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Amid the rubble, a revered statue loses only a few fingers

NEW ORLEANS—After the last winds died down from Hurricane Katrina, there was little optimism among those who remained in New Orleans and could venture out to see what had happened to their city.

But in the heart of the French Quarter, in the courtyard behind St. Louis Cathedral, they found a sign of hope. A statue of Jesus, standing with outstretched arms on a white marble pedestal, still stood amid the fallen trees and rubble, nearly unscathed by the destruction all around.

A giant magnolia tree had fallen a few feet away; so had an ancient oak. But the statue was unscathed except for a missing finger and thumb on the left hand and a damaged pinkie on the right.

On Thursday, soldiers with the Army's 82nd Airborne Division were carefully removing fallen trees from the scenic churchyard on Jackson Square, where the Louisiana Purchase was signed in 1803 and where President Bush gave his televised address on Thursday night.

"They flipped over a log, and there was the finger," said Lt. Col. Will Laigaie, the 82nd Airborne's chaplain. "People are looking for hope, and it's really a promise of recovery."

The soldiers returned the statue's finger to Archbishop Philip Hannan. Sixty years ago, he served as a chaplain in the 82nd Airborne during World War II.

The statue is still missing part of its left thumb, and the tip of its right pinkie. But it still stands, with Christ's arms still outstretched toward the flooded city.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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