Remembering Katrina: State of Resilience 10 years on

by Jelenko Dragisic

Looking back, it is clear that Hurricane Katrina was one of the most intense natural disasters ever. Its devastation was horrific and lasting. But Katrina was not a surprise, unexpected, nor a ‘black swan’ event. Katrina was the fifth hurricane of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. Subsequent and numerous analyses and reports showed that failure to take the likely event seriously years, and even decades, before it took place proved to be the real disaster.

Since then we have seen many other events that have caught us by surprise. Maybe this is as good as it gets with us humans. We make a bit of noise when things go wrong, make a lot of plans and promises, and then go straight back to old habits. This is not the first time I’ve thought this. Here in Australia, the situation does not seem to be radically better. Right now, not a single major newspaper, or mainstream outlet is talking about disaster resilience. We are waiting for the season to start to begin thinking about it and if something big happens, well then it’ll be the hot topic.

Getting prepared for a disaster is not a two week or a month-long exercise. It is the way we should live. It is the way we should behave every single day of the year. Being resilient in the face of major natural disasters is not something that should be turned on and off like a water tap. It’s should be a permanent state of mind; one that is only possible when we act knowing that catastrophic disasters will happen; if not directly to us, then certainly to someone else in the society in which we live. Therefore we are likely to feel the disruption one way or another.

On the eve of its 10th anniversary, Katrina is still strongly present in the minds of many. Some of the affected are likely to still be restoring life as they once knew it. But the good thing is that many have learnt something and in the process have become resilient. Lessons from Katrina are critical and in so many ways unique. They teach us the importance of having a realistic response and recovery plan, the role of political leadership, the importance of inclusive communities, the critical decision-making skills that impact on long term planning of a good city, and many more.

I thought it would be appropriate to pay homage to the people who suffered through the ordeal and who are today reflecting on this enormous event. For that reason I have selected a handful of articles which reflect on Katrina. First up, and my favourite, is Walter Percy’s article about the reflection of Walter Isaacson, Chief Executive of the Aspen Institute who also was vice chairman of the Louisiana Recovery Authority after Katrina, and his interesting take on how humans change during hurricanes. For a more in depth look at the city today, the Washington Post’s article proclaiming New Orleans as a ‘resilient lab’, is a must.


Walker Percy’s Theory of Hurricanes

Walker Percy had a theory about hurricanes. “Though science taught that good environments were better than bad environments, it appeared to him that the opposite was the case,” he wrote of Will Barrett, the semi-autobiographical title character of his second novel, “The Last Gentleman.” “Take hurricanes, for example, certainly a bad environment if ever there was one. It was his impression that not just he but other people felt better in hurricanes.” Percy was a medical doctor who didn’t practice and a Catholic who did, which equipped him to embark on a search for how we mortals fit into the cosmos. Our reaction to hurricanes was a clue, he believed, which is why leading up to the 10th anniversary of Katrina, it’s worth taking note not only of his classic first novel, “The Moviegoer,” but also of his theory of hurricanes as developed in…Read on


What Katrina left behind: New Orleans’ uneven recovery and unending divisions

Ronald Lewis finds it hard to believe it is 10 years since the water came, even though the newspaper clippings he hoarded in a scrapbook and pinned to a wall are yellowed now by age. The horrors in those decade-old stories cannot seem like distant history to anyone who lives in the Lower Ninth Ward, as Lewis does. This is where the flood rose 14ft and the partial, capricious nature of the recovery is obvious to day-trippers, never mind lifelong residents. Lewis returned, like many of his friends, but the Lower Ninth is still a section of New Orleans defined by absence. The neighbours who died or never came back. The stores and services that no longer exist. Those who had no savings or were unable to negotiate the labyrinthine insurance and compensation processes and were submerged by bureaucracy…Read on


A ‘resilience lab’

On the “sliver by the river,” that stretch of precious high ground snug against the Mississippi, tech companies sprout in gleaming towers, swelling with 20-somethings from New England or the Plains who saw the floods only in pictures. A new $1 billion medical center rises downtown, tourism has rebounded, the music and restaurant scenes are sizzling, and the economy has been buoyed by billions of federal dollars. Above: The “sliver by the river” — seen across the Mississippi from Algiers, foreground – has become a hive of activity since Katrina. Farther out, the picture is more mixed in the city’s lower-lying neighborhoods. The next Big One: New Orleans has built the infrastructure to protect itself from hurricanes, but can it win the battle against rising seas? A decade into the Katrina diaspora: Where some of those affected by the hurricane stood in the months after the disaster, and where they stand now. The city is now swaddled in 133 miles of sturdier levees and floodwalls, and it boasts of the world’s biggest drainage pumping station. But on the porch stoops of this place so fascinated by and so comfortable with the cycles of death and decay, they still talk about living in some kind of Atlantis-in-waiting. As if the cradle of jazz might still slip beneath the sea…Read on


5 Topics for…Hurricane Katrina Anniversary

Hurricane Katrina made landfall nearly 10 years ago. The deadly storm killed approximately 1,800 people, displaced more than 400,000 residents and cost billions in property damage. The effects of the natural disaster are still felt in the areas hardest hit, including parts of Florida, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. Speaking nearly 10 years ago from New Orleans, President George W. Bush described Katrina as a “cruel and wasteful storm.” “In the aftermath, we have seen fellow citizens left stunned and uprooted, searching for loved ones, and grieving for the dead, and looking for meaning in a tragedy that seems so blind and random,” Bush said in 2005. “We’ve also witnessed the kind of desperation no citizen of this great and generous nation should ever have to know—fellow Americans calling out for food and water, vulnerable people left at the mercy of criminals who had no mercy, and the bodies of the dead lying uncovered and untended in the street.”…Read on


How my goat lived through Katrina – and became a New Orleans celebrity

New Orleans icon Chauncey Gardner passed away quietly of old age on 20 February 2015, at his home in Algiers, New Orleans. As local residents will attest, Chauncey was a genuine participant in many music and arts communities throughout his 10 years of life. Chauncey went quickly and peacefully, his owners at his side. Born on Rosedale Farms in 2004, Chauncey was bottle-raised and lived in a Ninth Ward backyard for nine years. Not long after his birth, Chauncey traversed the country in our car while evacuating after hurricane Katrina. The whole month we remained locked out of New Orleans, Chauncey dictated our lives in Texas, where we found refuge. We ended up living for a month on a Houston goat farm after Chauncey urinated on my mother’s beloved mauve carpeting in Conroe, Texas, which led to an argument wherein she kicked us all out. While on the farm, Chauncey was attacked by a dog, which I wrote about in my temporary position as a staff writer for the Houston Press. At the time, I was being offered everything I’d ever wanted as a writer, simply because of Katrina. Literary agents fought over a book I’d half-written about evacuating with Chauncey. I finally chose the agent who got me published in Newsweek, but America tired of Katrina books before he could sell mine…Read on