It’s hard to believe that a decade has passed since Hurricane Katrina thrust the crushing waters of the Gulf into New Orleans, swallowing whole swaths of neighborhoods and communities through portals left by the flattened levees.
Photographs of the submerged homes in the Lower Ninth Ward, hardest hit by the violent and historic storm, remain seared in our minds. Images of New Orleans’ very own stranded on roofs, collapsed in the Superdome, and trudging through the murky brown waters that eventually claimed the lives of more than 1,800 serve as a tragic reminder of one of the costliest and deadliest storms in American history. The storm left more than 80 percent of the city under water, stranded those who couldn’t afford to leave with little to no provisions or medical attention, and sent hundreds of thousands fleeing to temporary homes around the nation.
It was the lack of government response, the unexpected damage left in the storm’s wake and recovery effort that keeps us entrapped in Katrina’s relentless winds an entire decade later. What if the government responded earlier? How many more people could have been saved? Was there any hope for New Orleans’ forgotten, the thousands of people too sick or poverty-stricken or incapable of leaving before the storm bore down on the city? Ten years later, is the thriving but complex city we once knew any closer to being an image of its former self?
While New Orleans is a bustling shadow of what it once was, some other things aren’t quite the same. The population is still 100,000 less than in 2005. The city’s Black communities have yet to return to its robust and historic numbers. Less than half of the homes that once stood have been rebuilt and it seems, due to gentrification and wealth, it’s even harder to afford housing in New Orleans.
The ability of many residents to afford housing — in a city of escalating rents and low wages— is morecompromised than before. In a recent ranking of 300 American cities by income inequality based on census data, New Orleans came insecond, a gap that falls starkly along racial lines. According to the Data Center, a New Orleans-based think tank focusing on Southern Louisiana, the median income of black households here is 54 percent lower than that of white households.
There are other facets of restructure and rebuilding proving to change a city that once was known for having 70 percent of students attending schools that did not pass state standards. In 2005, two in every three schools were labeled as “failing.” Now, due to the Louisiana Recovery School District taking over four fifths of the city’s public schools, 92 percent of students attend charter schools. New Orleans has the nation’s all charter district. It seems an overhaul of the school system has proved successful in post-Katrina New Orleans.
But between the ebb and flow, a decade of restructure that metaphorically waves through the city like the high waters once did, lives resilience. New Orleans isn’t there yet, but there’s hope that it’s on its way.
Take a look at the effect of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans by the numbers:
1. Governors Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana and Haley Barbour of Mississippi declared states of emergency, and advised many to leave their homes on Aug. 26. With little preparation, many stayed behind to fight the storm and were left stranded.
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2. A family is seen trying to escape the wrath of Hurricane Katrina in the days it wreaked havoc in New Orleans.
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3. Over 30,000 were left without their homes and possessions because of the hurricane.
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4. The National Guard and UNICEF arrived in New Orleans days after the storm arrived in its worst hit area, the Lower Ninth Ward. In the nation's history, this was the first time UNICEF was called to provide aid in the United States.
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5. Approximately 1,833 deaths were reported in the wake of the hurricane, but with no real memorial or list of the victims, many believe the number is much higher.
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6. Former President George Bush was slammed for his delay in providing relief to the city, leading to an outburst from Kanye West, who stated the president did not care about Black people during a live telethon.
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7. For a week, 30,000 people took shelter in the Superdome, where they were given food and water. With limited medical help, reports claimed 100 people died, when only four died from exhaustion, another from an overdose, and one from an apparent suicide.
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8. More than a million housing units were destroyed during the storm. Half of them were from Louisiana.
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9. Because of the storm, half of the city's population dropped from 484,674 in April 2000 to 230,172 in July 2006.
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10. The difference in flooding was shocking to residents. While tourist areas were left undamaged, some places received one foot of flooding and others up to 10 feet of flooding.
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11. The majority of relief funds sent to New Orleans by George Bush ($120.5 billion) went to emergency relief ($75 billion), not rebuilding.
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12. Private insurance companies provided a total of $30 billion to residents, a lot less than federal aid provided.
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13. A reported 600,000 households were still displaced a month after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.
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14. In the four days after the levees broke, 140 premature babies were brought to the Woman's Hospital in New Orleans.
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15. Midwives helped deliver 20 healthy babies in the storm's aftermath.
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16. While the city lost most of its residents after they were forced to relocate, a slight growth was seen in the city. In 2013, the Census Bureau reported a 2 percent growth (8,827 people) in the metro city area.
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17. 11,494 fewer Whites live in New Orleans due to the storm, but the biggest loss was the African-American community, with 99,650 less. The numbers were not only from the storm, but encompass between 2000 and 2013.
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18. From the Salvation Army: "@salvationarmyus continues to be a source of hope, stability, and service to the residents of the Gulf Coast 10 years after #hurricanekatrina. #doingthemostgood"
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19. From photographer Paul Conrad: "Father Jim O'Bryan of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Pearlington, Miss., gives his sermon Sunday morning October 2, 2005, one month after #hurricanekatrina . The church lifted off its foundation and floated to the middle of the road during the storm surge from Katrina. Work crews destroyed the remainder of the church when they cleared route 607 of debris."
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Continue reading 10 Years Later: Remembering Hurricane Katrina