Seven years ago today, the residents of New Orleans were in the midst of the last day before The Storm, as hurricane Katrina has come to be known by locals in its aftermath. The following day, on August 29th, 2005, the storm would make landfall as a Category 3 storm with winds reaching 74 to 130 miles per hour and the gulf coast was hit hard. Levees were breached in New Orleans and over 1,800 people lost their lives in the storm and ensuing flooding.
At an estimated $81 billion, Katrina would be the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. Katrina changed the city of New Orleans forever, but the disaster changed our larger culture on many levels. Criticism of the Bush administration’s response to the storm prompts different responses to disasters by political leaders today; a generation of young people learned about volunteering by moving to New Orleans to help rebuild the city; and racial and economic inequality in America was laid bare by the wind, water and aftermath.
How is America different in a post-Katrina reality? Will the lessons learned continue to be heeded as time passes?
Douglas Brinkley, Presidential Historian and Professor of History at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and author of “The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast” (Harper Perennial 2007)