Louisianans Rid Grief in Hurricane Katrina Symbolic Burial

The US is set to mark the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina hitting the Gulf coast, killing more than 1,800 people.

Meredith Guy,5, of Metairie, looks into a "Katrina casket," where people placed notes and items, after an Ecumenical "funeral service" for Hurricane Katrina at Our Lady of Prompt Succor Catholic Church in Chalmette, La., one day before the fifth anniversary of the storm, which took over 1,000 lives and devastated the region, Saturday, Aug. 28, 2010.

As New Orleans observes the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, hitting the Gulf coast, killing more than 1,800 people, – “celebrates” is not the right word – a swirl of emotions has enveloped the city.

From New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward to the Mississippi coast, people hit hard byKatrina were paying homage Sunday to those killed by the storm’s devastation — exactly five years after it hit the Gulf Coast.

Hundreds of mourners dropped notes, cards and letters – many of them stained with tears – into a steel-gray casket on Saturday in a symbolic burial of Hurricane Katrina.

One letter written by a child in red crayon said: “Go away from us.” Another note remembered one of the 1,800 victims of Katrina: “R.I.P. Gloria, I will always love you.” The casket, along with some of the anger, grief and frustration, was later interred under an appropriately dark sky as rain pounded umbrellas.

“I asked for no more suffering, for everything to come back to where it was,” Walter Gifford, 47, said of his note. He rebuilt his home and moved back to the area near New Orleans. “I ask for the sadness for so many to end.”

Community emmbers applaud after a "Katrina casket " was closed during an Ecumenical funeral service for Hurricane Katrina at Our Lady of Prompt Succor Catholic Church in Chalmette, La., one day before the fifth anniversary of the storm, which took over 1,000 lives and devastated the region, Saturday,Aug. 28, 2010.

For many, the mood is one of mourning the 1,800 people killed by the storm that hit Aug. 29, 2005. In New Orleans, the bells will toll at St. Louis Cathedral in honor of the dead. Services also were planned in Shell Beach and St. Bernard Parish — where all but two buildings flooded.

“I cried a lot while I wrote my letter,” said Nancy Volpe, 61, who moved back into her house in November. “But I’m finally home. I can’t tell you how much better I know the meaning of that word – home.”

When the casket was finally closed, people applauded. “I’ve been to many funerals,” said Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond. “But I’m sure this is the first time I’ve heard applause when they closed the casket.”

Funeral director Floyd W. Herty Jr. planned the service. “I’ve been a funeral director all my adult life, and I know the power the service has to let people begin healing,” Herty said.

St. Bernard Fire Chief Tommy Stone places a firefighter helmet in a "Katrina casket " during an Ecumenical funeral service for Hurricane Katrina at Our Lady of Prompt Succor Catholic Church in Chalmette, La., one day before the fifth anniversary of the storm, which took over 1,000 lives and devastated the region, Saturday,Aug. 28, 2010.

The funeral was one of dozens of events planned to mark the fifth anniversary of the massive storm that wrecked New Orleans, south Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

A “healing ceremony” and march were planned in the Lower 9th Ward — where only about a quarter of the 5,400 homes that stood in the area before the storm have been rebuilt. Many still bear a constant reminder of Katrina, spray-painted circles indicating they had been searched and whether bodies were inside.

In the afternoon, President Barack Obama will speak at Xavier University — which, like 80 percent of New Orleans, was flooded when the levees failed. He will recall those who died and reassure those who have returned that he is committed to rebuilding.

Other events were planned throughout the region, including a reunion of those who evacuated to the Superdome and memorials in coastal St. Tammany and Plaquemines Parishes.

Notes and items which were placed by community members are seen in a "Katrina casket " during an Ecumenical funeral service for Hurricane Katrina at Our Lady of Prompt Succor Catholic Church in Chalmette, La., one day before the fifth anniversary of the storm, which took over 1,000 lives and devastated the region, Saturday, Aug. 28, 2010.

The city of New Orleans will mark the anniversary with a quite ceremony Sunday night, including a tolling of the bells of St. Louis Cathedral, the famed building overlooking Jackson Square, and a candlelight vigil for the dead.

“I’m tired of the anniversaries,” said Barbara Washington, 77, who lost her home in New Orleans and is now living in a suburb. “I miss my home every day. I feel lost. But I also know we are getting back. We’re survivors.”

Hurricane Katrina slammed ashore near New Orleans with winds of up to 125mph (201 km/h) – making it a Category 3 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale. It had only just weakened from Category 5 and brought ashore a massive storm surge.

Entire communities on the Gulf Coast were obliterated, and than a million people were displaced and scattered around the US. Many were housed in Federal Emergency Management Agency caravans.

Hundreds of thousands of people fled New Orleans and with much of its housing stock destroyed, the city’s population a year after the storm was only half its pre-Katrina level of 1.3 million. According to US census figures, by July 2009, its population had recovered to 90% of its pre-storm level. [via NPR, Politics Daily and Huffington Post]

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