Our Bad Weather

Hurricane Katrina
August 29, 2005

Eventually, we will stop talking about Katrina.  But not yet.

Hurricane Katrina inflicted almost unimaginable damage on many areas of New Orleans.  Some neighborhoods were relatively unscathed and others were devastated.  Estimates are that only 25 percent of Orleans Parish homes escaped flood damage.  In the areas hardest hit, and they are extensive, the recovery has been decidedly variable.  In higher income areas, some people had the resources to rebuild before the federal assistance finally started flowing, which for homeowners really has been in just the past year.  Elsewhere, the progress has been exceedlingly slow, and no one really knows who will come back.  The Orleans Parish is at almost 80 percent of the prestorm population, although suburban areas are about back to about the same level and non-flooded areas probably have grown some.

We live in suburban Metairie, in Jefferson Parish, only about 8 miles from downtown New Orleans.  We had less than one foot of water in the house, all due to pumps that failed to work when the operators were evacuated across Lake Pontchartrain for the worst of the storm and were unable to return immediately after it subsided.  Had the levees failed on the Jefferson instead of the Orleans side of the 17th Street Canal (which separates the two parishes), we would have had 6-10 feet or more of water instead of New Orleans.  The storm was beyond our control but the disaster was manmade and mainly the result of human error in the design and construction of the levees.
This satellite photo shows why the New Orleans area requires protection from storms.  We sit mostly below sea level and directly south of the Lake. We are surrounded by marsh and swamps and are bisected by the Mississippi River. The naturally high ground hugs the Mississippi, as is very clear up river.   The city, though, has grown out through low lying areas to meet the lake.  But it is a unique and fascinating place to live, the irises grow well, and.the food is absolutely wonderful.  And properly-constructed levees would have averted the Katrina catastrophe.
In Metairie, the water was not salty and stayed only two days.  The stock of Zydeco Louisiana Iris Garden in Metairie was in no way harmed, except that we had to move to Baton Rouge for six months while our house was being renovated.   We were not here to water as often as the plants would have liked, and the hurricane was followed by a fairly long dry spell.  But that was a relatively minor matter.

Some of our stock was in a New Orleans community garden where the 17th Street Canal levee breach, on the New Orleans side of the canal, did let brackish water into the city.  Those irises were mainly grown in half barrels with no drainage.  Almost all of them sat in the salt water for around six weeks before I could even get back to look.  A few were killed outright and all that the flood waters got into were damaged.  The damaged ones began to recover after they were removed and replanted.  They sure don't like salt water, though.  If you are interested in what it did and don't mind a 389k download of a pdf file, take a look.


We count ourselves among the lucky ones in New Orleans.  We are back.   Far from organized and looking at a lot of weeds as bloom season begins.  But we survived and did not lose our house.  Too many people lost their homes and a tragically high number their lives.

As of early 2010, Metaire is back to near normal.  Except for a few vacant lots where buildings once stood, you really can't tell there was a hurricane.  Parts of New Orleans not flooded look fine, also, and these include the French Quarter and much of Uptown along the River.  The tourist areas look fine but there are not yet enough tourists, although that is improving.  The city has supported major events including Mardi Gras, the National Championship college football game, Jazz Fest and others.  

Many of the deeply flooded sections, which are extensive, still look like a ghost town in some areas with one flooded and usually gutted home after another.  We are looking at a ten to fifteen year recovery from this point forward and have many problems to work through.  Still, New Orleans is unique and remains a great place to visit.  Hopefully, the "new normal" will be better.  It will just take a while to fully emerge.