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. ..."

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.

On Sept. 15, 2005, two weeks after Katrina and the levee breaches, I drove with my parents into New Orleans. It was my 25th birthday.

We used my press pass from The Village Voice to get past a military checkpoint so we could assess the damage to their home near Tulane University. It turned out to be minimal: a few slate tiles off the roof, tree limbs downed, a putrid refrigerator full of rotting food to drag to the curb.

Richard Campanella

Each month we talk with Richard Campanella about his Cityscapes column for Times-Picayune. This month the Professor of Geography at the Tulane School of Architecture reflects on the idea of natural disasters and their historic impact on New Orleans.

While Katrina’s 10th Anniversary is taking center stage right now, WWNOs Jesse Hardman sat down with Campanella to talk about another famous hurricane, in 1722, that allowed French city planners to completely redesign the city.

When hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005 most residents evacuated safely. But thousands lost homes, careers, and the lives they had known. Since then, many seem to have recovered emotionally from the trauma. But some have not.

Katrina kid: Growing up after the flood

Aug 14, 2015
David Brancaccio and Katie Long

It's been 10 years since Hurricane Katrina and the flood-of-floods struck New Orleans. In the following decade, the city has transformed it public schools, housing, and business community. Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio traveled to the city to explore what these vast changes mean for New Orleans and the country.