NEW ORLEANS — Thousands of people took to the streets of New Orleans to mark the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina Saturday, singing, dancing, drinking, and hugging one another in a cathartic show of defiance against the storm’s destruction.
Part elaborate funeral procession and part moving block party, many in the Crescent City worried that in the storm's aftermath these marches, known as Second Lines, would go extinct as the city's population was scattered across the country.
But the tradition has remained.
Marchers from across the city began gathering early Saturday morning under the grey, imposing levee, the site where the old levee collapsed in 2005, sending a wall of water into this poor, largely black neighborhood, and ultimately filling much of the city in as much as 17 feet of water.
Some came decked out in Mardi Gras Indian suits, while others wore t-shirts skewering FEMA.
As the parade wound through sections of the neighborhood still baring the scars of the storm, parents lifted to their shoulders children too young to remember the storm.
The Second Line mixed serious remembrance with happy celebrations: A group of men carrying long lists of the names of Katrina's victims marched alongside knots of men and women dancing and singing between swigs of cold beer.
Brass bands joined the march as it crossed the St. Claude bridge led by "steppers" — organized groups of men and women who dance in front of the bands.
Men and women on horseback soon joined the march as it entered the Treme neighborhood, while the sidewalks were crowded with onlookers who ultimately joined in the celebration.
Late in the day, a second, initially smaller Second Line began in Mid-City, a traditionally black, poor neighborhood that has seen significant change in the last five years under Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration.
Mardi Gras Indians, decked out in their intricate, brightly colored costumes kicked off the parade as a brass band led the small procession of one hundred or so marchers along the edge of the neighborhood.
But as the Second Line began moving into downtown New Orleans, its ranks began to swell, ultimately stretching across two lanes of traffic and more than a block long.
Nearly two hours after stepping off, the procession moved into the tunnel under the Hyatt hotel. The brass bands and Mardi Gras Indians thundered to life -- the sound reverberating off the walls and out onto the streets.
As dignitaries and city officials prepared to hear former President Bill Clinton speak in commemoration of the storm in the nearby Smoothie King Center, Indians, musicians, and dancers emerged from the tunnel and into the shadow of the Superdome, site of some of the most iconic images of the tragedy and despair of Katrina.
While city officials have sought to use the 10th anniversary to tout the strides they've made since 2005 in rebuilding the city, for the gathered Second Line marchers, Saturday was a moment to loudly, happily declare they'd survived and weren't going without a fight.
John Stanton is a national reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New Orleans. In 2014, Stanton was a recipient of the National Press Foundation’s 2014 Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting of Congress.
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