October 22, 2015

New Orleans archdiocese: forever changed by Hurricane Katrina

NEW ORLEANS — They are calling it “Kat 10” — Hurricane Katrina plus 10 years — which carries with it the double meaning of an ominous meteorological warning.

How could a Category 5 storm that engulfed the entire Gulf of Mexico but dropped in intensity to a Category 3 just before landfall on Aug. 29, 2005 — burying one of the world’s most iconic cities in a flood of biblical proportions — become the watershed moment in New Orleans’ nearly 300-year history?

The simple answer: Poorly engineered and constructed federal levees gave way under pressure, dooming a topographically challenged city that sits mostly below sea level.

The more complex answer: In a city founded near the mouth of the Mississippi River by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville May 7, 1718 — and buffeted over the centuries by storm, flood, fire, yellow fever and Civil War — no single event has had the sudden, powerful and indiscriminate impact of Katrina.

It was the death of a great city, the deaths of more than 1,800 people in their homes and attics, the deaths of family, neighborhood and church relationships, the death of hope.

And yet, 10 years later, New Orleans — in so many ways new and improved and utterly resilient — is a resurrection city.

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