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Picture above: New Orleans May, 2011


Susan finishing up some flooring on our annual New Orleans trip.

The effects of Hurricane Katrina have been long-lasting, and all too easily forgotten. As the eye wall of Katrina passed  just South-east ofNew Orleans on August 29, 2005, winds downtown were in the Category 3 range with frequent intense gusts and tidal surge. Hurricane force winds were experienced throughout the city, although the most severe portion of Katrina missed the city, hitting nearby Saint Bernard andPlaquemines parishes. Katrina made its final landfall in eastern St. Tammany Parish. The western eye wall passed directly over St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana as a Category 3 hurricane at about 9:45 AM CST, August 29, 2005. The communities of Slidell,  Avery Estates, Lakeshore Estates, Oak Harbor, Eden Isles and Northshore Beach were overtaken by the storm surgethat reached over six miles inland, and impacted all 57 miles of St. Tammany Parish’s coastline, including Lacombe, Mandeville and Madisonville. The storm surge in the area of the Rigolets Pass was estimated 16 feet.The surge had a second peak in eastern St. Tammany as the westerly winds from the southern eye wall pushed the surge to the east, backing up at the bottleneck of the Rigolets Pass.

In the City of New Orleans, the storm surge caused more than 50 breaches in drainage canal levees and also in navigational canal levees and precipitated the worst engineering disaster in  United States history.

By August 31, 2005, 80% of New Orleans was flooded, with some parts under as much as 15 feet of water. Although the French Quarter dodged the massive flooding experienced in other levee areas. Most of the city’s levees designed and built by the United States Army Corps of Engineers broke somewhere, including the 17th Street, and Industrial Canal levees, not to mention the London Avenue Canal floodwall. These breaches were responsible for most of the flooding, according to a June 2007 report by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Although widely under reported 90% of the residents of southeast Louisiana were evacuated, those who remained were mainly the elderly and poor. The Louisiana Superdome was used for those who remained in the city. Many who remained in their homes had to swim for their lives, wade through deep water, or remain trapped in their attics or on their rooftops.

Katrina’s aftermath prompted a Congressional review of the Corps of Engineers and the failure of portions of the levee system which experts agree should have protected the city’s inhabitants from Katrina’s surge.


In anticipation of widespread destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina, Max Mayfield, the director of the National Hurricane Center, telephoned New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin on the night of August 27 to express his extreme concern, and on the following day, made a video call to President George W. Bush at his farm in Crawford, Texas about the severity of the impending  storm.

With the hurricane threatening the Gulf Coast, many New Orleans residents started taking precautions to secure their homes and prepare for possible evacuation on Friday the 26th and Saturday the 27th. By mid morning on the 27th, many local gas stations which were not yet out of gas had long lines. Nagin first called for a voluntary evacuation of the city at 5:00 p.m. on August 27 and subsequently ordered a citywide mandatory evacuation at 9:30 a.m. on August 28, the first such order in the city’s history. In a live news conference, Mayor Nagin predicted that, “the storm surge most likely will topple our levee system”, and warned that oil production in the Gulf of Mexico would be shut down.President Bush made a televised appeal for residents to heed the evacuation orders, warning, “We cannot stress enough the danger this hurricane poses to Gulf Coast communities.

Although Mayor Ray Nagin ordered a mandatory evacuation of the city, many people refused to leave, which a CNN writer described as “gambling with their own lives.”Reasons were numerous, including a belief that their homes or the buildings in which they planned to stay offered sufficient protection, lack of financial resources or access to transportation, or a feeling of obligation to protect their property. These reasons were complicated by the fact that an evacuation the previous year for Hurricane Ivan had resulted in the illnesses of many elderly people. The fact that Katrina occurred at the end of the month, before pay checks were in the hands of many was also significant.

A “refuge of last resort” was designated at the Louisiana Superdome. Beginning at noon on August 28 and running for several hours, city buses were redeployed to shuttle local residents from 12 pickup points throughout the city to the “shelters of last resort.”

By the time Hurricane Katrina came ashore early the next morning, Mayor Nagin estimated that approximately one million people had fled the city and its surrounding suburbs, but on the evening of August 28, over 100,000 people remained in the city, with 20,000 taking shelter at the Superdome along with 300 National Guard troops.The Superdome had been used as a shelter in the past,because it was estimated to be able to withstand winds of up to 200 mph  and water levels of 35 feet .While supplies of M.R.E.s (Meals ready to eat) and bottled water were available at the Superdome, Nagin told survivors to bring blankets and enough food for several days, warning that it would be a very uncomfortable place. As the elevation of the Superdome is about three feet (1 m) above sea level, the forecast storm surge was predicted to cause flooding on that site. Survivors were told to keep out of the lower levels of the structure, for fear it would be flooded.

Hurricane Katrina made its second and third landfalls in the Gulf Coast region on August 29, 2005 as a Category 3 hurricane.

On Monday August 29 area affiliates of local television station WDSU reported New Orleans was experiencing widespread flooding due to several Army Corps-built levee breaches, was without power, and that there were several instances of catastrophic damage in residential and business areas. Entire neighborhoods on the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain were flooded.

The extensive flooding stranded many residents, who remained long after Hurricane Katrina had passed. Stranded survivors dotted the tops of houses citywide. Some were trapped inside attics, unable to escape. Many people chopped their way onto their roofs with hatchets and sledge hammers, which residents had been urged to keep in their attics in case of such events. Clean water was unavailable, and power outages were expected to last for weeks.

By 11:00 p.m. on August 29, Mayor Nagin described the loss of life as “significant” with reports of bodies floating on the water throughout the city, though primarily in the eastern portions. There was no clean water or electricity in the city, and some hotels and hospitals reported diesel fuel shortages. The National Guard began setting up temporary morgues around the city.

Coordination of rescue efforts August 29 and August 30 were made difficult by disruption of the communications infrastructure. Many telephones, including most cell phones, and interentaccess were not working even though some base stations had their own back-up generators.

Most of the major roads traveling into and out of the city were damaged. The only route out of the city was west on the Crescent City Connection as the I-10 bridge traveling east towards Slidell had collapsed. The Lake Pontchartrain escaped unscathed but was limited to carrying emergency traffic only.New Orleans Airport was closed before the storm but reported no flooding in airplane movement areas or inside of the building itself. By August 30, it was reopened to humanitarian and rescue operations.

On August 29, at 7:40 a.m. CDT, it was reported that most of the windows on the north side of the Hyatt Regency New Orleans had been blown out, and many other high rise buildings had extensive window damage.The Hyatt was the most severely damaged hotel in the city, with beds reported to be flying out of the windows. Insulation tubes were exposed as the hotel’s glass exterior was completely sheared off.

The Superdome sustained significant damage, including two sections of the roof that were compromised, and the dome’s waterproof membrane had essentially been peeled off. On August 30, Louisiana GovernorKathleen Blanco ordered the complete evacuation of the remaining people that sought shelter in the Superdome.


Flooded I-10/I-610 interchange and surrounding area of northwest New Orleans and Metairie, Louisiana

As of mid-day Monday, August 29, the eye of Hurricane Katrina passed to the East of the City subjecting it to hurricane conditions, but sparing New Orleans the worst impact. The City seemed to have escaped most of the catastrophic wind damage and heavy rain that had been predicted. Most buildings came through well structurally.

The storm surge had severely taxed the city’s inadequate levee system built by the US Army Corps of Engineers.The Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (“MR-GO”) breached its levees in approximately 20 places flooding much of eastern New Orleans, nearly all of Saint Bernard Parrish and the East Bank of Plaquemines Parrish. The major levee breaches in the city included breaches at the 17th Street Canal, the London Avenue Canal, and the wide, navigable Industrial Canal, which left approximately 80% of the city completely submerged. There were three major breaches at the Industrial Canal ; one on the upper side near the junction with MR-GO, and two on the lower side along the Lower 9th Ward between Florida Avenue and Claiborne Avenue. The 17th Street Canal levee was breached on the lower (New Orleans West End) side inland from the Old Hammond Highway Bridge, and the London Avenue Canal breached in two places, on the upper side just back from Robert E. Lee Boulevard, and on the lower side a block in from the Mirabeau Avenue Bridge. Flooding from the breaches put the majority of the city under water for days, in many places for weeks. Many roads and buildings were damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

In a June 2006 report on the disaster,the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers admitted that faulty design specifications, incomplete sections, and substandard construction of levee segments, contributed to the damage done to New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina.A report released by the American Society of Civil Engineers in June 2007 concluded that two-thirds of the flooding in the city could have been avoided if the levees had held.

Later studies have determined that most of New Orleans’ Katrina dead were old, and lived near levee breaches in the 9th Ward and Lakeview..

Final reports indicate that the official death toll, according to the Louisiana Department of Health, was 1,464 people.

On September 4, Mayor Nagin speculated that the death toll could rise as high as ten thousand after the clean-up was completed.Some survivors and evacuees reported seeing dead bodies lying in city streets and floating in still-flooded sections, especially in the east of the city. The advanced state of decomposition of many corpses, some of which were left in the water or sun for days before being collected, hindered efforts by coroners to identify many of the dead.

There were six deaths confirmed at the Superdome. Four of these were from natural causes, one was the result of a drug overdose, and one was a suicide..Body collection throughout the city began on approximately September 9. Prior to that date, the locations of corpses were recorded, but most were not retrieved.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina,looting, violence  became serious problems. With most of the attention of the authorities focused on rescue efforts, public security in New Orleans degraded quickly. By August 30, looting had spread throughout the city, often in broad daylight and in the presence of police officers.

City Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson said. “We’re using exhausted, scarce police to control looting when they should be used for search and rescue while we still have people on rooftops.”

Incapacitated by the breakdown of transportation and communication, as well as overwhelmed in terms of numbers, police officers could do little to stop crime, and shopkeepers who remained behind were left to defend their property alone.Looters included gangs of armed gunmen,and gunfire was heard in parts of the city. Along with violent, armed robbery of non-essential valuable goods,many incidents were of residents simply taking food, water, and other commodities from unstaffed grocery stores.Significant looting continued in areas of the city with few, if any permanent residents, such as the Lakeview, Gentilly, and the Midcity regions.

Looting and “mayhem” was also hampering efforts to evacuate the Tulane Medical Center, as well. “If we do not have the federal presence in New Orleans tonight at dark, it will no longer be safe to be there, hospital or no hospital,” Acadian Ambulance Services C.E.O. Richard Zuschlag told CNN. Several news sources reported instances of fighting, drug use, theft, rape, and murder in the Superdome and other refuge centers.

Some initial reports of mass chaos, particularly in stories about the Superdome, were later found to be exaggerated or rumor.

At the time of the hurricane there were some 400 priests and 750 nuns in the Arch Diocese of New Orleans, many stationed in the city. While most elderly and infirm clergy and nuns were evacuated, many others refused to leave, even when a general evacuation was ordered.

One third ofNew Orleans police officers deserted the city in the days before the storm, many of them escaping in their department-owned patrol cars. This added to the chaos by stretching law enforcement resources.

The City of Gretna on the West Bank received considerable press coverage when, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina(late August 2005), displaced and dehydrated survivors who attempted to escape from New Orleans by walking over the Crescent City bridge over the Mississippi River were turned back at gunpoint by City of Gretna Police, along with Crescent City Connection Police and Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s deputies, who set up a roadblock on the bridge in the days following the hurricane.

On August 31, New Orleans’s 1,500-member police force was ordered to abandon search and rescue missions and turn their attention toward controlling the widespread looting. The city also ordered a mandatory curfew. Mayor Nagin called for increased federal assistance in a “desperate S.O.S.”, following the city’s inability to control looting.

On the same day, Governor Kathleen Blanco announced the arrival of a military presence, stating that “they have M-16s and are locked and loaded. These troops know how to shoot and kill and I expect they will.”Despite the increased law enforcement presence, crime continued to be a problem. Relief efforts were constantly disrupted by violence, and there were reports of groups of armed men running rampant through the streets, looting and pillaging unattended buildings and stores. Charity Hospital, one of several facilities attempting to evacuate patients, was forced to halt the effort after coming under gun fire.By September 1, 6,500 National Guard troops had arrived in New Orleans, and on September 2 Blanco requested a total of 40,000 for assistance in evacuation and security efforts in Louisiana.

However, both the White House and the Pentagon argued that the depletion of personnel and equipment due to the Iraq War did not impact the ability of the Guard to perform its mission—rather, impassable roads and flooded areas were the major factors impeding the Guardsmen from securing the situation in New Orleans.

New Orleans continues to rebuild to this day. At the present rate of state and federal funding and millions of free man hours supplied by volunteers, New Orleans will be back to it’s original state in the year 2023.


Kevin and crew getting the job done!



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