Commemorating the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina
As we prepare for WDN Connect 2015: People. Place. Possibility, to be held Nov. 12-15 in New Orleans, we have been sharing links, stories, and other resources marking the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Many thanks to WDN members, particularly New Orleans resident Nancy Aronson, for curating this partial list. We look forward to our time together in November, where together we can look back, and look forward toward the long-term change we want to make.
It is a wonder that any of it is here at all: The scattered faithful gathering into Beulah Land Baptist Church on a Sunday morning in the Lower Ninth Ward. The men on stoops in Mid-City swapping gossip in the August dusk. The brass band in Tremé, the lawyers in Lakeview, the new homeowners in Pontchartrain Park. On Aug. 29, 2005, it all seemed lost. Four-fifths of the city lay submerged as residents frantically signaled for help from their rooftops and thousands were stranded at the Superdome, a congregation of the desperate and poor.
I want to introduce you to five people from New Orleans. They all lived in the city when Hurricane Katrina hit. And they all live there now. As the 10-year anniversary of the storm approaches, we’re taking a close-up look at what’s happened in their lives since. One New Orleans resident that I spoke with, Terri Coleman, described Katrina as “erasing the world.” Big Freedia, widely credited with popularizing New Orleans bounce music post-Katrina, remembers it as “a survival time.” And Simone Bruni, New Orleans’ “Demo Diva,” called it “a rebirth.”
Ten years ago, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, it was the city’s Lower Ninth Ward that was hit the hardest. “I remember coming back home,” Lower Ninth resident Burnell Cotlon told his mother, Lillie, on a recent visit with StoryCorps. “That was the first time I cried.” “We lost everything,” Lillie says. Recovery was especially slow to come to that part of town. Burnell, a veteran and a father himself, says that for three years he had to live out of a trailer set up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Residents in the area went nine years after the storm without a grocery store.
A decade after Hurricane Katrina devastated coastal Louisiana, forcing 1.5 million residents to evacuate and causing $100 billion in damage, the region is becoming a model for climate change adaptation planning — even if some people in the state still don’t want to say the “c” word.
Ten years ago, shortly after the floodwaters subsided, James Gray stood in the ruins of his New Orleans home and tried to salvage what remained of his belongings. They fit inside a handbag. “I don’t know if my wife will ever get over that,” Gray said recently.
Malcolm Gladwell digs deep into the displacement of so many New Orleanians, how people decided to come back or not, how many weren’t able to and how, for some, a fresh start in other places has been positive. Richard Campanella, our city tour guide, is featured prominently in this article.
The first time that David Kirk visited New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina was at the end of 2005. His in-laws were from the city. Kirk and his wife visited them at Christmas, just four months after the storm hit, and then went back again on several more occasions throughout 2006. New Orleans was devastated. Thousands had fled. “I’ll admit I’d drive around the Lower Ninth, taking it all in, feeling a little guilty about being the gawking tourist,” Kirk said not long ago. “It made an impression on me. These neighborhoods were gone.”
Hurricane Katrina made landfall in the city of New Orleans on the morning of August 29, 2005, swept in by winds traveling at 127 mph. But the true damage came after the levees broke, when about 80 percent of the city flooded. At least 400,000 residents, nearly the entire city, were displaced—some for a few days, some forever.
Ten years later, there is still no single, comprehensive source of information on what happened to displaced New Orleans residents—on where they went, or why. Beyond FEMA and U.S. Census data collected a year or less after the disaster, neither the local nor federal government had systems in place to systematically track Katrina’s castaways.
Even as a 14-year-old at a new school 2,000 miles from home, Kenyon Dunbar understood his new teacher’s intentions were good. But the single topic Dunbar didn’t want to talk about — couldn’t talk about — was the one subject every last person he encountered wanted to know. Only one week earlier, Dunbar, his mother, his grandmother and two younger siblings (along with two strangers) escaped the flooded streets of New Orleans in a stolen car and drove over four hours before finding a motel room near the Texas border.
In this five-part series, bestselling author Chris Rose reflects on New Orleans’ growth since 2005. While his book, 1 Dead in Attic, provided a harrowing account of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, these essays look forward as much as they look back, inspecting the resilience of the hospitality industry and sub-sectors like restaurants, retail, and arts and culture.
lack lives matter. America understands this as a movement rooted in the breathtaking sadness of George Zimmerman’s 2013 acquittal in the brutal murder of Trayvon Martin; necessitated by the enraging refusals to indict police officers in Ferguson and Staten Island for the murders of black men in 2014; and amplified by the unrelenting videos of black vulnerability and death out of South Carolina, Ohio, and Texas throughout 2015. These moments caused activists Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi to assert that black lives matter.
Remember New Orleans’ dispossessed. Progress without equity is injustice. There are five times as many Black inmates in Louisiana prisons as whites, even though the state’s general population of Blacks is only half of that of whites.
One of the most positive outcomes from the challenges of the last 10 years is the community engagement that propelled our region’s recovery. After Hurricane Katrina, community members took ownership of the area’s recovery process. A diverse cross-section of residents used hyper-local ideas to inform the blueprints necessary to bring the area back. The same community-driven response occurred during the BP oil spill disaster of 2010.