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Hurricane Katrina, 10 years later: Al Roker finds resilience, frustration in New Orleans

TODAY's Al Roker returned to New Orleans 10 years after Hurricane Katrina to find stories of resilience as well as frustration.
/ Source: TODAY

Ten years after the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, stories of incredible resilience have been tempered by the frustration of areas still trying to recover from the storm.

TODAY's Al Roker returned to New Orleans a decade after more than 1,800 people died, a half million were left homeless and more than a billion dollars in damage was caused by one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history. Eighty percent of the population has since returned, a new levee system officials claim is safer is now in place, and the economy has shown signs of strength.

For residents like beloved barber Wilbert "Mister Chill" Wilson in the Broadmoor neighborhood of New Orleans, the storm and its aftermath are still a potent memory. His shop was 10 feet underwater.

"When I opened the door, I started crying first,'' Wilson told Roker on TODAY.

In the days following, Wilson just started giving haircuts in the street until a helicopter landed right near him one day.

Wilbert WilsonTODAY

"I was, like, well, God, who would set a helicopter in the middle where I'm cutting at, and just blow my operation away?'' he said. "But the guys jumped out of the helicopter and got a haircut. And then after that, that started all the first responders getting haircuts."

A donation helped Wilson open a brand new shop in the neighborhood and remain a part of the fabric of his community.

"You may knock me down, but eventually I'm gonna get up, and that's the greater thing about resiliency,'' Wilson said. "New Orleans and each individual who helped rebuild, we will stand again."

For every story like Wilson's, however, there are ones like the Lower Ninth Ward, which is not even close to recovered from the devastation. Thirawer Duplessis and her husband, Reverend Charles Duplessis, took seven years to rebuild their home.

Charles DuplessisTODAY

"Everywhere else in this city has come back except for down here,'' Thirawer Duplessis told Roker.

With few residents in the Lower Ninth Ward owning their property, relief money was difficult to obtain with no titles.

Charles DuplessisTODAY

"It is bothersome because wherever there is a empty lot, we knew there was a family, and we try to figure out where that family may be, and do they want to come back home,'' Charles Duplessis said.

One constant in New Orleans has always been the world-class food, and many restaurants have returned and are thriving 10 years after the storm. Jay Nix, the owner of local landmark Parkway Bakery & Tavern recalled a worker for the electric company in search of po' boy sandwiches switching on the power in the aftermath of the hurricane to allow Nix to cook as much food as he could for those in need.

Al Roker and Jay NixTODAY

Nix has repaired the shop and it now stands as another symbol of the the city's ongoing recovery.

"There wasn't much to look forward to, day by day,'' Nix said about the time of the storm. "But a meal, a sandwich, was something you could look forward to."

Follow writer Scott Stump on Twitter and Google+.