NEW ORLEANS -- After seven years of darkness, hundreds erupted into cheers Wednesday night on the lakefront as a New Orleans icon shines once again.
"It's essential. We grew up with it. We need it," said Colleen Porter, who lives in the area.
The 175-year-old New Canal Lighthouse was destroyed in hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation is rebuilding a replica of the original structure.
It should open to the public in January 2013 as a museum dedicated to coastal restoration and the lighthouse's history.
Landscaping the site will take longer, and erosion in the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac has slowed the process.
A relighting ceremony kicked off with a performance from the 610 Stompers, followed by a fundraising run along Lakeshore Drive for the LPBF.
LPBF executive director John Lopez, Ph. D, said the lighthouse is positioned to light the way for progress on the lakefront, which was devastated after Katrina.
"I think it's the crown jewel of the lakefront. I think it's the renaissance of New Orleans and the lakefront," said Lopez.
"I've always loved the lakefront. I'm used to seeing this lighthouse here since I was a child, and just seeing it not there, so many years after Katrina, it just kind of broke my heart," said Cluis McCarthy. "I hope people understand how much it means to people in New Orleans to see this all back."
But there are also reminders of how vulnerable the lakefront can be to storms. Crews continued repairs Wednesday at the nearby Landry's Seafood House. Damage from Hurricane Isaac shut it down for three weeks.
Gerry Gillen, executive director of the Orleans Levee District, said Lakeshore Drive saw about a three and a half foot storm surge during Isaac. And officials are working to curb erosion behind the Lake Pontchartrain seawall. Eventually concrete "caps" like the one across from the Mardi Gras Fountain will run a total of 7,000 feet along Lakeshore Drive.
Gillen said it should be an effective way to shore up the seawall and limit the amount of debris that washes up on Lakeshore Drive during weather events.
Meanwhile, New Orleanians are celebrating a major milestone that will serve as a symbol of resilience for generations to come.
"It's a beacon. I think it's very important for us, for our soul, to have these landmarks back after Katrina. So we can feel like we didn't really lose all we had," said Porter of the lighthouse.
The $1.2 million project is being funded through private donations. If you'd like to find out more, log onto www.Saveourlake.Org.
Meanwhile, another lakefront icon is currently being bid out to contractors. The levee district plans to revitalize the Mardi Gras Fountain.