It’s hard to believe that a decade has passed since Hurricane Katrina thrust the crushing waters of the Gulf into New Orleans, swallowing whole swaths of neighborhoods and communities through portals left by the flattened levees.
Photographs of the submerged homes in the Lower Ninth Ward, hardest hit by the violent and historic storm, remain seared in our minds. Images of New Orleans’ very own stranded on roofs, collapsed in the Superdome, and trudging through the murky brown waters that eventually claimed the lives of more than 1,800 serve as a tragic reminder of one of the costliest and deadliest storms in American history. The storm left more than 80 percent of the city under water, stranded those who couldn’t afford to leave with little to no provisions or medical attention, and sent hundreds of thousands fleeing to temporary homes around the nation.
It was the lack of government response, the unexpected damage left in the storm’s wake and recovery effort that keeps us entrapped in Katrina’s relentless winds an entire decade later. What if the government responded earlier? How many more people could have been saved? Was there any hope for New Orleans’ forgotten, the thousands of people too sick or poverty-stricken or incapable of leaving before the storm bore down on the city? Ten years later, is the thriving but complex city we once knew any closer to being an image of its former self?
While New Orleans is a bustling shadow of what it once was, some other things aren’t quite the same. The population is still 100,000 less than in 2005. The city’s Black communities have yet to return to its robust and historic numbers. Less than half of the homes that once stood have been rebuilt and it seems, due to gentrification and wealth, it’s even harder to afford housing in New Orleans.
According to the New York Times:
The ability of many residents to afford housing — in a city of escalating rents and low wages — is more compromised than before. In a recent ranking of 300 American cities by income inequality based on census data, New Orleans came in second, a gap that falls starkly along racial lines. According to the Data Center, a New Orleans-based think tank focusing on Southern Louisiana, the median income of black households here is 54 percent lower than that of white households.
There are other facets of restructure and rebuilding proving to change a city that once was known for having 70 percent of students attending schools that did not pass state standards. In 2005, two in every three schools were labeled as “failing.” Now, due to the Louisiana Recovery School District taking over four fifths of the city’s public schools, 92 percent of students attend charter schools. New Orleans has the nation’s all charter district. It seems an overhaul of the school system has proved successful in post-Katrina New Orleans.
But between the ebb and flow, a decade of restructure that metaphorically waves through the city like the high waters once did, lives resilience. New Orleans isn’t there yet, but there’s hope that it’s on its way.
Take a look at the effect of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans by the numbers: