The Response to Disaster

Louisiana is globally recognized for its distinct culture. Those native to the region will always remain rooted to the state and its way of life. Louisianans have a desire to stick together and help their fellow neighbors, especially after a natural disaster. The most notable example of this happened in late August 2005 after Hurricane Katrina. With the death count in the thousands, the deadly cyclone was one of the largest and most devastating hurricanes to hit the southern region of the United States. Destroying and engulfing everything in its path, Hurricane Katrina showed no mercy for the states, homes, and residents that were affected. It left the country in pure hysteria. After national and local officials failed to carry out promised plans, big name celebrities like Harry Connick, Jr. and Brad Pitt came home and raised money to rebuild New Orleans. Families all over the state opened their homes and wallets to victims of the disaster. Louisianans stuck together to rebuild a stronger bond between themselves and their culture to keep the Louisiana tradition more alive than ever.

The Storm

Hurricane Katrina has become globally known for the destruction it has caused for the Gulf South. Katrina stampeded through Mississippi, but most of the chaos happened in New Orleans, Louisiana. Hurricane Katrina, at landfall, was reported as a category three hurricane with winds up to 111-130 miles per hour (Palser, Barb. Hurricane Katrina: Aftermath of Disaster. Minneapolis, MN: Compass Point, 2007. Print). More than 1,400 residents were pronounced dead, and over 200,000 remain unfound (Godfrey, Nessa P. Hurricane Katrina: Impact, Recovery and Lessons Learned. New York, NY: Nova Science Pubishers, 2009. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed April 3, 2014)). There were pre-Katrina warnings and evacuation plans for New Orleans and southeastern Louisiana to enforce the evacuation of citizens (The New Orleans Hurricane Protection System : Assessing Pre-Katrina Vulnerability and Improving Mitigation and Preparedness. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2009. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed April 3, 2014)). Despite announcements by forecasters, police departments, fire departments, and other safety personnel, they were unsuccessful at evacuating all of the residents including the sick, poor, and elderly (Godfrey, Nessa P.). The hurricane surged through the Gulf and broke the federal levee system in several different places, engulfing almost 80% of the city in up to 20 feet of water. It was a tragic sight to see only the rooftops of houses with the surrounding areas submerged under water. Overall, Katrina caused $75 billion in damages to the entire Gulf South region, but hurt New Orleans, Louisiana, harder than other states who were affected.

The impact of Katrina exposed many weaknesses in the hurricane protection systems and many authorizations and organizations (The New Orleans Hurricane Protection System). Since the hurricane rammed its way into many levees and succeeded at breaking them, the Association of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM) in 2007 reported that levees did not seem to be much of a wise community choice of protection of this land (Godfrey, Nessa P.). It is mostly dangerous for the regions that are below sea level, but these regions will always remain populated, so the Corps of Engineers has continued to try and search for ways other than levees to protect a city from natural disasters. Seeing the hurricane’s destruction all over the news, in newspapers, and on the internet not only broke America’s heart, but it also awakened an anger and determination in many citizens around the country to devote their time to rebuilding New Orleans and to ensure the culture never waters down.

Sheltering New Orleans: The First Wave of Response

In a book called Hurricane Katrina: Aftermath of Disaster, Barb Palser discusses what was needed for the survival of New Orleans and what happened during the period when Katrina hit. The Superdome, which is an iconic figure of New Orleans’s skyline and home to their National Football League team, the Saints, sheltered thousands of people awaiting rescue from the hurricane. People waited in lines for hours, holding blankets, pillows, and plastic bags full of clothing, waiting patiently and desperately to get inside. The 77,000-seat stadium was the “shelter of last resort” by the officials (Palser, Barb). Before the storm hit New Orleans, approximately 10,000 residents sought refuge inside the Superdome. But the Superdome was also said to be the complete opposite of safe. There are reports that rape, child molestation, shootings, a fire that broke out in the arena, and a man who jumped off the roof, all took place in the Superdome, which was only providing shelter from what was happening on the outside, not the inside (“Hurricane Recovery Program.” American Red Cross. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 May 2014). The stadium floor was soaked and part of the roof collapsed from the heavy rain coming from the storm. Toilets were overflowing, forcing people to relive themselves in hallways and stairwells. The Superdome may have provided shelter for the citizens, but the inside where thousands of people were held, had a storm of its own.

As the thousands of people waited patiently for Katrina to blow over, the entire world watched in horror as the levees broke and the storm filled the city with water. After the storm, it was immediately evident that it had created a need for sheltering and temporary housing across the Gulf South. There was an estimated number of about 1.2 million people who left their homes in New Orleans right before Katrina hit, but the 120,000 or so residents that did not get the chance to evacuate were trapped inside their homes, and some were found standing on rooftops searching for a way to be rescued in the violent and deep waters that were surrounding their homes. After realizing the damage and the amount of people who were struggling to survive, more than 10,000 Army, Air National Guardsmen, and active-duty troops were sent to the area to try and evacuate survivors and get them to shelter as quickly as possible. With the amount of survivors who were luckily found after the hurricane, the Louisiana National Guard delivered three full truckloads of ready-to-eat meals and water that could supply up to fifteen thousand people for three full days. By September 2, they had delivered 1.9 million MREs, 6.7 million liters of water, and 1.7 million pounds of ice (“Stadium Hurricane Refuge Like a ‘Concentration Camp’” Stadium Hurricane Refuge Like a ‘Concentration Camp’ N.p., n.d. Web. 06 May 2014).

A Region in Crisis: The Second Wave of Response

Hurricane Katrina caused a need for relocation of thousands of citizens and a massive job displacement. Immediately after the storm, Red Cross and volunteers provided 1,400 evacuation shelters for survivors and more than 68 million hot meals and snacks (“Hurricane Recovery Program”). The need for jobs after the storm skyrocketed and almost made it seem like New Orleans was suffering from its own Great Depression. Many native to Louisiana decided not to come back, accepting the fact that they did not have much to come home to after the storm had left. But those who decided to return came back to New Orleans to restart and to rebuild what they could. If you explore New Orleans today, there are still some houses and neighborhoods, even after nine years, with what looks like new damage. However, it was a lot harder for Louisianans to find the money they needed to rebuild their homes. After the storm passed, citizens were left with no homes, jobs, or money. A foundation called the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) helped out with the recovery of New Orleans by rebuilding the houses and local businesses in the community. FEMA provided New Orleans nearly $19.6 billion to help restore the communities and protect them from future hazards (“Hurricane Recovery Program”). FEMA’s Individuals and Households Program provides grants to 915,884 citizens and families in need of household appliances, furniture, and vehicles as well. After the devastation that was brought on by Hurricane Katrina, one would have thought that things could not get any worse for the residents of Louisiana.

In September of 2005, only a few weeks after Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana was then introduced to Hurricane Rita. The storm met the Texas-Louisiana coastline at 3:30 a.m. with winds up to 120 mph and twenty-five inches of rain was to be expected (“Louisiana Recovery: Eight Years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita”. Web. 06 May 2014). Rita swamped Louisiana’s shoreline cities with a 15-foot storm surge that required more rescue missions and daring boat rides to rescue the survivors (“New Orleans.” Make It Right. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 May 2014). There were about 500 residents, south of New Orleans, who were rescued from high waters. But luckily enough, Hurricane Rita didn’t cause much destruction. There was only one reported death in Mississippi by the storm, but most of the damage was in oil refineries along the coast. New Orleans, whom had only been hit by Hurricane Katrina barely three weeks before, endured new flooding which could interrupt recovery plans for the city.

Locals & Celebrities Take Action: The Third Wave of Response

After most of the chaos died down, patience was the only thing the citizens of New Orleans could have at this time. Now hoping for no more storms, more organizations got together to help rebuild New Orleans and help it bring its culture and meaning back. Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, (ACORN), was one of the organizations that helped out with the rebuilding of New Orleans’s houses. Another organization that helped rebuild New Orleans was Common Ground Relief. They were founded on September 5, 2005, and all the volunteers gutted almost 3,000 houses, businesses, and churches throughout the 9th Ward.

Famous film and music stars also got involved in the rebuilding process. Brad Pitt, the famous actor, created the “Make It Right” foundation (The Vancouver Province (British Columbia), ed. Hope Returns to New Orleans Neighbourhood; Star Works Tirelessly in Efforts to Revive Ninth Ward (2012): n. pag. LexisNexis Academic. Web. 3 Apr. 2014). Make It Right is a home-rebuilding program that he created to help those whose homes were destroyed by Katrina. Pitt devoted his time to trying to reconstruct and rebuild the Ninth Ward, the section of the city that was most affected by the levee breaks during the storm. Pitt said, “It means a lot to me to watch that neighborhood take shape,” especially after the enormous effect the storm had on the area (The Vancouver Province (British Columbia), ed). After many events, such as dinners and concerts, were held to raise money for New Orleans, it is estimated that around $30 million was raised by Make It Right. Brad Pitt made an effort to rebuild the Lower 9th Ward after Hurricane Katrina by building affordable, high-quality, healthy homes that could be available for everyone (“Louisiana Recovery: Eight Years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita”). The organization ended up building 150 homes in the 9th Ward, including 100 of which have been awarded LEED Platinum, which is the highest level of certification that is offered by U.S. Green Building Council (“Louisiana Recovery: Eight Years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita”). There are different designs for the houses including: color of the house, flooring, cabinets, and counter tops, but every one of the Make It Right homes are eco-friendly. Brad Pitt helped New Orleans by rebuilding what was taken away from them, and the citizens show their thanks. More than 350 people are now living in the Make It Right homes in New Orleans and are enjoying the happiness they’ve received.

Brad Pitt may have seemed like the superhero who came to the rescue of New Orleans, but he was not the only generous celebrity who volunteered in taking action to rebuild the city. Actor and musician, Harry Connick, Jr., a fellow resident of New Orleans, returned to his hometown to restore it. Connick arranged for a jazz festival to take place to raise money and to revive the jazz music culture in New Orleans. After the storm, Connick and musician Brandford Marsalis constructed a village called the “Musicians’ Village.” The investment cost more than $5.5 million. It is a complex of houses that were built by Habitat for Humanity’s New Orleans branch and was marketed as low-income housing to New Orleans musicians (Connick Aims to Revive New Orleans Music Life.” Ottawa Citizen 15 Sept. 2007, Final ed., ARTS; Pg. F6 sec.: n. pag. Print).

Throughout this time period, many others got involved in the cleanup process. Church groups, civic organizations, universities, and individuals volunteered their time and money to help the damaged region. Louisiana natives Clint and Joshua Broussard, for instance, drove their flat bottom boats to New Orleans to assist with rescue. The brothers said, “We just had to help, so when the Jennings Fire Department let us know that they were heading to New Orleans to assist, we loaded up our boats” (Broussard, Clint. Interviewed by: Alexandra Broussard. Written. Louisiana. 2014). They navigated around traffic lights sticking up through the water to rescue people from their roofs and whatever dry areas were left standing. Joshua Broussard noted that many of the people they rescued that day thanked them countless times.

The Final Tally on Cleaning Up Katrina’s Mess

New Orleans and its surrounding areas were decimated by Hurricane Katrina. Government officials on both the local and national level failed to provide much of anything to disaster victims. Agencies, such as FEMA and ACORN, became the laughing-stock of disaster relief foundations. The state and local government officials wasted valuable time pointing blame at each other. Instead, the victims relied on their own for help. Celebrities and regular locals of Louisiana came together to assist those in need in any way they could. Almost 10 years after the disaster, locals are still raising money to restore the city to its former glory. Memorials in honor of the lives lost can be found throughout the city. Natural disasters, like Hurricane Katrina, brought Louisianans together as a culture, instead of tearing it apart. This is the spirit of Louisiana.