Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

EYE ON AFRICA

Donors pledge millions at Uganda refugee summit

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

Depp plumbs depths of bad taste

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

France's new frontman, America's absent center, May's Brexit gambit, Saudi royal reshuffle, after Mosul & Raqqa fall

Read more

REVISITED

Senegal’s Casamance hopes for new era of peace

Read more

THE INTERVIEW

FARC disarmament a 'historic day' for Colombia, says president

Read more

FASHION

Cruise collections: All aboard for Dior and Chanel's latest fashions

Read more

ENCORE!

Colombia comes to France

Read more

#THE 51%

The last taboo: Helping women and girls. Period.

Read more

DOWN TO EARTH

Who benefits when the ice caps melt?

Read more

REVISITED

We return to places which have been in the news - often a long time ago, sometimes recently - to see how local people are rebuilding their lives. Sunday at 9.10 pm. Or you can catch it online from Friday.

Latest update : 2014-04-25

Eight years after Katrina, New Orleans still vulnerable

On August 29th, 2005, Hurricane Katrina plunged Louisiana and New Orleans into chaos. Nine years on, reconstruction continues as Louisiana strives to heal its wounds. But the threat of a new disaster is never far away.

New Orleans inhabitants have turned into very talented storytellers. They share sad anecdotes, happy memories, and many a story of survival. Every year, come mid-March, there are thousands of tales detailing how revelers survived another Mardi Gras of drunken debauchery.

These are light-hearted, positive tales. The other stories of survival are bittersweet. We have assembled a few in our report. It was filmed during the last week of hurricane season. That, too, was another story of survival, because the season passed without major storms and without major incident.

New Orleans looks nervously over its shoulder every year for six months, toward the new levees. While the levees have been rebuilt, and the new pumping stations surround the city, there is one big problem. The floodwalls will be able to handle another hurricane of Katrina’s ferocious strength. But stronger storms exist, and there is no guarantee that the storm of the century will not hit New Orleans. There’s a niggling, scary doubt, expressed to us by Robert Ricks, the meteorologist who put out the original warning from his weather station on the outskirts of New Orleans.

Enough has been done at least to "safeguard against another Katrina, or something less than Katrina. We still feel there is a big vulnerability for a category 4- or category 5- type threat”, Ricks tells us during his night shift at the weather station.

Wasteland

It was from there that he published the original warning, the text that warned of impending doom. We ask him to read the warning out loud. His prediction came true. Robert Ricks solemnly reads these words: "Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks, perhaps longer. Airborne debris will be widespread, and may include heavy items such as household appliances and even light vehicles. Water shortages will make human suffering incredible by modern standards.”

Over eight years later, the stories of survival don’t quite resonate in the Lower Ninth Ward. It’s largely a wasteland. Very few houses have been rebuilt. Wild grass now grows where families once lived, and subsequently perished in the rising floodwaters.

The few houses that have been built on this forlorn land come on stilts, just in case the waters are to rise again. And they have escape hatches built into their roofs, a timely reminder of how many people died trapped in their own houses.

Wayne Harris shows us where his family house once stood in the Lower Ninth Ward. He saw it all, including his neighbours’ deaths. He heard it all too: the ship that smashed through the floodwall, and the screams of his desperate friends.

Wayne was forced to leave New Orleans. He is now back in the city, and makes his living in the New Creations Brass Band. His was one of many departures. In 2005, one year after Katrina, the population had decreased by half. Now, it is back to 76 percent of what it was in the year 2000.

FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, still calls Katrina “the single most catastrophic natural disaster in US history.” In 2005, 80 percent of the city of New Orleans was flooded. A long time after the last floodwaters receded, a final, official death toll was published. Hurricane Katrina was responsible for the deaths of 1,836 people, most of them in New Orleans.

New Orleans has survived, though. Some had written off the whole city after Katrina, but it now resonates to the sound of hammers and power drills, as well as to the usual sounds of the city’s jazz scene.

New Orleans is rebuilding. The new University Medical Center should be finished soon, for example. This 1.2-billion dollar investment will replace the no man’s land created by Katrina. Money is being invested, but all the good intentions in the world won’t change the simple fact that large parts of the city lie below sea level, and are vulnerable to the elements.

Protecting New Orleans from the worst of storms is almost impossible. But the city lives on, ready to write another chapter in its bittersweet recent history.

By Stanislas DE SAINT HIPPOLYTE , Philip CROWTHER

COMMENT(S)

Archives

2017-06-23 Africa

Senegal’s Casamance hopes for new era of peace

"Neither war nor peace." That’s how residents of Casamance, a region in southern Senegal, describe the conflict that long blighted their fertile land. With the lull in violence...

Read more

2017-06-02 Middle East

Exclusive: Beyond the notorious prison cells in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib

Located on the outskirts of Baghdad, Abu Ghraib prison shot to worldwide fame for all the wrong reasons after it was revealed that US security forces had systematically and...

Read more

2017-05-11 Europe

Video: Kosovo, the impossible nation-state

For over a year, Kosovo has been in mired in political crisis, which reached a climax this week when the government collapsed and the president called snap parliamentary...

Read more

2017-04-27 Americas

What remains of Nicaragua’s revolution?

In 1979, Daniel Ortega was a revolutionary commander who overthrew Nicaragua's pro-American dictatorship and took power. Today, after a long period in the wilderness, he is...

Read more

2017-04-05 Africa

Video: Ebola survivors set on rebuilding their lives

Just over three years after the Ebola epidemic hit West Africa, our reporters returned to Guinea - where the outbreak began - and Liberia. They met locals who are still mourning...

Read more