Hurricane Katrina

Find stories from WWNO, NPR and our partner stations as we explore New Orleans and the Gulf South 10 years after Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

On Sept. 4, 2005 — nearly a week after floodwaters submerged much of the city, a call came in to the New Orleans Police Department: Officers in distress, maybe under fire, at the Danziger Bridge.

Lisa Richardson, left, is the Director of Research & Evaluation at the Institute of Women & Ethnic Studies. Denese Shervington, right, is its President & CEO.

For a couple of years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans’ narrative belonged to the people who endured the storm and those who helped rebuild after it. But as time went on and the city recovered, things changed. New demographics emerged and people started talking about “the new New Orleans.”

These changes left many people, including psychiatrist Denese Shervington and urban anthropologist Lisa Richardson, wondering about the city’s new identity and their place in it.

New Orleans' mayor: Storm's crux was levee failure

Aug 17, 2015
Kai Ryssdal

In just a few years, the city of New Orleans will celebrate its 300th birthday. As the celebration approaches, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu wants New Orleanians to strive not just for a rebuild, but for progress.

“I want them to think about building the city for the future and not just getting back to where we were before Katrina hit,” Landrieu says.  

Jesse Hardman

Lots of people who visit New Orleans today are surprised to find the city in such good shape. The rebuilding effort has been long, arduous, and largely successful in most areas (with a few notable exceptions, like the Lower 9th Ward).

New Orleans would not be where it is today without the students, church groups, retirees, professional organizations and lone good souls who gave their time and energy to rebuilding. At least a million people, by one count, and likely many millions. Newcomers poured into the city after the storm, and many became new New Orleanians.

Hurricane Katrina caused widespread devastation and loss of life, and many of those whose homes were destroyed or severely damaged fled New Orleans.

In the months that followed, many of the city's poorest families got even more bad news: The public housing units they called home would be knocked down, even if undamaged by the storm.

Hurricane Katrina sent a 30-foot wall of water crashing into coastal Mississippi, and the small town of Waveland, Miss., near the Louisiana border, was one of the hardest-hit places. For 10 years now, its residents have struggled to rebuild in the face of multiple obstacles.

Standing on the second-floor balcony of Waveland City Hall, Mayor Mike Smith points out what used to be on Coleman Avenue, the main downtown thoroughfare: "There was a building right here on the corner, and then there was a drugstore and some shops on the right-hand side. ..."

Jon Cleary's songwriting is pure New Orleans. The pianist and singer has absorbed every last bit of sound from the Mississippi delta. But here's the thing: Cleary was born and raised in England.

Skylar Fein had only lived in New Orleans for a week before Hurricane Katrina nearly tore it apart. He'd moved there to go to medical school, and found himself wandering around a wrecked city. "It's really hard to describe to someone who hadn't seen it what the streets looked like after the storm," he recalls.

Fein is among other New Orleans artists exhibiting work in shows commemorating the 10th anniversary of the 2005 storm. One thing he has in common with some of the other artists: They weren't artists before the hurricane hit.

Many of the families that were forced out of public housing by Hurricane Katrina now use government vouchers to subsidize their rents elsewhere. That shift was supposed to help de-concentrate poverty in the New Orleans area, but it hasn't worked as planned.

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How can you tell if a city has come back from a tragedy as devastating as Hurricane Katrina?

Ten years after the levees failed in New Orleans, and the waters of Lake Pontchartrain, whipped up by Hurricane Katrina, flooded most of the city, New Orleans residents say there's been much progress since then.

A new NPR/Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that a majority surveyed — 54 percent — says New Orleans has mostly recovered, measured by returning population, new housing, jobs, infrastructure and quality of life.