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

Harbaugh takes full blame for Ravens punishment from NFL

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Harbaugh takes full blame for Ravens punishment from NFL

OWINGS MILLS – Ravens coach John Harbaugh said the blame rests solely with him for the Ravens losing a week of OTA’s, and being fined by the NFL for their rookie minicamp practice violation.

Paraphrasing what he told the team, Harbaugh said Thursday, “There’s not one person in this room that should worry about it for one second, because it’s on me. It’s completely on me. It’s my decision, it’s my effort. That’s the situation that we’re in. We’ll adjust. We’ll adapt. We’ll still become the best football team that we can be. We’ll figure out ways to get our work done. Maybe the rest will be good for us.”

MORE RAVENS: BALTIMORE PUNISHED FOR OTA VIOLATION

Losing valuable practice time at this time of year surely bothers Harbaugh. But it was pretty clear that the Ravens would be punished once it was learned they put players in pads briefly during rookie camp, which violated the CBA.

Asked how the Ravens managed to violate the rules, Harbaugh said he misinterpreted them.

Said Harbaugh, “I read it the wrong way, and it’s on me.”

As a result, the Ravens will have catching up to do when they return to the practice field the second week of June.

Ray Rice speaks to Ravens' rookies and shares good, bad, and ugly

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Ray Rice speaks to Ravens' rookies and shares good, bad, and ugly

OWINGS MILLS - Former Ravens running back Ray Rice was back at team headquarters Wednesday, speaking to the team’s rookies following their OTA practice.

Most, if not all of the Ravens’ rookies, had never met Rice, who was released in September of 2014 after a video surfaced of him striking his wife, who was then his fiancée. Rice has never gotten another chance in the NFL, despite being a star for years, and becoming one of the franchise’s most popular players. Not only did Rice help the Ravens win a Super Bowl, he was one of the team’s most active players in the community.

Rice’s story is another example of how quickly a person’s life can change after a major mistake.  The Ravens tweeted out several statements about Rice’s visit.

MORE RAVENS: HARBAUGH TAKES BLAME FOR OTA VIOLATION

“Our 27 sessions to our rookies through our player engagement program review and teach life management and life lessons,” the tweets began. “Rice, who played for the Ravens from 2008-14, delivered an important message that included his story, both the good and the bad. He clearly had the attention of our rookies.”

Rice received $1.588 million settlement from the Ravens in March of 2015, which concluded his wrongful-termination grievance. Rice and Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti built a close relationship, and Bisciotti has never ruled out Rice returning to the organization in a player development role at some point.

Ravens lose week of OTAs, Harbaugh and organization fined by NFL

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Ravens lose week of OTAs, Harbaugh and organization fined by NFL

OWINGS MILLS – The NFL punished the Ravens by taking away their second OTA session (June 1-3), and fining both coach John Harbaugh and the organization, the league announced Thursday. The punishment stems from a practice violation in rookie camp on May 6, when the Ravens briefly practiced in pads during a non-contact drill, which violated the collective bargaining agreement. The NFL investigated after the Ravens’ violation was brought to the league’s attention. 

The amount of the fines was not immediately disclosed. The Ravens issued a brief statement after the punishment was announced.

“We made a mistake and we are sorry for that,” the statement said. “We accept the NFL discipline.”

The Ravens were in the midst of completing their first OTA session when the league’s ruling was handed down. The Ravens will still have their OTA scheduled for the second week in June, as well as their mandatory minicamp later in the month.