In 2005, Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent levee failures destroyed most of New Orleans. I still mourn the losses our city endured. But I celebrate the perseverance of our people, the kindness of strangers and the overwhelming determination to continue a culture that is so unique, so important and so delightful it continues to enchant. Please take time to remember what happened here and be grateful for strength and survival. Here are some of the photographs I made accompanied by my thoughts.
Someone once told me that you can’t make good pictures if you’re crying. I kept telling myself this as I peered into the viewfinder at chaotic piles of pews that had been thrown around the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church by nine feet of water. My mind kept flashing back to the recital ten months earlier, when my then nine-year-old daughter, Alyssa, played a perfect “Minuet and Trio” on the baby grand piano that now lay in shambles among the pews. For four years I had started out the day sitting on one of those pews listening to the opening chapel that began the school day for my children. I was confirmed as an Episcopal in front of that altar. My friend Mary’s funeral was at this church. Now there was concern that her ashes interred in a wall at the front of the church were mixed in with the ashes of others. This was not the first time I cried as I photographed the ruins of my city, and it certainly would not be the last.
When I photographed the city from a helicopter I was shocked by the extent of the damage. The Lower Ninth Ward stewed in more than eight feet of water for weeks.
While driving in a newspaper delivery truck through four feet of water I photographed a family passing a toddler over a fence in New Orleans on August 30, 2005. My own children were in a truck in front of mine. That could have been us, I thought to myself.
While riding in an airboat with the Army National Guard in the Lakeview neighborhood of New Orleans, we hit a bump. When I asked the soldier what he thought it was he said we drove the boat over a car.
I created a photo essay about where things landed because somehow those items looked like how I felt.
I was standing in what was left of the living room of 86-year-old Irwin Buffet for a story on how Katrina affects the elderly. The skin on his arm felt baby-soft when he rested his arm on mine to steady himself. “I lost my home. I lost my car. And all of my friends have moved away,” the frail man told me. He was a photographer who had lost every negative he ever created. The backs to his 4×5 cameras were encrusted in mud on the floor. At 88 he could see no future. And there was nothing I could do to help him. Looking at the image when I returned to the office I thought of the thousands of others like him and how little I could do to make it any better. “My future is behind me now,” Buffet told me. Like many elderly residents daunted by the prospect of rebuilding their flooded homes, Buffet lost all hope of coming back. At his funeral ten months later his daughter, Janice Shreve, told friends that her father was a victim of Hurricane Katrina. “He died of a broken heart,” she told them.
Water swallowed part of the interstate.
Tears were shed in memory of those who died in this Ninth Ward home.
Sand was deposited when the water receded on this street next to the London Avenue Canal.
A doll lies in the mud after floating from the upstairs bedroom of a five-year-old girl to the bottom floor of a New Orleans home. The doll was a gift from the girl’s grandfather who died shortly after he evacuated to Texas.
The Lower Ninth Ward near the canal break is a wasteland afer Hurricane Katrina.
Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick stand in front of what is left of their Flood Street property that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
Photographing from a helicopter with no side door I was able to get a clear view of the neighborhoods and other military helicopters working in the area.
Spray-painted signs on homes in New Orleans indicated that the house had been checked by the military.
The Ephesian Missionary Baptist Church in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans was destoyed by Hurricane Katrina.
New Orleans resident Gnann Cather salvages what she can from her home which had water over the roof. The Paris Avenue home is located near the breech in the London Avenue canal. I
A Mardi Gras mask is surrounded by mold in a New Orleans home that was flooded by Hurricane Katrina.
Times-Picayune reporter Chris Bynum peers out at all of her possessions after a group of co-workers calling themselves The Muckrakers helped gut the flooded house.
This is a street in the Lower Ninth Ward was devastated.
A photograph remains on a living room mantel surrounded by mold. The New Orleans house was filled with water from Hurricane Katrina.
This is the Ponchartrain Park subdivision in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent levee failure caused massive flooding.
A woman is rescued from the roof of a two-story house on Tulane Avenue near the old Dixie Brewery shortly after Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent levee failure flooded New Orleans.
Nelson Street residents Lisa Burns and her sons Delton and DJ watch the water rise the day Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. The city slowly filled with water as dozens of flood protection walls began to crack and seep on August 29, 2005.
A rat dashes across the street in the 9th Ward. A proliferation of rats plagued New Orleans in the months after the hurricane.
This American Flag dries in the mud on a street in the Ninth Ward area of New Orleans.