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New Orleans: A tale of 2 cities since Katrina

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New Orleans: A tale of 2 cities since Katrina

NEW ORLEANS (AP) While a blimp hovers not too far in the distance, circling over tens of thousands of Super Bowl revelers, Christopher Weaver looks around at the neighborhood where he was born and raised and almost died.

He loves this place, probably more now than he did back in 2005, before Hurricane Katrina tried to wash it all away.

But it's not much to look at, that's for sure.

``You can see it for yourself,'' Weaver moaned to a reporter, staring Friday at all the vacant lots, overrun with weeds that are taller than he is, at all the abandoned shells of former homes, many of them still marked with the spray-painted ``X'' that became the grim symbol of a great American city nearly wiped off the map.

``I'm going to be honest with you,'' he went on. ``It sucks here. Just look across the street. Nothing. Look over there. Nothing.''

In many ways, New Orleans has come back stronger than ever since Katrina. The restaurant scene is thriving. The hotels are packed. The Superdome has received a glamorous makeover. The French Quarter rocks into the wee hours night after night.

But, as the Big Easy prepares to host the party-slash-national holiday it does like no other, Super Bowl Sunday, it's worth remembering that life has not yet returned to normal for everyone here.

Not even close.

``It's like a tale of two cities,'' said Mike Miller, who works with the homeless group Unity of Greater New Orleans. ``It's hard to believe that seven years later, it still looks like this.''

Just a short ride from the French Quarter, in historic neighborhoods such as Treme and the Ninth Ward, it's not hard to find a virtual time capsule from the days when Katrina roared ashore. On block after block, there are structures that look pretty much the same as they did after the water receded.

There are the telltale markings that show just how high it climbed when the levees cracked - 3 feet on this crumbling house, 5 feet on those remains of a shopping mall, 7 feet on that ghostly apartment complex. Those Xs still mark the date many of them were searched, who did the searching and how many bodies, if any, were found inside.

Where kids once played and neighbors used to hang out together, now all that remains could easily pass for a former war zone.

``It's just hard to believe that every abandoned house, every abandoned apartment, represents a family that never came back,'' Miller said, shaking his head.

Even after all these years, it all looks so familiar to anyone who remembers those horrific images of people clinging to rooftops and huddled on bridges, waiting desperately for help to arrive.

``You can still see,'' said Travers Kurr, also with Unity of Greater New Orleans, pointing toward the roof of a boarded-up house, ``where people busted out of their attics so they could be rescued.''

Weaver was one of those who barely got out alive.

When Katrina struck, he was looking out a window toward the levee about a block away, the one that was supposed to keep him safe. Instead, he watched it tear apart right before his eyes - and the water come rushing through.

He tried to escape the conventional way, but the pressure from winds howling at well over 100 mph prevented him from opening the door. He busted a window and climbed out, only to get pinned against the wall of his house by the rapidly rising waters. Finally, he went under, sure he was going to die. He held his breath and remembered what his grandmother told him, to always pray to God to forgive his sins.

``Suddenly, something shot me away from that house,'' Weaver said, convinced beyond any doubt that he's still alive today only because of a higher power.

A neighbor pulled him to safety using a strand of Christmas lights. After 2 1/2 days on a rooftop, they were finally rescued. Weaver still has a nasty scar of his right leg from a cut he got while being tossed about in the turbulent waters.

Despite the unthinkable carnage in the Lower Ninth Ward, Weaver never had any doubt he would return and rebuild, even if it's now clear that so many of his former neighbors and fellow survivors won't be following his lead.

``I was born and raised right here,'' he said. ``If Katrina comes back again, I'm still not leaving.''

Miller estimates there are more than 10,000 - and maybe as many as 15,000 - abandoned structures in the New Orleans metro area. Many of them have been commandeered by the city's large homeless population, who slip away in the light of day but leave behind evidence of their existence - dirty clothes scattered about, a bedroll where they slept, empty cans and plastic foam containers from what passed for a meal.

As he drives around the areas that won't be found in any tourism brochures, another member of his team, New Orleans native Clarence White, rattles off what used to be here, what used to be there.

``That was a popular bar room over there,'' White said, turning to his left. ``There used to be a drug store over there,'' he said, shifting his gaze to the right.

The NFL, as it now does in all Super Bowl cities, has set aside Saturday as a day of service, in which volunteers will take part in the renovation of five local playgrounds and their surrounding communities. That gesture will surely be more poignant in New Orleans than any other place where the championship game is held.

But Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed, a native of nearby St. Rose, is keenly aware that it will take far more than a few hours to get this city - this entire city - back on its feet.

``When I get home, I drive around the city, go to some of my old spots, just hang out with people,'' he said. ``You see the city is rebuilding, but we've still got a long way to go. It's just different, man. You have so many people that were lost. The spirit was kind of broken for a second. But New Orleans people, we've been through a lot. We love our city, man. We love to have a good time. We love for people to come have a great time with us.''

Even amid the lingering devastation, there are hopeful signs of progress. In the Lower Ninth Ward, for instance, construction workers were on the scene Friday at several odd-shaped, energy-efficient homes going up with funding from a group led by actor Brad Pitt.

``I appreciate everything he's doing,'' Weaver said, though he quickly added that the remnants of Katrina are far, far more prevalent in this part of New Orleans.

Through all the hardship, Weaver doesn't seem the least bit bitter about his plight. He's proud the Super Bowl has returned to his hometown for the first time since Katrina, and he'll be pulling hard for the Ravens to beat the San Francisco 49ers. This being New Orleans, the occasion will be marked with adult beverages and plenty of food - gumbo, red beans and rice, a big pot of crawfish.

But, for all those Super Bowl revelers who might think everything has returned to normal in the Big Easy, Weaver has this message:

``Come on over here where I'm at.''

It's not far away at all.

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/super-bowl-watch andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Ravens tight end suspended a year or more for violating substance abuse policy

Ravens tight end suspended a year or more for violating substance abuse policy

The NFL announced today that tight end Darren Waller of the Baltimore Ravens would be suspended for a year or longer for his second violation of the substance abuse policy.

Waller was a 2015 sixth-round pick out of Georgia Tech who served a four-game suspension to start the 2016 season for a substance abuse violation. After returning from his suspension last year, he posted 10 catches for 85 yards and two touchdowns in a limited role.

After his 2016 violation, he was quoted as saying [via Ravens.com]:

“There were other personal issues, and [marijuana] was the one thing I always turned to,” Waller said. “It was just about finding more positive outlets for me to do, like talking to people about it and things like that. I’m definitely at a better place with that now.”

Unfortunately for the Ravens, he will miss the 2017 season and potentially longer after the latest violation. It leaves the Ravens down two tight ends from last year after Dennis Pitta was released earlier this month after re-injuring his hip.

MORE RAVENS: Zach Orr considering coming out of retirement

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Former Raven Zach Orr considering NFL comeback after postive health prognosis

Former Raven Zach Orr considering NFL comeback after postive health prognosis

In January of 2017, former Ravens linebacker Zach Orr took the podium at the team's training facility alongside head coach John Harbaugh, GM Ozzie Newsome and defensive coordinator Dean Pees, to announce he would be retiring from football at the age of 24.

Why? Orr suffered a shoulder injury during their week 16 game against longtime rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, which shed light into a condition he's had since birth.

He had a routine MRI, but the Ravens training staff suggested a full body CAT scan as well. The CAT scan reveled Orr had a congenital back/spine condition where one of the upper vertebra isn't totally formed causing there to be an opening. Less than 1 percent of people are born with such a condition and he wasn't aware of it until he suffered this injury.

Doctors told Orr he was at risk of paralysis or even death if he played with such a condition. He also would have never been able to pass an NFL physical, ultimately forcing him to retire.

During his press conference, Orr said this,

"If there's some miracle way where I can play the game, I promise I'd be the first one to grab my cleats again, start back training and try to find a way to get back out there," Orr said.

Well, fast forward to today and it seems that miracle may have happened.

NFL Network reporter Mike Garafolo told Good Morning Football that after getting a second opinion from doctors, and receiving positive news, Orr is considering a return to the NFL.

"I had my mind made up. I was like man, the doctors told me I was done. This is a serious issue. So I'm going to leave it alone. But I just kept hearing that from multiple people and some were telling me to just go check out and seek out some more opinions and things like that and come to find out my condition, it is rare – .01 percent of the people have what I have – but there's no actual evidence or facts that I'm at a higher risk than any other player. And it's actually been documented that a college player who had the exact same thing that I have that returned to play with no problems."

The doctors' real concerns would be if someone with Orr's spinal condition played with a herniated disk. He did suffer from herniated disks last season, but that injury has since diminished. 

MORE RAVENS: 2017 PRESEASON SCHEDULE

If Orr does decide to get back into the NFL, getting signed could be pretty easy. 

When he announced his retirement, he never filed for retirement papers and the Ravens never placed him on their reserve/retired list because they never thought he would play again.

Because of this, Orr is considered an unrestricted free agent and can sign with a team right away. 

Orr had his best season in 2016, where he lead the Ravens in tackles with 133. It's been reported that eight teams have reached out to the linebacker since his announcement and that he will be meeting with the Lions on Thursday.