The essential long reads on Hurricane Katrina's 10-year anniversary
Ten years ago, the United States witnessed a disaster that shook the country's faith in government, exposing deep rifts in class and race that many of us would rather ignore. Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall in Florida on August 25th, 2005, is mostly remembered by the scenes of destruction and death in New Orleans, where more than 1800 people were killed by the storm and ensuing floods. Ten years later, we are still trying to make sense of what happened and why, how this tragedy could have been prevented, and what it means for the city's future.
Thankfully, on this sombre anniversary, journalists around the country are tackling these issues in creative and moving ways. Below is some of the best writing and reporting published in remembrance of the hurricane and its aftermath.
Additional reporting by Zoë Leverant.
"Starting Over", Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker
In this article, we follow a sociologist who has tracked the fates of those who moved away from New Orleans for good after the storm. The outcome for many who left has been surprisingly positive. Gladwell has come under well-deserved criticism of late for his exaggeration of evidence to support the claims made in his books. But even if we're taking this story with a grain of salt, it's a fascinating and unexpected look into how where we live affects our prospects in life, and the power of a fresh start. - SW
"The Yellow House", Sarah M. Broom, The New Yorker
Also in this week's New Yorker is a beautifully written, moving personal essay that traces the scattering of one family after the hurricane destroyed their home. Broom captures the lasting trauma that Katrina caused even for those who weren't physically present. Despite the grim outlook, her mother and brothers continue to hold out hope for returning things to how they were before the storm. From Broom's perspective, setting back the clock seems impossible. Her conclusion is that life doesn't allow for going backwards, only forwards. -SW
"The Lost Children of Katrina", Katy Reckdahl, The Atlantic
Three months after Katrina destroyed dozens of already-dilapidated New Orleans public schools, Louisiana took over the district’s schooling system and introduced a charter schooling initiative. But instead of providing poor students with an opportunity for better education, it left hundreds of displaced children without access to schooling for months or even years. Reckdahl examines the lasting effects of this disruption, which she argues are only beginning to emerge as these now-grown children try to enter the job market. -ZL
"A Housing Crisis Amid Tens of Thousands of Abandoned Homes", Gillian B. White, The Atlantic
Remediation for New Orleans’ decades-old property blight epidemic had barely started when Katrina hit; five years after the storm, over a quarter of the city’s housing stock was abandoned despite a housing crisis. Although blight is now down to pre-Katrina levels, a significantly smaller population makes recovery difficult. As White writes, local community groups, not the city government, are the ones making a real difference. It’s just not happening fast enough. -ZL
"Has New Orleans Learned the Lessons of Katrina?", David Urbeti, The Guardian
In this exhaustive survey of New Orleans’ last hundred years, Urbeti makes the case that the city’s plight is not unique among other declining American municipalities like Detroit – Katrina just made its struggle more dramatic. Full of data, quotes from experts, and interviews that humanize both, the piece exposes a long process of impoverishment and displacement that made the effects of the storm that much more devastating. -ZL
"A Tale of Two New Orleans", John Stanton, Buzzfeed News
Recovery efforts injected billions of dollars into the New Orleans economy and drew thousands of new residents, many of whom fell in love with the city while contributing to relief efforts. That influx also encouraged hyper-gentrification that threatens the city’s proud heritage. Stanton interviews several native New Orleanians who weathered the storm but, ten years later, risk losing their homes again to a very different force. -ZL
"Love and Death in New Orleans, A Decade After Hurricane Katrina", Charles P. Pierce, Esquire
"This has been New Orleans ever since the waters rolled back—an endless struggle between what was and what can be, between endless loss and boundless opportunity," Charles P. Pierce writes, in his sweeping account of a few of the many lives altered by the storm. Pierce weaves together his stark tale by following the late New Orleans police officer Daryle Holloway, from his days spent rescuing residents of the Lower Ninth trapped in attics and on roofs to his death by gunshot on the job earlier this year. Pierce's telling imbues overwhelming tragedy with a personal humanity. -SW