Patricia McElveen knows no other home than New Orleans. She was born and raised in the city’s Lower Ninth Ward, and she remained there when she got married and had children. But on Aug. 28, 2005, she left.
“My family and I followed the city’s mandatory evacuation order,” she says. “We had reached Texas when Katrina hit the next day. My son called and said ‘Your house has 20 feet of water.’ It was devastating.”
More than 1,400 people were killed by Katrina, which left 80 per cent of New Orleans under water. Washington called Katrina “probably the worst catastrophe, or set of catastrophes” in the country’s history.
“The initial reaction was total shock,” recalls Laura Claverie, a magazine writer living an upscale neighbourhood.
“Here was one of the most beautiful, historic cities in the U.S., and 160,000 homes were destroyed. There were National Guardsmen on every corner, protecting the city. I will love those brave, caring soldiers forever.”
Some 25,000 residents unable to follow the evacuation order were housed at the Superdome, a giant sports arena that soon became a centre of human misery when it lost both water and power.
One month after the hurricane, McElveen and her husband, Wendell, returned.
“The city was gloomy and lifeless,” says Wendell.
“Nobody knew what to do. What most people outside New Orleans never realized is that the Lower Ninth Ward didn’t just have poor desperate people.
“There were many stable families and business owners as well. Katrina ruined their lives, too.”
The couple and their children chose to stay in McKinney, Texas. Many other residents made the same choice: Between 2005 and 2006, the city lost more than half if its 455,000 residents.
Five years and tens of billions of dollars later, New Orleans is a different city. Eighty per cent of its residents have returned. Companies are being created at a faster pace than in the rest of the U.S. In the past five years the average income grew by nearly 14 per cent.
“We have a great new mayor, police chief and city council,” says Claverie.
“We still have a long way to go in rebuilding many homes and neighbourhoods and our levees, but we’re going in the right direction.”
And the Lower Ninth Ward? It’s trying to transform itself into a cutting-edge green community.
Katrina hurt animals, too
Prof. Leslie Irvine, University of Colorado, is an expert on animal welfare during disasters.
You participated in the animal rescue after hurricane Katrina. What did you see?
The rescue centre I worked in had five barns housing over 5,000 dogs, along with cats, horses and other animals.
During the day it was reasonably calm, but in the evenings the search and rescue team would bring in more animals they had found, and all the animals would get nervous. Hearing several thousand dogs bark is unlike anything else I’ve ever heard.
How calm were the animals?
Mostly the problem was boredom. Sometimes we gave the dogs bones to chew on, but when they’re nervous that can result in diarrhea, which is not a good thing in a crowded barn. I’m not sure the mandatory order for New Orleans residents to leave their pets behind was a good idea.
Many of the pets were later adopted to good-willing people around the country, and now their owners want them back. As a result there are many lawsuits over Katrina pets.