10 years: New Orleans and the decade since Hurricane Katrina

New Orleans buildings underwater, view from above

Days after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, much of the city remained submerged underwater. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, AUGUST 23: Ten years ago, in a season of record-breaking storms, dangerous weather over the Bahamas created a tropical cyclone or hurricane. Days later, Katrina headed toward Florida and strengthened immensely, hitting southeast Louisiana on August 29 and destroying coastlines through Texas.

In just a few days, the vast tropical storm had killed more than 1,800 people in seven states, destroyed $108 billion of property and left entire cities displaced. Now, a decade later, photographers are capturing remnants of the storm so unparalleled that its destruction still has left some neighborhoods, roads and community systems devastated in the region. The hurricane exceeded the National Weather Services’ annual budget and permanently retired the meteorological use of the name “Katrina” is still being examined by scientists, journalists, civil engineers and government officials.

vietnamese american catholics worship in New OrleansOne of those research projects was covered in The New York Times on Sunday—a study of the exceptional resilience of the Vietnamese-American community on the eastern edge of New Orleans. In the 2010 ReadTheSpirit American Journey series, Editor David Crumm reported from that same community in New Orleans that was rebuilding from Katrina even at that 5-year anniversary. In the Sunday NYTimes, scholar Mark VanLandingham reported on research into the cultural strengths of this community, which was one of the first of the poorer neighborhoods to rebuild after the disaster.

Man and woman walking through chest-deep water, carrying backpacks

Residents of New Orleans make their way through Hurricane Katrina’s floods. Photo by Chris Graythen, courtesy of Flickr

KATRINA BY THE NUMBERS

The death toll of Katrina was spread across seven U.S. states, but in Louisiana alone 1,577 perished as a result of the hurricane. When the levee system calamitously failed, thousands were left vulnerable, and an estimated 80 percent of New Orleans flooded.

Did you know? Hurricane Katrina formed on August 23 and dissipated on August 31, 2005.

Beyond the $108 billion in property damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, the Gulf Coast’s highway infrastructure and 30 oil platforms were destroyed. (NPR examines further.) Hundreds of thousands were left unemployed, and approximately 1.3 million acres of forest land were ravaged. Extensive beach erosion, the overrun of local marshes and oil spills were just a few of the environmental damages caused by Katrina. (Wikipedia has details.) Upward of 70 countries pledged monetary donations or other assistance after the hurricane, and several charitable organizations—such as the American Red Cross, Feeding America, the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—provided assistance to storm victims.

In photographs: Stairs that lead to nowhere—Photographer Seph Lawless and photographer David G. Spielman are two of the artists capturing the 10-year aftermath of Hurricane Katrina with photos that document the crumbling and rotting homes, restaurants, factories and schools of New Orleans. (View Speilman’s black-and-white photos, courtesy of The Guardian, here.) Lawless noted that the “stairs that lead to nowhere” are among the “saddest” images in his collection, left as the only testimony to many homes that once were. (Weather.com has a slideshow of photos.)

LOUISIANA TODAY

Weather photo of white winds over southern U.S. and ocean

Hurricane Katrina. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Following Hurricane Katrina, the Louisiana Legislature turned over the majority of the Orleans Parish public schools to the state Recovery School District. The result is evident in New Orleans today with multiple governing entities and 92 percent of students in charter schools. During the past decade, public education in New Orleans has seen unprecedented growth in student achievement, increasing enrollment and improving standardized test scores. (Learn more here.)

On Aug. 29 at 7 p.m. in the streets of Old Towne Slidell, in New Orleans, “Plus 10—A Decade of Resiliency” will mark the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and celebrate the strength and spirit of the city’s residents.

STORM PREPARATION:
THEN AND NOW

Since Hurricane Katrina, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) reports that there has been development of a prototype storm surge watch and warning system through collaborative efforts. In addition, NHC forecasts have been extended from three to five days; watches and warnings have extended from 12 hours to 48 and 36 hours. (This article from Forbes reports on what has been learned since Hurricane Katrina.) Experts also are working to inform city leaders of approaching storms in a way that would prevent denial and promote action.

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