Cover Story

Katrina: The sequel

WORLD's second week of hurricane coverage focuses on the workers and survivors in the trenches, from Georgia to Gulfport to Houston

Who's at fault when a hurricane dunks a major U.S. city into more wind, water, and fury than any levee system, storm drain, or contingency plan can handle? While sleepless heroes trudged waterlogged streets with armloads of aid and rescue, others made a mission out of pointing fingers. In the second week of Hurricane Katrina's disaster, local officials shucked roles of active leadership in favor of rants against Washington. In the U.S. capital, posturing on both left and right took over where compassion quickly left off.

Meanwhile, hurricane victims were too busy to notice. "As devastating as the storm has been, we believe that God has a redemptive purpose for it. And we desire to be with Him in that purpose," said Mo Leverett from a cabin north of Atlanta, where he escaped the storm's total devastation of his Ninth Ward home and ministry in New Orleans. Accounting for neighborhood families and 195 students from Desire Street Academy-and coping with losses of his own-left little time for second-guessing. And anyway, that's more the work of desk jockeys who believe all storms begin and end on Capitol Hill.

New Orleans: The end of Desire

Kedrick Levy never dreamed that he would own a home. And lose it less than a year later.

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The 31-year-old New Orleans native grew up in the Desire Street projects of New Orleans, an area once made famous for a streetcar but more recently known as the city's murder zone, one of the most poverty-stricken, crime-ridden neighborhoods in the nation. He sold drugs and stole cars in high school until he met Mo Leverett, a Presbyterian pastor who heads Desire Street Ministries (DSM), a gospel-based discipleship and urban renewal program. Through "Coach Mo's" ministry, Mr. Levy became a Christian, went to college, and eventually joined the ministry's staff. Last year he bought Mr. Leverett's former home, one mile from the Desire projects.

"I'm the first in my family to do a lot of things-to go to college, to have children in wedlock, and I'm the first to own a house," said Mr. Levy. Today his house sits somewhere beneath 15 feet of foul water in New Orleans' Ninth Ward. "We lost everything," Mr. Levy told WORLD. "It's all gone."

The Levys, of course, are not alone in their loss. After a gruesome week filled with ravaging devastation and bone-chilling depravity, New Orleans officials ordered 25,000 body bags, and much of the city is destroyed. Hundreds of thousands are scattered in shelters across the country, and New Orleans, for now, is uninhabitable.

The city's poor, now facing total losses and few resources, have been DSM's focus since Mr. Leverett founded the ministry in 1990, making inroads by volunteering as a high-school football coach and inviting players to his home for Bible study. DSM grew to a 36,000-square-foot campus that was home to a church, a recreation center, after-school programs, a pediatric clinic, and Desire Street Academy, a 195-student Christian school for boys in grades 7-12.

"We were literally transforming the lives and prospects of these African-American, urban boys," Mr. Leverett told WORLD at a mountain cabin in north Georgia one week after Hurricane Katrina hit. The campus, which included the home of Mr. Leverett, his wife, and their four children, sat near the Industrial Canal and is now submerged in toxic flood waters.

As the storm approached, Mr. Leverett organized a "haphazard" evacuation for those from DSM who wanted to caravan to Jackson, Miss., carrying a few personal belongings and the clothes on their backs. Mr. Leverett says the storm "snuck up" on him until a babysitter asked him to pick up his children early on Saturday afternoon. "The more I heard and saw, the more I realized that this could be the one we always talked about. The one that could fill up the bowl that is New Orleans and bring death and destruction untold."

In Jackson the group stayed at a Presbyterian camp, and on the eve of Katrina's landfall, Mr. Leverett led a worship service for the evacuees: "I told them that we live in a city that we love, but that it is a very vulnerable city. And I reminded them that there is only one city that lasts forever."

Worried about kids from Desire who had stayed behind, Mr. Leverett anguished. He received wrenching calls from Desire students evacuated to the Superdome: "Here I was, getting calls from these African-Americans kids saying, 'Coach, they're killing . . . for a bottle of water. Coach, get me out of here.'" Teenagers who had grown up in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in America now wept in fear and begged Mr. Leverett to save them. In agony, Mr. Leverett set out for New Orleans on a "one-man rescue mission." Halfway to the city, his wife called to say the National Guard had taken control of the Superdome.


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