Hurricane Katrina remembered 10 years later: 'There was little light. Little hope.'

  • On Aug. 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina slammed in the coasts of Louisiana and Mississippi. Soon after the storm surge toppled the levee systems of New Orleans and subsequently most of the city flooded.
  • An oil spill in Empire, La., September 2005.
  • Tulane Avenue is seen underwater ten days after Hurricane Katrina had passed in New Orleans, La., September 2005.
  • Here a helicopter drops supplies in New Orleans, La., September 2005. Seven thousand-pound sandbags were dropped onto the breach of a canal which had seen damaged by Katrina.
  • A mansion in the mouth of the Mississippi river was flooded, but seemed to be untouched from a distance.
  • The National Guard of Louisiana try to bring order to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in Chalmett, La., September 2005.
  • The Garden District of New Orleans is seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, September 2005.
  • A destroyed home is seen in Louisiana, September 2005.
  • Narcotics Division officers voluntarily look for victims in an area where they normally break down doors looking for drugs, in New Orleans, La.
  • ‘Bring in the flood on the world of the ungodly condemned to destruction, making them example to those who afterward would live ungodly lives.’ Rev. Edgar Taylor paraphrases Peter II:4-7 from his Bible, September 2005. He is a resident of the Lower Ninth Ward, New Orleans, La.
  • The National Guard convoys from faraway states head south towards the disaster zone to restore order in New Orleans, La., September 2005.
  • Flood waters in the Lower Ninth Ward are seen in October 2005 after Hurricane Rita struck New Orleans, La., not even a month after Hurricane Katrina. Seven thousand-pound sandbags were dropped onto the breach of a canal which had been damaged by Hurricane Katrina, but it wan’t enough to keep the Lower Ninth Ward from flooding again from Hurricane Rita. 
  • New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin speaks with first responders as they look over the damage of Hurricane Katrina, and the new damage of Hurricane Rita. Nagin was later charged and then convicted on 20 counts of bribery, money laundering and fraud, most of which stemmed from payments he received as the city sought to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.
  • A car named the “S.S. Clawz” is pictured in the Eighth Ward in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, La., December 2005.
  • A day laborer in Biloxi, Mississippi, is pictured as he clears water damage from a church that had been under water from Hurricane Katrina, December 2005 in Biloxi, Miss.
  • Residents of the Lower Ninth Ward visit the remains of their properties when they are finally allowed back in December, 2005, New Orleans, La.
  • Months after Katrina previously flooded cars still remain under an overpass, December 2005 - January 2006. 
  • Workers with the non-profit organization Common Ground Relief help the rebuilding efforts in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, La, December 2005- Janurary 2006.
  • Residents of the Lower Ninth Ward go through their personal belongings in New Orleans, La., December 2005 - January 2006.
  • A homeless shelter opens its doors for Katrina Victims, December 2005 - January 2006.
  • Months after Hurricane Katrina boats that were pulled from the yachting harbor outside New Orleans, La., still lay out of place in the streets, December 2005 - January 2006.
  • Tourists photograph in the Lower Ninth Ward, December 2005 - January 2006. 
  • Months after Hurricane Katrina victims still take refuge in the hotels in New Orleans, La, December 2005 - January 2006.
  • The Red Cross brings emergency food supplies to the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, La., December 2005 - January 2006. 
  • A group dances together in the biggest trailer park for Katrina victims, located just outside Baton Rouge, La, December 2005 - January 2006.
  • Family belongings with water damage from Hurricane Katrina are pictured, December 2005 - January 2006.
  • The Convention Center area in downtown New Orleans, La.
  • A home destroyed by Hurricane Katrina is pictured months later, December 2005 - January 2006. 
  • Residents of the Lower Ninth Ward return to their property and try to clear water damage to start rebuilding their lives in New Orleans, La., January 2006.
  • Trailer homes provided by the federal government to survivors and displaced persons of Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina had destroyed their homes are pictured in Chalmett, La., January 2006.

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NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana— During the dark days after the levees broke, this city sat virtually empty, blackened by the hell and high water that had swept through so violently.

There was little light. Little hope. Little sense that the world as so many had known it would ever return. Eighty percent of the city was beneath floodwater. Thousands of evacuees languished at the convention center, the Super Dome and in the attics and roofs of their flooded homes for days as evacuation efforts were hampered by the mismanagement of efforts and resources.

More than 1,400 people died as a result of the storm. Families were separated. For a time, lines of communication throughout the city – including between first-responders and city and state leaders – were virtually non-existent. And in that black hole, the seeds of rumor and myth grew frighteningly fast.

The National Guard marched in with a mission to evacuate the city. But to many residents, the guardsmen seemed more like occupiers than a force of good will. That was until Lt. General Russell Honore, a Louisiana native now retired from the force, took command and whipped the situation into order.

Eventually the floodwater receded. But as the water crept back into the lake and the canals and behind the tattered floodwalls the water had breached, so went an irreplaceable slice of life and culture.

Related: Eyewitness recounts Katrina 10 years later

Ten years later, as slivers of hope have pushed through the darkness of those days, there’s still a sense of uncertainty here.

While the federal government has spent billions of dollars to rebuild New Orleans and a wave of new entrepreneurs and restaurateurs have helped to bolster the new economy, scars – those deep rivets dug into the city a decade ago – have proven difficult to patch.

Many people tossed away by Hurricane Katrina have yet to return, including 100,000 black residents. That’s compared to just 11,000 whites who’ve stayed away.

Charity Hospital, the old public hospital where generations of the city’s poor were born, has been torn down and replaced by a billion dollar facility. The long-troubled public school system has been supplanted by a nearly all-charter district on the path to becoming the nation’s first all-charter system. The city’s crime-plagued barrack style public housing has been converted into affordable housing.

Yet, as much of the grime that predated Hurricane Katrina has been wiped clean, a strong sense of discontent in the city remains.

As neighborhoods have gentrified, rents have risen out of reach for many native New Orleanians. Crime and violence, a problem before the storm, continues. And as the city commemorates the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina with panels and high-profile events marking the great progress made over the past decade— including a visit and remarks from President Barack Obama— many here say bone-deep bruising that remains.

Photo Essay: 10 years later: New Orleans residents reflect on life after Katrina

“I don’t get the sense that it’s better yet. I knew it would take a long time, but I had no idea it would be more than ten years later and the housing market is just not there. The kids have no recreation. So therefore, it’s just recreational killing,” said Lucrece Phillips, a Katrina survivor who evacuated to Texas and stayed there for more than 8 years. She returned to New Orleans to be closer to family and to be back in the city she so desperately loved. But what she found has been a mixed bag of hurt and hope.

“This is not the New Orleans that I remember; not the community I remember. That when you heard the music you can walk outside and dance you know,” she said with a hearty laugh. “And everybody came out their houses and it was all love. Where is that love?”

Some have returned seeking a better life than they’d known before the storm. Some left vowing to never step foot back in the city. Many found better opportunities elsewhere. And many of those that have returned are just getting by.

“I think [the city] is a little bit better prepared now, you know, far as hurricanes are concerned. But the lack of police, the lack of people that really care about New Orleans being back here— and there’s a lot of people that’s here that do care. But there’s no leadership to bring us all together and say, okay, this is how we’re going to do this now,” Phillips said.

Obama, in his remarks ahead of the Aug. 29th anniversary of the storm, planned to touch on the lingering struggles of the city but also its progress. It’s a speech expected to be a menagerie of hard truths and hard fought victories for a city just a decade ago neck deep in floodwater and fatigue.

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