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Science, Photography, and Trip Reviews


Devastation Caused by Hurricane Katrina


J. Ernest "Sunny" Breeding Jr.

New Orleans area and Mississippi Gulf Coast hit hard

The destruction goes on for many miles

Much of the region looks like a war zone

One Year Update

Office view after Hurricane Katrina.


Computer thrown on floor.

View of our office after hit by the storm surge
of Hurricane Katrina.


The computer and monitor were thrown on the

Purpose of this article

The purpose of this article is give the reader an idea of how really awful it has been and is following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina to the New Orleans area and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The damage and despair are far worse than seen on TV. Unless you have been in the area, much of which is still like a war zone, you really cannot comprehend the terrible damage. When you see it, feel it, smell it, and live through it each day you know how really bad it is. It is still bad, even several months after that horrible storm came ashore. Without massive help from the federal government, organizations like the Red Cross, and many other people this region cannot and well not survive. For our friends and anyone that suffered damage from Hurricane Katrina you have our heartfelt sympathy.

Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina came ashore on Monday, 29 August 2005 and the path was very close to our house. In the Gulf of Mexico prior to reaching landfall, the storm winds had reached Category 5 strength. Since storms have been recorded, there have been very few Category 5 hurricanes. The intensity of the winds decreased to a low Category 4 or a high Category 3 hurricane when Katrina hit land. The storm surge, generated by up to Category 5 winds, had a maximum height of about 30 feet. The damage the storm surge and winds caused is really horrible, and widespread for many miles.

Rescue operations

Some people refused to leave, even though evacuation was ordered in certain areas and recommended in others. When the water rose many people had to be rescued by boat or helicopter. A lot of people were taken from their roofs. Unfortunately, a number of people drowned in their attics where they had been chased by the rising water only to be trapped. People that planned for this situation took axes with them so they could chop a hole in the roof and escape.

Had it not been for the military services a horrible situation would have been even worse. The military is the only large organization that can be mobilized in a short time and has the equipment and the discipline to successfully carryout a large scale rescue mission. Although more than eleven hundred people were killed by Hurricane Katrina, the number would have been much higher without the help of the different branches of the military services.

Bookcase destroyed.


Desk in library after Katrina.

The bookcase was destroyed
along with its contents.


Desk in the library after
Hurricane Katrina struck.

It is most unfortunate that the governor of Louisiana, Governor Kathleen Blanco, waited so long to ask the federal government for help after Hurricane Katrina struck. The president in particular and the federal government in general are not able to offer assistance to a state until it is officially requested by the governor. The recovery effort has suffered badly from the lack of leadership of the Louisiana governor. The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) has been strongly criticized by many people for not doing more and for not responding more quickly. They will take their share of the blame, but when the problems are so enormous few organizations can move people, equipment, and other resources into a devastated area in a very short time.

Mass evacuation

The vast majority of people evacuated from the area, and they went to all 50 states and to many counties in many states. Getting people out of a city like New Orleans is not an easy task. It is necessary to go away from the storm, and there are only limited highways that take people away. Through an agreement between Louisiana and Mississippi the Interstate highways in the New Orleans/Mississippi Gulf Coast area only allow contra-flow traffic during evacuation. All lanes of a highway are one-way out of the threatened region.

A very large percentage of the people that evacuated have not come back. Once it was realized how bad the destruction was people stayed where they were because they knew that they could not live in their homes. Many hotels and motels were also destroyed or badly damaged, so finding a hotel room was not easy or impossible. Apartments that could be rented went fast and often to FEMA workers, insurance adjusters, and relief and recovery personnel. With schools out of service, at least temporarily, many parents put their children in schools wherever they ended up. Many people walked away from their homes, not being able to deal with the deplorable situation. There are a large number of people that will very likely never come back to the New Orleans/Mississippi Gulf Coast region to live again.

Books destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.


Destroyed books and journals.

The bottom three rows of books
and journals were destroyed by
the flood.


Ruined books and journals were stacked to be
cataloged and discarded.

Our decision to evacuate

Prior to Hurricane Katrina we had never evacuated from our home. On Saturday before the storm reached land it was a Category 3 hurricane. We had been a little nervous about the path, which was close to our house, but we decided to ride out the storm. In preparation for the high winds you pick up everything outside that could be destroyed or become a projectile in the wind and damage something. Everything must be secured. You make sure that you have food and supplies to last for several days, especially if you lose electricity and are trapped at home. We have been trapped at home because of high water for several days after previous storms. On early Sunday morning we received phone calls from family members telling us that Hurricane Katrina was now a Category 5 storm, and we were urged to leave. After conferring with our neighbors that morning we all decided that we should evacuate. We expected no flooding, but we figured there could be a lot of wind damage, and that it was likely that trees would be blown down and perhaps on the house. So we figured it would be prudent to leave for a few days. There was little time to do much in the house by the time that we had decided to leave, but Rebecca grabbed all of the important family pictures, and although I did not think that it was important at the time, I moved all of my slides taken on our world travels to the second floor. We packed a few things in the car including three pet taxies to take with us our adult cat and two kittens. We were not leaving without our cats; they are part of the family.

Kitchen after Hurricane Katrina.


Piano thrown on its back.

In the kitchen the refrigerator floated during
the flood.


An Original Chickering piano thrown on its back
and destroyed by the storm surge.

Panama City , Florida

The powerful storm chased us to Panama City, Florida where we had been invited to stay with Louise Percy, a very close friend that is like family. I had lived in Panama City for 17 years, and with good contacts there it was a logical place to go to. The trip is normally a little more than 300 miles and can be driven in about 7 hours. However, traffic during evacuation is anything but normal. We could not go east on Interstate 10 because they had established contra-flow. All lanes of the Interstate from Mississippi had one-way traffic to the west taking people from the Mississippi Gulf Coast to Interstate 59 headed north. We also had to take Interstate 59 north to Hattiesburg, where we then could go southeast to Mobile and finally get on I-10 east toward Panama City.  For the most part the traffic was moving very slow, and the trip took us 14 hours!

While in Panama City we learned that our house and property had suffered major damage due to Hurricane Katrina. David, the oldest son, had gotten into the house and found that the damage to it was so bad that we could not live there. We knew that we needed to live close to the house in order to clean it up and to repair the damage. We also knew that there would be looters in the neighborhood, and that it was best to be home in order to protect anything that had not been damaged. So we purchased a 27 foot travel trailer and had it delivered and parked in our driveway in front of the house. Knowing that we would be without electricity for sometime we bought a power generator for the trailer. We also knew that the car parked in the garage was destroyed, so we also bought a Toyota Sequoia to replace it, since the Sequoia is powerful enough to pull the trailer to safety if another hurricane hits. After spending 9 days in Panama City we had our recovery plans developed, and we headed home.

The terrible conditions found back home

It was like a war zone when we got back home; it was really bad. In the Slidell area where we live, many trees had been cut and removed from the highways and streets to clear them. You could see the remaining parts of the trees on the sides of the roads. Fallen trees were everywhere. There were also trees hanging on power lines, and many of the lines were down. There was no electricity, and we would not have any for several weeks. We have well water, but with no electricity the well pump could not be used. Fortunately, our well water is free flowing, so we were able to take showers in the trailer. We were concerned that our well water had been contaminated by the storm surge, so we were afraid to drink it until it could be tested and determined to be drinkable weeks later.

Dining room after Hurricane Katrina.


Dining room after Hurricane Katrina.

Note mud on the chairs and far wall in the dining room.


The buffet in the dining room was tossed on its back.

For the most part we lived on Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) given to us by the U.S. Army. Each day they passed out boxes of MREs, cans of water, and ice. The Red Cross and other organizations including churches offered meals and valuable assistance. It was all badly needed.

Our decision to buy a power generator to provide electricity to our travel trailer was a good one. But to keep it running we needed gasoline. Fortunately, a few gas stations had opened with their own generator power. There was also a Winn-Dixie grocery store open under generator power. The hours that any store or station was open were very limited as well as the supplies available. For weeks after the storm the vast majority of stores were closed. Some will never open again.

The damage to our house and property due to the wind was unbelievable. Several doors on the upstairs of the house had been blown out. Throughout the yard trees were down everywhere. Things had been carried away by the swift flowing water brought with the storm surge. The whole area had flooded. Even the dead were not spared. Three vaults containing coffins in a cemetery near us were carried by the storm surge across the highway and deposited in the ditch. They remained there for weeks. This was a problem in cemeteries around the area as some vaults and coffins were displaced by the storm surge.

Inside our house the situation was even more incredible than outdoors. It was like a tornado had occurred in some of the rooms. It was awful, and there was much damage.

Damage to our house & contents

We had three to four feet of water in the downstairs of our house from the storm surge. This was actually fairly deep since most of our property is at sea level, and our house is built on a slab that is eleven feet above sea level. In the garage we had up to six feet of water, which drowned a car. The car is seen in a picture. It is estimated that 300,000 cars flooded in the New Orleans area. As a result of the flooding, we lost nearly everything on the first floor including the office. We work long hours day after day trying to clean up the horrible mess. The first thing was to get all of the wet stuff out of the house. That meant everything on the first floor. All the carpet, paneling, furniture, appliances, and most of the sheet rock are gone. Everything that we owned on the first floor of the house was removed.

Books in dining room after Hurrican Katrina.


Dining room after Hurricane Katina.

Books on the counter top in the den were ruined
by the flood.


The furniture in the den was picked up and


The pictures shown are of the rooms as they appeared when first seen after the storm. In the office the couch was carried away from the wall, and a refrigerator to the left of it was picked up and the top of it thrown on a table where printers and scanners were placed. The tables against the wall under the window were tipped forward throwing a computer, monitor, and other equipment on the floor in the water. A bookcase was destroyed along with all of the books that it contained. The contents of three drawers in each of two filing cabinets swelled in the flood water and could not be immediately removed. The contents were left alone to dry out.


In the library I lost many thousands of dollars in scientific books and journals. Some of them can be seen in the pictures. The books and journals on the bottom three shelves got wet and swelled so much from the storm surge water that I had to use a crowbar to pry them out of the shelves. Since they were wet they had to be removed from the house.

Kitchen and dining room

In the picture of the kitchen you can see that the refrigerator was picked up and wedged between the counter and wall. Chairs were dumped on the floor. Pots and pans with coatings had to be thrown away. One of the old original Chickering pianos was tossed on its back, as seen in the picture, and destroyed. What a terrible fate for a great piano, which belonged to my daughter. In the dining room pictures you can clearly see dried mud brought in by the storm surge on the furniture and walls. It is interesting that the table cloth, which we got in Guatemala, stayed on the table along with the candle and flower arrangement. A rug beneath the table that we brought back from Turkey has been sent off with the hope that it can be cleaned.


Things were really scattered in the den, as is apparent in the pictures. Things were brought in that had been in other rooms. The couch, which had been against the wall on the left side of the pictures, was rotated 90 degrees and moved towards the TV set. It you look carefully at the picture of the new TV set you can see the water level on the screen. The water level is more obvious in the picture of the stereo equipment. A rug brought back from Morocco has been sent off to be cleaned, if that is possible.

Television set in dining room after Hurricane Katrina.


Stereo equipment after Hurricane Katrina.

The water level can be seen on the TV set.


The speakers and most of the
stereo system went under water.


The garage was a mess as can be seen in the pictures. The car was picked up and it floated backwards toward the garage door. The air compressor was turned upside down because the air tank was buoyant. A lot of my research notes, university lecture notes, and research articles were stored in boxes that went under water in the garage. Most of that material was destroyed. Lawn mowers, a tractor, weed eaters, and other lawn equipment no longer work. It remains to be seen what is repairable, since repair shops have so much work to do repairing chain saws that they will not take on any other work. There are numerous chain saws in use cutting up trees.


All of the ruined items become garbage, and are placed on the street for FEMA contractors to take away. Furniture, trees, and similar items were placed in one pile. Appliances are placed in a separate pile. A third pile contains any hazardous materials. It was not a nice sight seeing all of our furniture and appliances picked up and dropped in big trucks and carried away. The streets were often so cluttered with ruined furniture, appliances, trees, and other debris that it was sometimes impossible for two cars to meet and get by. The things I regret loosing the most were so many of my books, scientific journals, and research notes from my geophysics career. I also regret the loss of my amateur (ham) radio gear, most of our stereo components, and photographic equipment.

Damage to our yard

In our yard of about 2 1/2 acres we had about 50 trees down. Big oak trees were pulled out of the ground by their roots. Pine trees were snapped at various heights above the ground. Examples of these are seen in the pictures. The root of the fallen oak tree towered over my head. Part of a tree fell in the pool. It was a pine tree, and pine sap from the tree damaged the pool bottom. We hired people to clean the pool while we worked on the house. But the pool will have to be resurfaced again. The disgusting thing is that we had already had it resurfaced a few years ago.

BMW in garage after Hurricane Katrina.


Things scattered in garage after Hurricane Katrina.

The car floated in nearly 6 feet of water in the


Bicycles, tractor, and many things went under

When we arrived back at our house it was difficult to walk around it, and it was impossible to walk across part of the yard because of the scattered trees. So we hired people with big equipment to remove the trees and place them on the street in front of our house to be picked up by FEMA contractors. I was told that there are more than 6000 trucks in the area removing debris. A picture shows a tree that had fallen on our boat house being removed. This is another example of job we were not able to do By using a big bobcat it was possible to pick up the fallen tree and toss it in the bayou without causing further damage to the boat house. There are many trees in the bayou, and they have to be removed because debris in the bayou and rivers will prevent them from draining rain water. That would cause serious flooding from heavy rains. A picture of a tree being removed from the bayou behind our house can be seen. We now have a big pile of wood from destroyed oak trees which will eventually be cut up into firewood.

New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast area

As bad as we had it many people have it much worse. Not far from us are areas that are completely devastated. This is especially true close to Lake Pontchartrain where there is not much left of some houses. In some places only slabs remain. A home floated off of its slab and was carried across a highway.

The storm center went ashore nearby in the Pearl River system. Doubloon Bayou, which is behind our house, goes into the Pearl River. When the storm surge came up the Pearl River it backed up into our bayou, and that is one of the reasons why we flooded. In Mississippi close to the Pearl River entire towns were destroyed. In places like Pearlington, Waveland, and Pass Christian the damage is so severe that many of the homes that remain will be bulldozed. We drove by the bay in Bay St. Louis, and you see driveways and sidewalks that go to slabs. Some pillars remain but the houses are gone.

A lady we know lived a block from the bay in Waveland. Her house was washed away by the storm surge along with all of its contents. Nothing remains! Can you imagine? In a wooded area near the Mississippi Gulf Coast we saw trees with cloth and other things stuck in the branches. As the storm surge rushed through the area these things were caught in the trees.

Boxes and things scattered after Hurricane Katrina.


Boxed items destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

The green air compressor was turned upside


Boxes and their contents were ruined by the

New Orleans levees

The levees that failed New Orleans were built in the 1960s. At the time hurricanes had not been categorized based on wind speed. But the design of the levee system is consistent with Category 3 hurricanes. The levee system was not designed for a storm as strong as Hurricane Katrina. There is a lot of discussion about that now, and the Army Corps of Engineers is being severely criticized for the failure of the levees. They would be very happy to build a more substantial levee system, but money to do so was never appropriated by Congress, and Louisiana does not have the money. I spent most of my professional life doing research and teaching advanced courses on ocean waves generated by storms like hurricanes. It is interesting that my PhD thesis at Columbia University was based on an analysis of the paths of waves generated by Hurricane Betsy, which clobbered New Orleans in September 1965.

Based on my past work I have an understanding of what it takes to do research and develop mathematical models. Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion in public discussions today about rebuilding the New Orleans levees. Some people look to the Netherlands for answers because they have an extensive system of levees. However, that is like comparing apples and oranges. The Netherlands does not have hurricanes, and the soil those levees are built in differs from New Orleans. As to where to get answers, the coastal engineers in different countries share information through papers published in journals and by attending international meetings. Everybody in the field knows what their colleagues in other countries are doing.

Determining the appropriate way to build a Category 5 levee system in New Orleans is not an easy task. This is mainly because there have been very few Category 5 hurricanes. So there is a tremendous lack of data. You can build mathematical models and experimental models to predict what a Category 5 hurricane will do to New Orleans. You can learn a lot this way. But models are based on assumptions, and without real world data to test the results you can never be sure that you have the correct answer. Having said that the fact remains that Congress is not likely to appropriate the many billions of dollars it would take to build a Category 5 levee system for New Orleans. The most that can be hoped for is that the present levee system will be rebuilt and that it be built somewhat stronger than it was. The fact that Category 5 hurricanes are rare, and that the combination of a Category 5 hurricane and a path that strikes New Orleans is even rarer might give some comfort in rebuilding in the New Orleans area. But the best defense from hurricane generated storm surges is to build at high enough elevations and in locations where flooding is not an issue.

Pool with dirty water and tree.


Drained jpool with tree and pots.

The pool contained very dirty water and some fish.


Once drained the pool revealed tree debris and two heavy pots that floated in.

Hurricane damage in New Orleans

It is very revealing to compare maps of New Orleans in 1878 and today. If you look at where New Orleans suffered the least amount of damage from Hurricane Katrina it is where people lived in 1878. The high ground is along the river. That is why people first built in what is now the French Quarter. That area, the Central Business District, the Garden District, and further west along the Mississippi River define the safest places to settle. In 1878 areas between the Mississippi River high ground and south of Lake Pontchartrain and areas in Eastern New Orleans were swamps or marsh land. Hurricane Katrina reclaimed that land. Should those areas be built back? That is a tough question to answer if you live there.

Hurricane Katrina destroyed many homes in New Orleans. The Audubon Zoo suffered some damage, the Aquarium suffered extensive damage due to the loss of many fish, and the Nature Center in New Orleans East was destroyed. The loss of fish occurred because the fish tanks could not be properly maintained without electricity. A large part of New Orleans is still in the dark four months after the hurricane struck.

Many oak trees in New Orleans City Park went down, but many of the older ones survived. There was some damage to the New Orleans Museum of Art located in City Park. The universities were hard hit both from damage and the loss of students. For example, Tulane University, one of the best universities in the nation, has had to eliminate some departments, faculty, staff, and sports. Only a few elementary and high schools are currently open in New Orleans. Many companies have relocated, at least temporarily, to cities like Houston. Will they come back? It is too early to say.

Furniture and appliances put out as gargabe.


Root of big oak tree pulled out of ground.

Ruined furniture and appliances waiting to be
taken to the garbage dump.


The root of a big oak tree that was pulled out of
the ground.

A large number of police, fireman, and other support people are living on ships docked in the Mississippi River in New Orleans. Many of these people lost their homes and are badly needed to protect or rebuild the city. Hotels that are open are filled with people that work for insurance companies, FEMA, contractors, and others helping to rebuild the city. It will take a long time for much of New Orleans to recover. However, the French Quarter and many tourist attractions will be back in operation in the near future. Some businesses and attractions are already open. There are already tours showing the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

The bad and sad state of mind

Dealing with all of the problems and losses associated with the hurricane push people to their limits nearly everyday.  Many people are highly frustrated, very disturbed, and angry.  The terrible devastation, which you see everyday, leaves you feeling very vulnerable and you worry about the coming hurricane season.  It is no wonder that so many people have not been able to deal with the problems and have walked away from their homes.  It is sad that the suicide rate has increased, and a number of good people are no longer with us.

Where is the insurance money? Why is it so little?

It can be a real battle getting insurance money. The insurance adjusters are badly overloaded with work and many have very little experience doing this kind of work. Getting an insurance adjuster to come to your house can take months. The insurance claim depends upon whether the damage is considered due to the wind or water, and whether it is structure or house contents. Wind damage is covered by the insurance company, whereas water damage is administered by an insurance company but is covered by the federal government. Most of the damage by Hurricane Katrina to most of the homes is considered due to the storm surge, i.e., water. Most people do not have sufficient coverage for water damage, especially for their house contents. If you disagree with your insurance settlement, and most people including us do, you have to reopen your claim and battle for more money. What a pain.

Pine trees snapped and tossed.


Trees destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

Pine trees were snapped at various heights above
the ground.


Fallen trees were scattered everywhere. Our
house is in the background.

Recovery phase

Many homes are so badly damaged that they will have to be bulldozed. Some people will not be allowed to rebuild on their lot if the probability of another flood there is high. Some people will be allowed to rebuild, but they will have to raise the elevation of their house by several feet or more. When you drive around you see many houses with blue roofs. The roofs are covered with blue tarps provided by FEMA to keep out the rain. There was much damage to roofs from wind damage including falling trees that crashed into homes.

The FEMA is providing people with trailers to live in that are parked in front of their damaged homes or in trailer parks. It has taken more than three months for many people to acquire the trailers. To get a FEMA trailer you have to have water, sewage, and electrical hook ups. Although FEMA contractors set up the trailers, they cannot do so until local permits are obtained, and that can take time. Also, local groups and governments sometimes oppose the placement of trailers. When we bought our travel trailer we did not know that FEMA would provide us a trailer. However, having our own trailer early was definitely an advantage in that we were able to immediately put it on our property and be where we needed to be. Some people without trailers are staying in tents.

Fortunately, our house can be rebuilt. Since so many people need a contractor finding one to do the work can be very difficult. We had used one before, and we got on their list immediately after getting back from our evacuation to Panama City. But it takes forever to get things done. Contractors are spread too thin, and they have had to rely on out-of-town subcontractors to get a lot of the work done. Subcontractors and support people have come here from all over the United States and beyond to take part in the recovery. They come here because the wages are much higher than normal. The people subcontracted to put sheet rock on our house came from Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Mexico, and Honduras. The telephone people that came to repair our phone service were from West Virginia and California. Pacific Bell had 200 of their technicians here, and they had taken over all of the upper floors of the local Hampton Inn. The lower level of the motel had been destroyed by the storm surge.

Fallen tree removed from boathouse.


Trees removed from bayou behind house.

Big equipment was needed to remove this tree
that was thrown on the boat house.


Trees being removed from the bayou behind our

Shopping is an ordeal, and prices are going out of sight because of high demand. Just about everybody needs the same things. Some items that would normally be in stock must be ordered, and there can be a long wait. Many stores and restaurants are not open. The stores that are open have limited hours. Most of their help and sales staff evacuated, and many of them have not come back. Some stores where you buy carpet, counter tops, and other household items are so busy that they have closed their doors except to previous customers. When you are not working on your house you are shopping. I have never shopped so much in all of my life. These days I always carry a tape measure with me because there is always a need to measure something.


We have replaced our heating/cooling system and the pump for our well. Both pumps for the pool are new. There is very little that you can salvage when you are flooded with saltwater. We have ordered all new appliances and cabinets. Restoring phone service took months because of extensive damage to the company's telephone equipment in the main office as well as remote stations. Most of our first floor is being rebuilt. Four months after Hurricane Katrina we finally have sheet rock on the walls. Most of the trees damaged by the hurricane have been removed. Only a few remain to be cut down.

The hard drive on the ruined computer contained many important files with client information for the travel business. Fortunately, every morning there was an automatic backup of the hard drive onto an external hard drive. Even more importantly, I took the external hard drive with me when we evacuated. As a result, I have been able to load most of those files onto a new computer. But there was a problem with a lot of my software since I did not take any program CDs with me. It was easy to clean all of the CDs, as they are hard to destroy. But most of the CD covers were lost in the flood water, and the covers had contained the installation codes or keys. That made it impossible to install some of the software. I contacted the companies that made the software, and all of them were very nice in that they either gave me installation keys or new CDs. Now I have all of my CDs in a carrying case with the installation keys. If I have to evacuate again I can grab both my external hard drive and my case of CDs! Some of my programs were obtained as computer downloads. That was not a problem since the files were copied to my external hard drive. However, I did have to get permission from some software companies to install their programs since the installation keys had expired.

Destroyed things stacked on the street for garbage pickup.


FEMA contractors hauling away household items.

Ruined furniture and other debris piled on the
street ready for pickup.


Big trucks hauled our ruined possessions away to
a dump. Here a truck is being loaded.

After waiting three months the contents of the wet filing cabinets had dried out somewhat, but it was still impossible to remove files and folders due to the swelling. Finally, I selected some folders that I was willing to ruin, and pulled them out. The remaining folders could then be removed without tearing, but much of it still has to thrown away. I was surprised to learn that pages printed with an ink jet printer are washed out and not readable. But pages printed with a laser printer are still readable if the paper can be salvaged. I will default to laser printers in the future for most of my printing.

We are making progress, but there is much more to do. The picture of the travel trailer in front of the house was taken after the fallen trees there had been removed. The picture of Rebecca in our office was taken after the house was gutted. It will take many months, in some cases years, to rebuild and clean everything up. It will never again be the same. Please, no more hurricanes.

Trailer parked in front of house.


Rebecca in office ater house is gutted.

The travel trailer became our home after
Hurricane Katrina ravaged our house.


Rebecca in our office after the house was gutted.

One Year Update

One year after Hurricane Katrina caused much devastation in the New Orleans metropolitan area and the Mississippi Gulf Coast some progress has been made in the recovery efforts, but much remains to be done. The storm surge was enormous, with a maximum recorded height on the Gulf Coast of 55 feet. For the most part we have lost a year out of out lives. You spend nearly all of your time trying to recover; there is very little free time to do anything that gets you ahead.

Area conditions

Even a year later, the New Orleans area newspapers and TV local news programs are still dominated by stories related to Hurricane Katrina. You cannot get away from Katrina. It is always in your face and ears. Many areas still have widespread devastation, while some of the less damaged areas are building back. Skeletal remains of hurricane victims are still being found in some devastated homes as the cleanup continues. More than 1,600 lives were lost in New Orleans due to flooding after the levees failed.

Medical care

Charity Hospital, which was one of the nation's best trauma hospitals, had so much damage that it is closed and will not reopen. Other hospitals in New Orleans have not reopened, and some are open with reduced services. In the area a large percentage of doctors, dentists, nurses, and other healthcare officials are gone. They had to move away to get jobs.


Much of the damage to some stores and shopping centers in New Orleans was not directly due to Hurricane Katrina but was instead caused by looters. Anything that could be stolen was taken and fires were set causing extensive damage to property. Looters also took what they could from many vacant homes.

Rats and mosquitoes

The rat population is exploding due to many homes that have been abandoned and have never been cleaned up. All of the debris is a perfect place for rats to live and populate. Also, mosquitoes are out in greater number in places due to abandoned pools and debris that holds water.


With the coming of spring the trees began sprouting leaves, and that was a good thing because they hid some of the devastation. But trees that were not destroyed by Hurricane Katrina were severely damaged. A long drought followed Katrina, and it is only a matter of time before many of them, now at an angle to the ground, fall with the next wind. Weakened pine trees are being attacked by beetles, and many of them will not survive.

To rebuild or not to rebuild – lack of leadership

There is a real lack of leadership in New Orleans on the issue of whether to rebuild a home or not. Some areas were more heavily devastated than other areas. In the heavily devastated areas it is an important question as to whether one should rebuild. If so, should the house be raised based on the latest flood maps? That is a very expensive undertaking. What about neighbors? Will they come back and rebuild their houses too? Will the city provide services to these areas if only a few people rebuild there? People are left with very little guidance from city and state leaders as to what they should do.

Levees and the Army Corps of Engineers

There is much discussion about the levees. Everyone wondered if they would be repaired in time for the present hurricane season? A lot of work has been done to return the levees to their pre-Katrina state and in many cases there have been improvements. But it is a very big job, and work remains. Nearly everybody wants to blame the Army Corps of Engineers for the failure of the levees, when in fact they were never built to withstand a storm surge of the magnitude produced by Hurricane Katrina. However, had the levees not collapsed the flooding would have been a lot less than it was. Lessons learned will lead to a better levee system. But it will be a long time if ever before a levee system capable of withstanding a Category 5 hurricane is built. In fact, there are so many variables such as wind speed, size, speed, and path of the storm that you have to question how you should define a Category 5 hurricane for the purpose of building a levee.


After one year the kitchen is the only room in the flooded first floor of our house that is nearly rebuilt. All of the remaining rooms that were damaged are still under construction. It will be at least several more months before our house will be completely rebuilt, if by then. Many of our neighbors have the same story. The contractors are so busy they come and go. Currently we see them every other weekday. Many of our neighbors simply could not deal with the pressures of rebuilding or were afraid to stay and have sold out and moved elsewhere. They may be the smart ones.


It was six months before we had a kitchen in the house, and it was only a temporary kitchen. Prior to then we used the kitchen in the travel trailer. After ten months we finally had a permanent kitchen in the house. The granite counter tops were installed, and once they were in place the cook top was installed. Following the storm surge we had not had a working cook top in the house until then!


Getting a reasonable insurance settlement to rebuild the house was a real challenge. The claims adjustors kept changing requiring us to continually educate the new person and plead our case for more money. Our contractor had to provide a detailed estimate of what it would cost to rebuild our house and our local insurance agent had to make a phone call before we finally obtained a settlement that we think is fair.


It was possible to have the flooded rugs that we bought in Morocco and Turkey professionally cleaned, although the cleaning process took many months.

Help from others

My very good friend Dale Moser flew down from Iowa to work on my flooded yard equipment. He worked for eight days and was able to salvage my lawn tractor, mower, mulcher, and trailers. He also repaired other things around the house. My son-in-law Robert Toney helped me to string wires in the den for my replacement stereo system, which will be installed once the den is completed.

Bayou behind house

For much of the last year the bayou behind our house remained high and at times flooded parts of our yard. The bayou could not drain due to a blockage somewhere from storm surge debris. Normally the bayou drains into the West Pearl River. There is a serious problem with some bayous, canals, and rivers in the area. They need to be cleaned out so there is not serious flooding when it rains.

Environment disturbed

Alligators were displaced by the storm surge, and some have been spotted on our property. Since we live on the edge of a swamp that is not surprising, although we hope that they will go back into the swamp. At one time gnats were so bad that you could not be outdoors. They would swarm all over you. Fortunately, that does not seem to be a problem now. Prior to Hurricane Katrina many squirrels lived in the trees on our property. In the past year we have rarely seen a squirrel, and I have not seen one in months. Even the cockroaches took a hit. In the past year we have rarely seen one.


Much work needs to be done in the yard. We will eventually replace some of the lost trees and add some plants. We need truck loads of dirt to fill in the holes from missing oak trees and ruts left by big machinery when fallen trees were removed.

Health issues

Due to physical work and stress I lost 25 pounds in the months following the storm. I had to add two new holes to my belt to get it tight enough to keep my pants up.

Nearly killed, then injured

I set up a table outdoors near a big stack of ruined scientific journals where I was recording each issue for income tax purposes. I lost in excess of 2,000 journals, and they are all being claimed as a loss. There was a great deal of wind one day, and I heard a creaking sound in the trees above me. The next think that I knew the 40 foot top section of a big oak tree fell and landed a few feet from where I was seated. It just missed me and it squashed a wheel barrel that I had had for years. It happened so fast that the top of the tree was on the ground before I could figure out how to move. The bottom of the fallen tree section was brown and you could see that it had been split. But the rest of the tree section was green with leaves, and it had appeared perfectly normal looking up from the ground. Many trees were damaged by Hurricane Katrina, and big branches and limbs are falling on windy days.

My dentist was seriously injured by a falling tree and he ended up in the hospital. He had damage to a shoulder, and this makes it difficult for him to treat his patients. I heard that one nearby funeral home has buried eight people that were killed by falling trees.

In the early part of July I went to Slidell Memorial Hospital to have surgery to repair a painful hernia obtained moving Hurricane Katrina debris to the street where it was to be put in trucks and taken away. I am currently in the recovery phase, and I cannot lift anything over 5 pounds for weeks. The hernia was in the groin area, and it seems that you cannot move any part of your body without stressing the injured part. Doing a simple task like tying my shoe strings becomes impossible because it is painful to bend over. The recovery is very frustrating.

The state of mind

Many people are suffering from depression due to the long ordeal of trying to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. People tend to be very fragile and are easily disturbed. I have certainly been more depressed than at any other time in my life. This is not a healthy state and can lead to major illnesses. The suicide rate is higher than normal.

Income tax

In the Hurricane Katrina region the date income taxes are due has been delayed until 16 October. Accounting for all of the losses is a very big job.

Supporting documents

Much of the evidence to support losses on our income tax was in folders in the flooded filing cabinets. Even a year later some of the pages are a bit moist. Salvaging the contents in the many folders is a real challenge. You have to carefully try to pull everything apart and some things tare up in the process. Invoice material is especially hard to work with since the sheets are often very thin.

Even safe deposit boxes in a lot of banks were not safe after being flooded by the storm surge. The contents of many safe deposit boxes were ruined. In the future it would be best to scan important documents like home appraisals, mortgages, and receipts for home improvements, and then back up the files on CDs or DVDs.

New Orleans tourism

Mardi Gras this year had a small crowd. It was possible to find a place to park in the French Quarter at noon, which is unheard of. There was also only a short wait at popular restaurants for lunch.

The French Quarter Festival is mostly a local event, although people from outside the area have discovered it. This year the crowd was good, but not great. There appears to have been a fairly decent crowd at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

The Audubon Zoo is open, but it did experience some damage and loss of wildlife. The hippo, a crowd favorite, was killed by Hurricane Katrina. The reptile and bird exhibits suffered damage and were closed the last time we were there. The Aquarium recently opened, but many of the tanks had to be restocked with fish and marine life to replace what had been destroyed. Tourist areas like the French Quarter are in good shape and open for business.

Next year

In many parts of the region devastated by Hurricane Katrina the recovery effort will take many years. Within the next year many people will decide whether to rebuild in New Orleans or perhaps move to one of the suburbs. On the other hand, many people will decide to stay in one of the many states that they evacuated to instead of coming back. Tourism within the New Orleans area should improve considerably since most of the popular tourist areas are already back to normal.

Surely within the next year the rebuilding of our house will finally be completed. At that point we will concentrate on purchasing furniture to replace that which was destroyed. We will also focus our efforts on getting our yard back into shape. Much work remains to be done. There really are not words that adequately describe the hit that this area took from Mother Nature one year ago.

Updated 5 September 2006

Photos by Sunny Breeding. We sell prints and images.