Grocery store re-opens following February tornado

Update on New Orleans East tornado recovery

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Hundreds of people lined up in the sun for the grand re-opening of the Winn Dixie on Chef Menteur. The store was heavily damaged in the February tornado.

Fox 8 discovers it's not the only facility making a comeback.

There's food and music. A real party as hundreds of shoppers poured into the renovated store.

Anthony Hucker Southeast Grocers Winn Dixie Chief Operating Officer says, "It's a fantastic atmosphere here we couldn't be more proud."

Sheryl Louis and Alexis Meritt say, "I am so excited. It's wonderful."

"We don't have to leave the community to go shopping," says Lewis.

It's been four months since an EF 3 tornado severely damaged the Winn Dixie on Chef Menteur Highway in New Orleans East on February 7.

"I've worked in different markets across the world and 45 of the 50 states, but I've never seen this many people," says Hucker. "After Katrina it was a huge investment by the company to reopen the store. After the tornado in February, we were devastated for the community. We were devastated for our associates."

"I wish more companies would come back here and open stuff so we don't have to come shop in Metairie," says Zella Roberts.

Councilman James Gray says that is happening.

"Most people are going to be able to rebuild," says Gray.

Gray says more than 70 percent of those with damage have insurance and other businesses affected are returning.

"The finance center at Michoud was damaged. We could have lost 1300 jobs. People all over the country were fighting for that contract," says Gray. "Actually, we are going to go to a grand party next week to celebrate them coming back to New Orleans so that's another victory for us."

Victories that were slow coming after Katrina and set back by the tornado.

Gray says the nature center will reopen within the month. A new entertainment, food and retail facility is in construction by the lake where a World War II era PT boat sets out for tours. And the Plaza should have a groundbreaking before the end of the year.

Even with all the progress, the recovery is still slow. Fox 8 visited Coronado Drive days after the tornado and despite the time that's passed while the piles of debris are gone, it looks almost the same.

"Of course there is a shortage of manpower because of the floods in Baton Rouge and the tornado here it is really a struggle even if you have money in being able to rebuild," says Gray.

Sheryl Louis' home survived, but she lost her church in the storm.

"It's just hard having to go out of the community because I have to go out of the community for worship and then to have to go for the supermarket so I'm just glad to have this back," says Louis.

The reopened Winn Dixie represents a trend New Orleans East residents hope to see continue.

The first 500 shoppers received mystery gift cards worth anywhere from $5 to $500.

Winn-Dixie closed its location on Louisa as a part of a nationwide downsizing. Some of those employees are now at the store on Chef Menteur Hwy.

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