Photo of the day: New Orleans after Katrina

People have been talking about New Orleans differently since Hurricane Katrina. No matter how the city’s name slips into conversation, the disaster named Katrina is typically addressed and typically, it must be. Anyone who knows NOLA will vouch for the tremendous damage caused by this storm and the circumstances surrounding it. But many people who know NOLA will also confess: the city still has life in it; New Orleans is still teeming with an energy exclusive to the city. And as an homage to the trip I’m taking to New Orleans tomorrow, I am posting this photo of New Orleans post-Katrina, taken by Arla Parker.

I’m visiting New Orleans through next week, generally speaking, for Voodoo Festival and Halloween. But a broader reason for my trip is my desire to keep up with the city. I have been visiting the Big Easy regularly since 2005, but my first visit to the city was exactly a month before Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans has gripped me since the first visit and I look forward to exploring the paths this upcoming trip leads me down. Have you been to New Orleans since Katrina? What are your thoughts?

And, as always, if you’d like to submit a photo for Photo of The Day, just upload a photo to the Gadling Flickr Pool.

Civil War secret message decoded

A coded message sent to the beleaguered Confederate commander of Vicksburg has been cracked, the BBC reports.

The Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond has had the message in its collection for more than a century. It had never tried to decipher the code of seemingly random letters until this year, when they sent it off to retired CIA codebreaker David Gaddy. While Gaddy is trained to break sophisticated modern codes, this early cipher was still tough enough to take him several weeks.

It turns out the message was sent to Confederate General John Pemberton telling him he wouldn’t be getting any reinforcements. The city was the key to the Mississippi River and had been under siege by Union forces for months. The message was dated 4 July 1863, the same day Pemberton surrendered. The bad news was probably the last straw. With his men short of food and munitions and the city in ruins, Pemberton’s last hope was getting reinforcements.

The fall of Vicksburg opened up the Mississippi River to Union gunboats and cut the Confederacy in half. It was one of the turning points of the Civil War.

[Photo courtesy U.S. Army]

Katrina exhibit opens in New Orleans

It was the most catastrophic event in New Orleans history. Hurricane Katrina destroyed large swathes of the city and left hundreds of thousands homeless. Now the Louisiana State Museum has opened an exhibit chronicling the natural disasters that have visited New Orleans, culminating in the most recent and worst.

Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond, a 6,700 square-foot multimedia exhibition, opened this week. The show traces the history of the city’s relationship to the elements and explores how such disasters can be averted in the future. Interactive displays show how hurricanes form, why they are so prevalent in the Gulf, and how Katrina broke the levees and caused such widespread destruction.

Many individual stories are told, like that of Ken Ballau, who used his boat to rescue four hundred stranded civilians. His boat is part of the display. Claudio Hemb’s jeans are exhibited too. Thinking he was going to die, Hemb wrote his and his wife’s names, her phone number in Houston, his social security number and blood type on his pants so his body could be identified and his wife informed.

The museum hopes the exhibit will act as a catharsis for New Orleans residents, as well as educational for the thousands of out-of-towners who visit the museum every year.

[Image courtesy U.S. Coast Guard]

Choice Hotels offers music downloads to support charity and new artists

It feels good to give back, and when hotels get in on the giving we make a point to salute them.

Choice Hotels International, Inc. announced the launch of Choice Hotels Music – a new music initiative that brings new artists in front of millions of consumers and helps drive donations to non-profit organizations. Here’s how it works:

Choice Hotels will produce the original music and offer consumers the chance to download these songs for a limited time for free at The artists retain ownership of their works. With each download, a financial donation will be made to a featured cause or charity. Choice Hotels Music has already begun producing 10 songs that will be matched to appropriate charities. Case in point: on August 28, Holly Montgomery performed her song “”My Brother’s Keeper” live at a special block party concert in New Orleans. This event culminates the efforts of Choice Hotels and Rebuilding Together’s Fifty for Five initiative to rehabilitate 50 homes in New Orleans on the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

Have a song you want the world to hear? Artists interested in creating great music to support great causes can visit for updates on the initiative.

For those who don’t have a musical note about them, just download “My Brother’s Keeper” for free from August 25 through September 24 and help support Rebuilding Together’s efforts in the Gulf Coast.

Hyatt Regency to reopen New Orleans hotel

The Hyatt Regency New Orleans closed its doors after the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina, but five years later the hotel is poised for a grand reopening.

The New Orleans Hyatt was a familiar fixture during the city’s coverage of Katrina. The hotel, located near the Louisiana Superdome, suffered from water and wind damage after the hurricane. In 2007, was purchased by Poydras Properties Hotel Holdings, which includes a Hyatt subsidiary, for $32 million, setting the hotel back on a path to reopening.

According to Hyatt, the multi-million renovations will include all 1,193 rooms and 53 suites. The new restaurants include a 350-seat, full-service restaurant with private and semi private dining rooms; a 210-seat media/action bar with private and semi-private lounges; a 70-seat atrium bar; a 2,000 square-foot full service coffee bar; a 24-hour convenience store featuring fresh food items; and a 7,600 square-foot specialty restaurant.

The reopening is part of an economic development plan designed by the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission and New Orleans Downtown Development District to revitalize the New Orleans business district.