More than 150 years ago, the Illustrated Lond News pronounced loftily on a young American city.
"New Orleans has been built upon a site that only the madness of commercial lust could ever have tempted men to occupy," observed the magazine in 1853.
Now the planners and citizens of one of the world's most famous cities have to decide how -- and if -- they can rebuild and what Hurricane Katrina has changed for ever.
Question marks hovered on Thursday over everything; from what has become of the city's criminal records and its prisoners to whether there would have to be a full-scale bulldozing of the ruined areas of the city. While the city's main preoccupation was still search-and-rescue and handling looters, a debate was already starting about the future.
After Hurricane Betsy had devastated the coastline in 1965 and taken 74 lives in Louisiana and Mississippi, the US Army Corps of Engineers added extra height to the levees meant to provide protection for the city and its surrounding areas. Even then, they were aware that a hurricane of the force of Katrina would still be able to cause the kind of damage that has been witnessed over the past few days.
What the city and state government now have to decide is whether they again attempt to build the floodwalls even higher or whether it will be accepted that some parts of the city will be impossible to protect and the whole shape of New Orleans may have to be rethought.
John Thompson, the architect and chair of the Academy of Urbanism in Britain, said on Thursday that the disaster presented New Orleans with an opportunity to create a new kind of city.
"It's quite a cathartic process to be thinking of something better for the future," said Thompson, who has been involved in a number of urban regeneration projects around the world, including some in cities hit by disasters.
"Throughout history, cities have been hit by disasters and that can provide an opportunity for a rebirth rather than just a restructuring. The issue you have is not just the physical restructuring, but also the spiritual, cultural and economic restructuring. Does this point towards just replicating what has been there before or to use what has happened as an opportunity to rethink some of the mistakes of the past?" he said.
Many American cities, he said, had become just a conglomeration of buildings and car parks and he hoped that any rebuilding plans would aspire towards creating a less alienated urban environment.
"Rebuilding a great American city could be a great project," he said.
"All the past disasters, they have hit suburban areas, not the central urban areas of major cities," Mary Comerio, author of Disaster Hits Home, a book on post-disaster reconstruction, told the Times-Picayune Web site. "Here we have a significant hit on the entire urban area -- not just the core, but everything. It is going to be an incredibly complex staging operation."
She compared the damage done by Hurricane Katrina to the 1995 earthquake that hit Kobe, Japan, killing 6,000 people. In that disaster more than 100,000 buildings were destroyed and 300,000 people were left homeless. Kobe took up to 10 years to rebuild, she said.
Comerio said that the poorest members of the city's population would be the hardest hit. Apartments are always the last to be rebuilt, she said, and low-income housing lagged behind that.
"And a lot of the housing in areas where it was rebuilt, it's a lot more upscale than what was there previously. The low income population was pushed out," she said.
The process could be a long one.
"In Japan people lived in temporary housing for eight years," she said. "They finally closed the last of the temporary housing sites before the 10th anniversary."
The time any reconstruction will take remains unclear. The utility company for the city, Entergy, say that they have no idea of how long it will take to restore power. They will be unable to do anything until the floodwaters have receded.
At present, many of the major businesses in New Orleans are being bullish about the future, saying that they will re-open as soon as conditions are safe enough.
The city is dependent on an international tourist trade that ranks New Orleans alongside New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles as a venue to visit. While those tourists are likely to return eventually, the vast convention trade that occupies the city's hotels in the off-season is certain to be badly damaged, at least over the next few years.
"We're absolutely committed to New Orleans, and our owners are too, but we have to assess the damage," said a spokeswoman for the Hyatt Regency hotel in New Orleans, which had all its windows blown out in the hurricane.
"What happens in the future depends on what happens with the infrastructure of the city," she said.
How that infrastructure has held up is crucial to the rebuilding effort.
"This is the worst I have seen from an operations perspective," Hossein Eslambolchi, chief technology officer of communications giant AT&T told the Washington Post. "You almost have to rebuild the city. It may take an entire year ... If the water gets into the electronics, you can pretty much forget it."
Federal officials agree about the enormity of the task. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff told a press conference: "I anticipate this is going to be a very, very substantial effort. I don't even think we have fully assessed all of the collateral consequences that are going to have to be dealt with. We have a substantial challenge, but we're going to do what it takes."
Daniel Libeskind, the planner of the World Trade Center site in New York, also sees a chance for the rebirth of the city in the same way that Berlin was reborn after the World War II.
Referring to the famous heritage of New Orleans, Libeskind told the New York Times: "To work with history doesn't mean to imitate it, make it kitsch, or simply simulate it, but really take the roots of great culture and build upon it. And what could be more creative than jazz? It's the right theme. You can build in a rich way with a variety of voices, yet create an overall structure of harmony."
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