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Waiting out the storm in New Orleans, a 'different city' since Katrina

By Josh Levs, CNN
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Tue August 28, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The owner of a business looted during Katrina says New Orleans is now "a different city"
  • A restaurant owner's quagmire: No employees because schools are closing
  • The manager of a store in a mall looted during Katrina looks forward to a cookout

(CNN) -- Bill Coleman's business in New Orleans was looted during Hurricane Katrina. Now, Hurricane Isaac threatens to bombard the region with heavy wind and rain on Katrina's anniversary. He may have to close up shop again until the storm passes and, if necessary, power is restored.

But this father of two and grandfather of one said he is "not concerned."

"Katrina was a once-in-a-lifetime event," the owner of Coleman's Retail Store told CNN Monday, noting that forecasters aren't predicting Katrina-like catastrophic conditions for the city he's lived in his whole life.

Also, "We have a vastly improved police department," Coleman said. "A much higher level of conduct is expected. ... There have been a lot of positive changes."

FEMA: We don't wait for storm to arrive
Melanie and Philip Martinez Sr. have dinner in daughter Kala's one-bedroom apartment on Saturday, September 8, in Chalmette, Louisiana. Melanie, along with her husband and mother, are staying in Kala's apartment after their home in Braithwaite flooded during Hurricane Isaac. It was the fifth home Martinez has lost to hurricanes in Louisiana. Melanie and Philip Martinez Sr. have dinner in daughter Kala's one-bedroom apartment on Saturday, September 8, in Chalmette, Louisiana. Melanie, along with her husband and mother, are staying in Kala's apartment after their home in Braithwaite flooded during Hurricane Isaac. It was the fifth home Martinez has lost to hurricanes in Louisiana.
Isaac's trail of destruction
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Isaac\'s trail of destruction Isaac's trail of destruction
Mississippi waits for Isaac to hit
State of emergency in Louisiana

"The city was under siege" during Katrina, with a "total breakdown of society," he said.

Now, "it's just a different city."

Coleman isn't alone in his outlook and relatively relaxed state about the impending storm.

Jerry Amato feels confident that his restaurant, just a couple of blocks from the water, won't be flooded.

Preparing for Isaac, state by state

"I just don't think it's going to be strong enough -- but I'm not weatherman," he said.

When the storms come through, he'll "just lock the door" to Mother's Restaurant and wait out the storm, he said.

He doesn't think it'll be long before he reopens so the establishment -- which closed down for months in 2005 -- can resume serving the "world's best baked ham."

It hasn't closed yet. Amato planned to "wait until the last minute to decide whether to pull the trigger," but now he faces "a quagmire." He wouldn't mind staying open longer, but since schools are closing, his employees need to leave. "They have to stay home and take care of the kids."

Thomas Blais, manager of the upscale men's shoe shop Allen Edmonds at New Orleans' Canal Place mall, said his and other shops were closing Monday "because our families need to get home to prepare their houses for the storm."

But he, too, is "not overly" concerned about Isaac.

While the mall experienced looting and fires during Katrina, he doesn't expect a repeat. It's a "considerably smaller storm," Blais notes, and he expects the authorities to keep order.

In fact, there's something Blais looks forward to if the power goes out.

Disaster dining: How to stay safe and fed during a storm

"Neighbors will get together and have one big barbecue. As soon as we lose power, we're going to start cooking out the food in all the refrigerators."

If the streets are too wet, there are "rooftops, terraces, courtyards that are kind of covered," Blais said. "It's wonderful after the storm, when everybody comes out and starts talking, drinking, and hanging out.

"That's the good part about the storms -- it brings neighbors together."

Coleman said those neighborly feelings have grown in recent years. "I think we've got a really a much improved and a much higher level of thought and spirit in the city. There's much more unity."

The seeds of that came in Katrina's wake, he said. "In some ways there was a lot of good that came from Katrina. I'm still very emotional about it. It changed my whole life.

"It brought out some of the very best in America."

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