Hurricane Katrina, 10 years later

It has been 10 years since the U.S. landfall of Hurricane Katrina.  This week, there are commemorations along the Gulf Coast: ceremonies, speeches, art exhibits, a museum opening.  A lot has changed in the past ten years, yet there are still scars on the people, neighborhoods, and land.

I was there as a volunteer to do hurricane recovery work, first in the greater New Orleans area in the Spring of 2006, and then in Waveland, Mississippi in late summer and early fall.

I am taking this moment to remember my experience, nearly 9 years ago:

I am sitting at a desk in Waveland, Mississippi, 57 miles east of New Orleans, the epicenter of Hurricane Katrina.  In Waveland, the wind hit and the approximately 30 foot storm surge came at high tide on the morning of August 29, 2005.  It is September 2006, just over a year after Hurricane Katrina.   I am an AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) volunteer, on my last project with my team.

I spend my days in a portable office talking to people, getting their stories, writing down their needs for intake and future construction and grant proposals. I learn to listen and respond in new ways.  I learn not to ask about someone’s house or home and instead say “property,” as many have lost their houses.  I see their grief as well as their courage.

The beach still holds decks that look like skeletons; City Hall is a grouping of trailers.  I have grown used to seeing empty spaces and damaged houses; wreckage and debris become a commonplace sighting.

swamp etc

Beauty amidst devastation

Many people did not receive insurance money for the damages to their homes from the hurricane.

Many people did not receive insurance money for the damages  and destruction to their homes from the hurricane.  This added to already devastating losses.

In the midst of all this, I can see life returning:  the Second Saturday art show in the neighboring town of Bay St. Louis has been revived.  Another supermarket re-opens nearby.  A small neighborhood coffeehouse provides refuge and a sense of renewal.  I see people smile and greet each other.

A sign of gratitude

A sign of gratitude

At the end of the day, I walk back along the beach to where I’m staying:  a small settlement of Quonset huts (solid, tent-like structures).  I feel the wind of the early Fall wind promising more coolness and reprieve from summer’s heat.  I stop and look out at the waves of the Gulf of Mexico.  I am standing in a place that holds loss and devastation.  It is also a place that holds hope and spirit.

beach waveland


Before and after photos of a section of Waveland.
The Waveland Ground Zero Museum is opening today, August 29, 2015.
From the Sea Coast Echo on rebuilding Waveland.

Bay St. Louis, 10 years later.

I chose to focus on Mississippi because I had more interactions and connections with the people there, and there is also less press coverage on Katrina’s effect on the rest of the Gulf Coast.  There are many articles about the aftermath of Katrina in New Orleans. Here is one from NPR.

Several songs about Katrina:  Mary Gauthier:  Mercy Now, Katrina Version
Vienna Teng:  Pontchartrain.
Ellis Paul:  Hurricane Angel
More songs and films inspired by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath here.

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