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Spirit of the Blitz in New Orleans

By Mario Cacciottolo
BBC News

James Lewis puts plywood over the windows of his pub
James Lewis left during Hurricane Katrina but stayed to face this storm

In London, when tragedies or even more everyday transport problems draw people together, the spirit of the Blitz is often talked about.

James Lewis, who is from Putney and runs an English-style pub in New Orleans, says he is "living proof" that this brand of indomitable courage in the face of adversity is burning brightly half a world away.

Despite warnings from British and American authorities that he should pack up and flee the impending onslaught of Hurricane Gustav, Mr Lewis instead boarded up his business and refused to budge.

"Was I brave or mad? Probably a bit of both," he said.

"It was something that I wanted to do, something that I felt I should do. I stayed mostly for myself and my customers.

"I felt I should be here for them, the pub is a focal point for the community. We've all helped each other out and we've all mucked in together."

'Hairy moments'

Mr Lewis said that everyone who has remained behind has been "very upbeat" and that several of his customers have continued to visit his pub, the Crown and Anchor, every day.

"We've been open throughout the entire thing," he said.

I've had hundreds of emails of support from people around the world and I want to thank them all - I can't reply to everyone because there's just too many of them
James Lewis, pub landlord

"People have been traipsing in and that brings a bit of water and mess inside, which has to be cleared, but otherwise everything is OK. I've kept the boards over the windows for now, though."

The 38-year-old admits there were a few "hairy moments" during the storm.

"You take a peek out the window and you see a tree doing what it shouldn't exactly be doing. That can be a bit worrying.

"Looting is always a concern too, but there doesn't seem to have been any as yet. The mayor still has a curfew in place, so I don't know how long they'll let me stay open for in the evenings."

Mr Lewis came to New Orleans in October 1989, and after two hours had decided that this, "one of the greatest cities in the world," was to be his new home.

His refusal to flinch in the face of an angry natural force has led him to become something of a popular figure abroad, a symbol of the strength of human courage that binds people together in times of crisis.

Dangerous aftermath

"I've had hundreds of e-mails of support from people around the world and I want to thank them all - I can't reply to everyone because there's just too many of them."

Although the worst of the current storm mercifully missed New Orleans - unlike Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which virtually drowned the famous city - the immediate dangers have not yet completely eased.

Mr Lewis explains that rain storms were now moving in, bringing with them "five tornados in the past hour".

Despite this potential threat, Mr Lewis stands outside his pub and describes the weather as cloudy but quite pleasant.

Much like England, perhaps? "It's a bit warmer here," he laughs.

And, despite the storms, he wouldn't be anywhere else.


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