the wetlands and levees then I want my money back. To those staying to cover this, Thank you.

    August 31, 2008 at 11:42 pm |
  6. D. Gibbons

    Shame on you, Maurice. Timing is everything, and Maurice,this is not the right time to lecture or grandstand. Get off your soapbox.

    I love New Orleans, the people, culture and traditions. There is nothing like it, anywhere. My daughter is a senior at Tulane and this is her second evacuation. Katrina, was the first. People often ask why we encouraged our daughter to return to Tulane and New Orleans after Katrina. For us it was a given, a moral issue. What would happen to Tulane and New Orleans if nobody came back? What is a city without people, a university without students? Four months after Katrina, Tulane opened its doors and the students came back in droves. New Orleans, take care.

    August 31, 2008 at 11:36 pm |
  7. Molly

    As a life-long citizen of New Orleans, I feel that I must respond to Rebecca Miller's post, and her view that "maybe New Orleans shouldn't exist as it did before Katrina" and that people should live in a flood plain. Ms. Miller, how would you feel if someone said the same thing to you if your home was destroyed? There is not a place in the world that does not have the potential for a major natural disaster. New Orleans and other areas that face hurricanes actually have a benefit that many other places don't have- there is a good amount of time and warning before a hurricane hits, whereas many disasters come up immediately. As for building in a flood plain, New Orleans was supposed to be protected by the levees that the Army Corp of Engineers built in the 1920s and 1930s. If the levees had been built and maintained properly, then the breeches would not have happened. Also, New Orleans is hardly the only city built in a lower-lying area. If we had looked at the available models and been more advanced and careful in our technology, Katrina would not have had the impact it did.

    August 31, 2008 at 11:33 pm |
  8. Pat M

    My thoughts and prayers to all who are in the wake of Gustav including Anderson and all the CNN Staff/Reporters out there. Please be safe. Your safety comes first. I pray Gustav will have more mercy than Katrina and it won't be as fierce as predicted. I'm from Canada and even our weather has changed drastically in the last few years. And I keep wondering when it will be our turn. And I'm sure there are likely people throughout the world wondering the same.

    August 31, 2008 at 10:39 pm |
  9. Anna

    I think its time some serious coverage be done other than the titillation of another disaster.

    Yahoo news recently posted a hair raising piece on the shocking racist housing manipulations going on in New Orleans. This needs to be aired in the media.

    The incident on the elevated roadway from New Orleans to the white community of Gretna in the days after Katrina struck– when Gretna police forbid desperate survivors from taking refuge in Gretna. A revisit to Gretna and catching police officials or community representatives is in order.

    It would be refreshing if some real news could actually be injected into the 'bread and circus'.

    August 31, 2008 at 10:37 pm |
  10. Sean

    I am writing from Saint Paul, MN. Want all of the people of NOLA to know we are waiting with you. Drove around town tonight and things here around the Twin Cities are very subdued at time when the Republican National Convention was going to rev things up. It was a windy day here and seemed an eery premonition of the winds you will soon be experiencing. We are watching the news reports and are so glad so many this time could get to safer places. We will keep things on hold up here, watching and praying for your safety. These wishes from your brothers and sisters up the Mighty Mississippi.

    August 31, 2008 at 10:17 pm |
  11. Lisa K. Syracuse, In.


    Once again, such sadness for those who have so much love and passion for their city. God Bless the Vieu Carre...

    August 31, 2008 at 10:11 pm |
  12. Maurice

    NOLA can thank (blame) Bush and his Crew for all the destruction that follows. Yes the storm will be the root cause, but the wholeheated lack of preparedness, and reluctance by the currant Administration to put money where it is needed (rebuilding levees & superstructure) instead of where it is wasted and misdirected by special interests will be all the damning evidence needed to sink the GOP's hopes this November.

    I'd rather have seen anything else "wake up" the US population, but too often tragedy follows comedy, and the last 3 years since Katrina has been a true comedy of errors.

    August 31, 2008 at 10:01 pm |
  13. Kristen

    Your blog brought me to tears. I visted New Orleans this summer and fell in love with the city. To be honest, I was not sure what to expect. I could feel the energy of the people who want to get this fine city back to the way it was. I will keep all the fine people of New Orleans in my toughts and prayers.

    August 31, 2008 at 9:53 pm |
  14. Randy S. Mire

    All I can say is GOD BLESS EVERYONE in New Orleans and the area. Its sad to see and hear of the destruction of this wonderful city.I think God that the people have done so much to rebuild because the government hasnt done anything except to pass blame onto each other.

    August 31, 2008 at 9:50 pm |

    Have just seen Sean Callebs on CNN in the last few minutes talking about the latest situation. I cannot believe this beautiful vibrant city is again facing a natural disaster of such proportions. How strong her people must be. At least this time they will not suffer the indignities and danger of Katrina. I am observing whats happening in USA from Australia and my heart goes out to everyone involved and especially to your CNN team who are as always at the forefront of the action. An old Scottish saying 'when you are this far down the only way to go is back up". NOLA you have done it before and you will do it again! BE SAFE.

    August 31, 2008 at 9:37 pm |
  16. Ed Propes

    News Orleans has been like America. It takes the hard hit but comes fighting right back. I have faith that after Gustav New Orleans and the rest of the area will come fighting back. Don't worry about the politics, roll up your sleeves and go to work like an American. As I heard earlier this evening "even if you don't know the steps keep on dancing". God Bless!

    August 31, 2008 at 9:36 pm |
  17. Rebecca Miller

    This blog brought home the impact of fear of a looming disaster. I feel badly for those affected. But I can't help but think that New Orleans should not even exist as it did prior to Katrina. And maybe this will be the end of people living below the flood plain and mankind thinking it can stand in the way of nature forever. We should not be living below flood plains and we should not be paying for people to live there. It is stupidity!

    August 31, 2008 at 9:27 pm |
  18. Gerry

    Gustav is coming but I don't hear anything about lowering the lake level of Lake Ponchartrain.WHY? I have seen this in other cases where those in charge seem to be aware of the danger if the water rises but days in advance when the water level can be lowered gradually nothing is done. Am I accurate in what I am seeing?

    August 31, 2008 at 9:21 pm |
  19. Michele

    You and all of your team down there stay safe.
    My thoughts and prayers are with everyone from NOLA, ALA, MS, and FL.
    Florida is getting some nasty wind and rain from Gustav.
    Just spoke to a freind who lives in Pennsacola.

    Hazleton, PA

    August 31, 2008 at 9:20 pm |
  20. Josh from Jersey

    Sean Callebs, are you going to stay during the storm to report?

    August 31, 2008 at 8:35 pm |
  21. JT from Jackson TN

    It amazes me, New Orleans is a big city and now it looks like a ghost town as you have said. I'm sure the scene is much more amazing in person but just seeing it on tv is mind bloggling. I have a question tho, the traffic on the Interstates look congested and slowly moving do those people have enough time to get out?

    August 31, 2008 at 8:28 pm |
  22. Jenna Lloyd

    Good luck and God bless to everyone!

    August 31, 2008 at 8:28 pm |
  23. Deborah Dilker

    May God be with these people and may they have the foresight to see that everything in life happens for a reason and often it is the reason of God.

    August 31, 2008 at 8:26 pm |
  24. gary reid

    I lived through Katrina, volunteered for 2yrs, been rebuilding my home,
    diagnosed with liver cancer a few months ago, and now we are being rewarded with Hurricane Gustav!!! Like many of my friends and relatives– I GIVE UP!!! I can't do this any more.
    I'm going to leave and try to find a new home away from the Gulf Coast..

    August 31, 2008 at 8:23 pm |
  25. Jolene

    Glad you had a chance to enjoy some leisure and calm before the storm. Did you take any pics? Would be interesting to see how that area you rode through looks before and then after the storm. Looks like Gustav is starting early so stay safe and thanks for blogging.

    Jolene, St. Joseph, MI

    August 31, 2008 at 8:18 pm |
  26. Matthew

    I can feel the sadness in this blog. I was in New Orleans last year and have been there in the past. My Brother lives there and I have not heard from him. NOLA is a special place and I hope it is missed this time around. The City is to close to getting back together, she doesn't need another big hit. Thanks and good luck to all.

    August 31, 2008 at 8:17 pm |
  27. Lizabeth from Manhattan

    I just saw Anderson Cooper blanked out because the hurricane is already hitting. My prayers are with him.

    August 31, 2008 at 8:16 pm |
  28. cyndilu9

    Very interesting blog, Anderson. It gives a unique prespective about this scary situation. My prayers are with everyone in LA and NO of course. God's speed.

    August 31, 2008 at 8:16 pm |
  29. SMcKnight

    Harvey Levy has a breach. It is not fixed. Hurricane Gustav will flood New Orleans. Get out now. From there. The levy is not built! The levy is open.

    St. Bernard also has serious problem but not already breached. Use your maps to find Harvey Levy in New Orleans. It cannot hold fifteen feet of water in St. Bernard, but Harvey has a breach now. Today it is open. It cannot hold even lower amounts, as it is open.

    Get out now.

    August 31, 2008 at 8:11 pm |