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Hurricane Katrina Five Years Later

A New Orleans Geographer Reflects on Disaster and Recovery

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Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina

NOAA
Updated September 28, 2010
Nearly every geographic location on Earth is vulnerable to some type of natural disaster, and five years ago, my hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana faced the worst tragedy in its nearly three hundred year history. Thankfully about 1.2 million people had evacuated before the Category 3 Hurricane Katrina arrived on August 29, 2005. But the disaster flooded about 80% of the New Orleans metropolitan area, damaged about 200,000 homes, incurred billions of dollars in damages, and killed about 1500 people in Louisiana. Many stated that New Orleans, a city below sea level, should not be rebuilt.

The storm made everyone contemplate their sense of family, home, and community. As a young geographer, this event verified my beliefs that geography is the most fascinating subject, but also the most unpredictable and unfair. I realized that the first place I explored, my childhood home, was gone. The human suffering that occurred was heartbreaking and so undeserved. But during the last five years, the citizens of New Orleans gathered every ounce of resiliency in them and decided to rebuild one of the most geographically, historically, and culturally interesting cities in the United States. Now over five years later, New Orleans has risen again, and the Crescent City invites you to visit.

The city at the delta of the Mississippi River has been made safer due to improvements in the city’s levee protection. The port has resumed the majority of its shipping and trading operations. Cruises still leave from the port to sail to numerous parts of the world. Thousands of homes, schools, churches, and businesses have been rebuilt due to government funds and the sweat of thousands of volunteers from across the world. About 80% of the population, or about 1.2 million people, have returned.

Many people are probably not aware that the majority of the flooding occurred in suburban residential areas. “Tourist” New Orleans was largely spared. Many travel magazines have named New Orleans as one of the best cities to travel to in America. Hundreds of conventions are held in New Orleans again, bringing thousands of widely-varying occupations from across the country to this city known for its Southern hospitality. Every dynamic of the city’s culture has been influenced by its history as a former French and Spanish colony, two nations that imported many African slaves to Louisiana. There are three hundred more restaurants now than there were before the storm, and their cuisine reflect French, Spanish, German, Italian, Caribbean, and African dishes. Thousands of immigrants from Latin America have come to New Orleans to work in reconstruction, and the flavors of these countries now appear in New Orleans’ restaurants. Dine on gumbo, jambalaya, shrimp, oysters, crabs, fish, and beignets, or delicious doughnuts with powdered sugar.

Visit casinos, art and history museums, cathedrals, and theater shows. Listen to the city’s legendary jazz and blues music play in the bars and clubs of the French Quarter’s Bourbon Street. Rest for the night in one of the city’s newly renovated hotels, which feature the elegance and relaxation that New Orleans is known for. When you wake up, remember to sample all of the New Orleans culinary delights that you didn’t try yesterday.

You can ride a streetcar or steamboat, visit the Audubon Aquarium and Zoo or the newly expanded National World War II Museum, or experience voodoo and ghouls at the city’s above-ground cemeteries. Fish in the Gulf, take a cruise through the bayou, and visit Antebellum plantations. Shop for antiques, art, books, clothing, or New Orleans treats in the French Market. Get married or honeymoon in this very romantic, charming city. Attend Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, and numerous other festivals, which are mostly revolved around food. Go to a Saints football game, a team which has cheered up hundreds of thousands of citizens who were still somewhat dejected over the loss of their homes, neighborhoods, friends, and sense of normalcy.

The main colleges in New Orleans, including the University of New Orleans, Loyola, and Tulane, continue to offer first-class educations, where you can study a number of subjects such as Southern history, literature, and art. Learn about the Islenos people of St. Bernard Parish, descendants of immigrants from Spain’s Canary Islands who sought the region’s rich agricultural land and fishing and trapping opportunities hundreds of years ago. Study the Louisiana Purchase, the Battle of New Orleans, Jean Lafitte and his gang of pirates, slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, World War II, and several other hurricanes that have affected the city, such as the Mississippi River Flood of 1927 and Hurricane Betsy of 1965.

There is still much work to be done for New Orleans to fully recover. Our coastline suffered severe damage, and environmental geographers must continue to design new protective measures. There are still many blighted houses, and crime still occurs in many poor parts of the city. The government must improve transportation, medical clinics, education, and career opportunities to end the cycle of poverty that has plagued many generations of New Orleans residents. The government must continue to financially aid those who still want to come home.

There will soon be a new Hurricane Katrina Museum located in the Ninth Ward, which was perhaps the most devastated section of the city. It will honor the people and memories we lost. The cataclysm that we knew could happen due to our vulnerable geographic location did indeed occur, shocking and saddening us. But New Orleans residents deeply love their city and vowed even in their darkest hour to return home. Tourists and volunteers have visited and decided to move there to experience the seductive city every day and night. New Orleans was beaten five years ago, but due to intense respect for the past and hope for the future, the city will survive, grow, and remain the only place like it in the world.

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