Hurricane Katrina: One Year Later
Many lives were changed when Hurricane Katrina struck.
Antoine Evans, 13, recalls the good times-before Hurricane Katrina struck. "On Fridays," he says, "when we got out of school, our parents used to be waiting outside for us. We would go to the movies and go out to eat and stuff. [Now] there's nowhere to go."
Antoine is a seventh-grader at the James Singleton Charter School in New Orleans, Louisiana. He and his classmates are back home after months spent in other cities. They seem almost numb as they describe the state of their hometown. Gutted houses, abandoned cars, and mounds of debris are everywhere.
"Katrina destroyed my house," says Jaltheus Gross, 12. "The streets around my house still have trash."
Troy Alvis, 12, stares blankly as he catalogues lhe toll Katrina took on him and his family. "I lost my house," he says. "I lost three of my dogs. I lost a bike and all of my clothes and one of my family members. My auntie."
"You barely see people on the streets now," adds Ardeann Williams, 14. "I would like to see [the city] back to normal again-like it was."
Life in New Orleans is a long way from normal. According Io a recent study by the United States Census Bureau, less than half of the city's population has returned since fleeing from the storm and the flooding that followed.
"I miss all of my friends." says Jana Brookin, 12, echoing a feeling expressed often by young people here.
In the Lower Ninth Ward (see map), one of the areas hardest hit, neighborhoods are eerily quiet. In one yard, crumpled letters are caked to a rusty mailbox door. In another, an old pickup truck, its windshield shattered, sits forgotten. Beside a pile of splintered wood that was once a house, a hand-painted sign nailed to a telephone pole reads: "NOT AS seeN ON TV." Television, with all of its graphic images, cannot begin to convey the devastation here.
The Flooding of New Orleans
Hurricane Katrina was one of the most destructive storms ever to hit the United States (see graph). When it made landfall near the Louisiana-Mississippi border on August 29, 2005, wind gusts of more than 125 miles an hour produced storm surges that demolished many coastal communities. (A sform surge is a rapid rise in sea level that is caused by winds blowing ocean water ashore.) Within hours, many homes, roads, bridges, hospitals, and schools in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama were completely destroyed. More than 1,800 people were killed, and hundreds of thousands were left homeless. The storm also caused death and destruction along the southern tip of Florida.
Since most of New Orleans lies below sea level, it was especially vulnerable. After a storm surge toppled levees (barriers built to hold back high water), river and lake water poured in, flooding about 80 percent of the city.
Many New Orleans residents say that human error was responsible for much of the flooding. Thus, the natural disaster led to a "man-made" disaster. Last spring, the Army Corps of Engineers, which built the levees, acknowledged a "design failure" in the floodwalls that sit atop some of the levees. (As JS went to press, the repaired levees had yet to be tested again.)
Tens of thousands of people stranded by (he rising floodwaters were impoverished African-Americans. They lived in rundown neighborhoods and worked at low-paying jobs. Many have either left the city in search of opportunities elsewhere, or are struggling to survive.
"The rebuilding of New Orleans is going forward like the evacuation of New Orleans-it is based on self-help," says William Quigley, a law professor. As he told The Christian Ceniun' magazine, "Public help for rebuilding homes for homeowners (.other than flood insurance, which many poor homeowners did not have) has not yet started, Help for renters is not even on the horizon. The poor are again left behind."
The people of New Orleans face countless challenges. For instance, fewer than half the public schools in the city have reopened. Crime has skyrocketed. And many low-lying neighborhoods, which are still vulnerable to flooding, may never be rebuilt. But there are signs of hope. In the Upper Ninth Ward, Habitat for Humanity is constructing a "Musicians' Village" (see photo above) for musicians displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Jazz music and its performers are an important pan of the city's rich cultural heritage.
Jeffrey Richard, 13, and his family plan to live in the new neighborhood. "New Orleans was my first home," the ninth-grader tells JS. "I'm sure it's going to come back."