Hurricane Katrina, Five Years Later

If nothing else over the last five years, Louisianans have proved they can take a punch.

First Hurricane Katrina - five years ago this Sunday - and more recently, BP's massive spill in the Gulf. The leak's over. But grappling with its impact and the unknown long-range consequences, environmental and economic, has just begun.

I was in New Orleans as Katrina was menacing the coastline the weekend of August 28-29th, 2005. So many times in the past, the city had dodged the impact of a major storm, often at the last-minute. When Katrina hit, that was the sense again - at least for the first 48 hours. The worst of the hurricane's impact had hit east of the city, sparing massive destruction. Within 48 hours, the levees had begun to buckle and break, water was pouring into the bowl that is this low-lying city, and the rest is a combination of history and infamy.

Flash forward to this year, and the weeks following the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig out in the Gulf of Mexico. Time and again, I heard people along Louisiana's coast say the same thing: Katrina was bad, but this spill is worse. They thought of Katrina as a one massive smackdown. It knocked them flat, and then they began to rebuild. Sure, the impact was ugly, but at least they had a sense of the challenge ahead.

Complete Coverage: Katrina Five Years Later

But with this oil spill, the uncertainty was overwhelming. At first, they wondered when the oil would come ashore. Then it did, in waves. Then they worried the well would never be plugged. It was, on July 15th. Now they're anxious about the long-term impact. Will their coast come back? Will their fishing jobs? And what about the future of deepwater drilling, a major employer along the Gulf coast?

On Katrina's fifth anniversary weekend, many people here are just weary. Worn out by disasters. But most of them will stay, rebuild what they've lost in the classic American tradition of renewal. On Louisiana's coast, they do it more often and better than most.

  • Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001 and is based in the Atlanta bureau.