Hurricane Katrina: Superdome Poem

Hurricane Katrina: Superdome Poem



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Poetry Moment: Patricia Smith stuns with hurricane poem

Fifteen years ago today, Hurricane Katrina blew apart the bayou.

While many people suffered in the storm and its aftermath, Black and brown people who lived in the path of that category 5 Atlantic hurricane were disproportionally traumatized.

New Orleans and its surrounding bayous were soon filled with the dead bodies of more than of its 1,200 citizens. Eighty percent of the city was under water and didn’t drain for weeks. Survivors waited on bridges and rooftops for days in the blistering sun. The Superdome shelter became a vision of hell—steaming hot and filled with thirsty, wounded, and moaning hurricane survivors. The government’s lackluster rescue operation, as well as the determination that the Army Corps of Engineers had built faulty levees that failed to protect the city’s residents, are the bitter pills that New Orleans had to swallow.

Poet Patricia Smith, like most of the rest of America, watched horrifying images on television of the storm and its aftermath. But Smith turned the horror into something beautiful, a collection of poems, Blood Dazzler.
In 2013, as part of the Columbia Festival of the Arts, HoCoPoLitSo hosted Smith. She read her suite of poems about the hurricane as the Sage String Quartet played Wynton Marsalis’ “At the Octoroon Balls” for an audience that was struck silent and teary-eyed.

HoCoPoLitSo also produced a television interview that weekend. Poet Joseph Ross interviewed Smith for a conversation that touched on her origin as a writer listening to her father tell stories on their Chicago back porch, and her inspiration for Blood Dazzler. Ross describes the collection as coming from a choir of voices, including that of the hurricane herself. Smith explained that she’s not from New Orleans, she has no tether to the Gulf region.

“The primary role of a storyteller is as a witness,” Smith said. “And Katrina was not just a regional story, it was a national story. You’re seeing what your country is capable of. I watched Katrina unfold the way thousands of other people did. The difference is that in my role as witness, in my role as writer, I felt that I could use my writing to process that story. I’m trying to make the story makes sense–that’s how I approach a lot of stories–this can’t be possible, this can’t be true. Let me enter it through my writing and see if I can find something that I’m not seeing on the surface.”

This Poetry Moment’s poem, “8 a.m. Sunday, August 28, 2005”, is in Katrina’s commanding, menacing voice. Finding Katrina’s voice, Smith said, was easiest for her.“Persona allows me to enter a story in a way that is going to open up a lot of other avenues right away,” Smith said. “It never occurred to me not to give Katrina a voice. That also left me some touchstones – I tried to keep it roughly chronological and follow the development of the storm, but every once in a while, I’d say, “Now Katrina is feeling this. Now she’s angry, now she’s remorseful, now she’s saying ‘Maybe I overdid it.’ ”
Katrina, like one of the Greek goddesses spurred into destruction by humans’ blunders, came down hard on the planet. But she was fed with warm water from the oceans, growing warmer by the minute thanks to humans causing climate change.

This summer has been a hard one for so many. As I write, Hurricane Laura is barreling toward Category 4 status, with the Gulf Coast in its path. Wildfires are blazing in California, destroying homes and animals and redwoods and people’s lives. Death Valley hit 130 degrees, the highest temperature recorded since 1913 on this planet. Climate change isn’t in the distance. It’s here. And there is an intimate link between racial injustice and climate change, with communities of color disproportionately suffering as the world warms.

Poetry can tell stories, and it can bear witness. We’re going to need to witness much more in the coming years, as climate change whips up storms and harsh weather that will batter this country, and the world. Words can change the world, yes, but only if humans listen.


Hurricane Katrina: Superdome Poem - HISTORY

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2006 - Detail

September 25, 2006 - In New Orleans, the Louisiana Superdome reopens after repairs caused by Hurricane Katrina damage. The repairs included the largest re-roofing project in U.S. history and took thirteen months following the destruction to the Gulf Coast region.


One year earlier, during Hurricane Katrina, it had been the site refuge for residents, although some would say with the conditions there, less than that. However, for fifteen thousand of New Orleans residents who had used its halls and fields as a disaster relief center, the Louisiana Superdome, was the location they needed to flee to as the storm surge hit. But the Superdome had also been damaged by the winds and rains of the worst hurricane to hit the region for decades and would need significant repair.

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall at 6:10 a.m. CST, downgraded to a Category Three hurricane, but larger in its outer eyewall than when it had been churning through the Gulf of Mexico as a Category Five. A storm surge was pushed forward, engulfing the lower 9th Ward of New Orleans under six to eight feet of water. Residents, due to levee breaks all around the city, and in a city that was below sea level at many points, were forced to look for shelter any place they could, if they had not left before. Fortunately, between eighty to ninety percent of residents had evacuated, but that left tens of thousands of citizens seeking shelter in the Superdome, the Louisiana Convention Center near the Mississippi River and the Riverwalk shopping district, and the few other places above sea level such as the French Quarter and Garden District. Within two days, eighty percent of New Orleans was under water, some under fifteen feet of it.

For those that had not left the city during the evacuation order, estimated at one hundred thousand, the Louisiana Superdome was a shelter of last resort. It was thought able to withstand two hundred mile per hour winds and thirty-five feet of water. Buses began transporting those that hand not evacuated the city to the site television cameras focused on the effort and sports complex.

While the Superdome withstood the majority of the winds and housed the fifteen to twenty thousand people during the first days after evacuation from their homes, it had sustained significant damage. Two sections of the waterproof membrane roof had been torn off. By August 30-31, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco ordered the evacuation of the site, transporting the remaining evacuees to the Houston Astrodome on sixty-eight buses. FEMA is reported to have promised four hundred and seventy-buses to assist. The Superdome was completely evacuated by September 4, 2005.

There were initial reports that the Superdome would have to be demolished, although that was overstated. It did need, however, significant repairs, to get it refurbished and ready for the opening date of the next football season of the New Orleans Saints. It would be a Monday night game on September 25, 2006. Costs to repair the building were $185 million. It was shared by FEMA ($115 million), the State of Louisiana ($13 million), the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District ($41 million), and the National Football League ($15 million.)

There were concerts (Goo Goo Dolls), performances by U2 and Green Day of "the Saints Go Marching In," and most importantly, a victory by the home team Saints, 23-3, over the Atlanta Falcons, in front of 70,003 fans, on that reopening day.

How the Louisiana Superdome Came About

So how did New Orleans gain such a large and illustrious sports facility in the first place? It was conceived by sports entrepreneur David Dixon in his attempt to lure a National Football League franchise to the city, and was told by the NFL that it would only happen if a domed stadium were constructed. Dixon worked toward that goal with a commitment by the NFL on November 1, 1966, to award a franchise to the city. Seven days later, bonds were passed for its construction. A modern design was chosen by architecture firm Curtis and Davis, to be built on seventy acres of ground in downtown New Orleans.

Construction began on August 12, 1971, several years late. It would have a two hundred and seventy-three foot dome, the largest fixed dome structure in the world and be estimated to cost $46 million. When the Superdome opened on August 3, 1975, it had cost more, yet in today's terms, a scant $134-165 million, to build, only $637 million even in 2019 dollars. This late opening caused the 1975 Super Bowl, initially scheduled for the Superdome, to be held at Tulane University. The capacity of the structure in 1975 was 74,452.

The first event was a large open house attended by forty-five thousand people, and included concerts by the Allman Brothers, the Marshall Tucker band, and the circus entertainments of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. The Superdome has hosted a variety of the largest sporting events in the United States since that date, including Super Bowls, BCS Football Championships, and NCAA Basketball Final Fours. It is perhaps best known as the home of the New Orleans Saints, but at one time was also home to the Tulane University Green Wave football team for twenty-seven seasons. Other events from concerts to boxing matches, soccer to baseball, and more have been held there as well.


Contents

The Superdome is located on 70 acres (28 ha) of land, including the former Girod Street Cemetery. The dome has an interior space of 125 million cubic feet (3,500,000 m 3 ), a height of 253 feet (77.1 m), a dome diameter of 680 feet (207.3 m), and a total floor area of 269,000 square feet (24,991 m 2 ).

Capacity Edit

The Superdome has a listed football seating capacity of 76,468 (expanded) or 73,208 (not expanded) and a maximum basketball seating capacity of 73,432. However, published attendance figures from events such as the Super Bowl football game have exceeded 79,000. The basketball capacity does not reflect the NCAA's new policy on arranging the basketball court on the 50-yard line on the football field, per 2009 NCAA policy. [10] In 2011, 3,500 seats were added, increasing the Superdome's capacity to 76,468. The Superdome's capacity was 78,133 for WWE WrestleMania 34. [11] The actual capacity is 73,208 people.

The chronology of the capacity for football is as follows:

Years Capacity
1975–1978 74,452 [12]
1979–1984 71,330 [13]
1985–1986 71,647 [14]
1987–1990 69,723 [15]
1991–1994 69,065 [16]
1995 70,852 [17]
1996 64,992 [18]
1997 69,420 [19]
1998 69,028 [20]
1999 70,054 [21]
2000 64,900 [22]
2001 70,020 [23]
2002–2003 68,500 [24]
2004–2005 64,900 [25]
2006 68,354 [26]
2007–2010 72,968 [27]
2011–present 73,208 (expandable to 76,468)

Football Edit

The Superdome's primary tenant is the NFL's New Orleans Saints. The team regularly draws capacity crowds. [29]

The NFL has hosted seven Super Bowls at the Superdome, most recently Super Bowl XLVII in 2013. The Superdome is scheduled to host its eighth Super Bowl in 2025.

The 1976 Pro Bowl was held at the Superdome on Monday, January 26, 1976. It was the NFL's 26th annual all-star game. [30]

Tulane University played their home games at the stadium from 1975 to 2013 (except 2005) before moving to on-campus Yulman Stadium. [31]

The BCS National Championship Game was played at the Superdome four times. The College Football Playoff semifinal game is played every three years in the stadium. Two other bowl games are also played there annually: the Sugar Bowl and New Orleans Bowl. The Superdome also hosts the Bayou Classic, a major regular-season game between two of the state's historically black colleges and universities, Grambling State and Southern.

In 2013, the Arena Football League New Orleans VooDoo played their last six home games of the season at the stadium. From 1991 to 1992, the New Orleans Night of the AFL played at the stadium.

The annual Louisiana Prep Classic state championship football games organized by the Louisiana High School Athletic Association have been held at the Superdome since 1981, except in 2005 following the extreme damage of Hurricane Katrina and 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The first state championship game in the stadium matched New Orleans Catholic League powers St. Augustine and Jesuit on December 15, 1978. The Purple Knights won their second Class AAAA title in four seasons by ousting the Blue Jays, 13–7, in front of over 42,000 fans.

Date Super Bowl Team (Visitor) Points Team (Home) Points Spectators
January 15, 1978 XII Dallas Cowboys 27 Denver Broncos 10 76,400
January 25, 1981 XV Oakland Raiders 27 Philadelphia Eagles 10 76,135
January 26, 1986 XX Chicago Bears 46 New England Patriots 10 73,818
January 28, 1990 XXIV San Francisco 49ers 55 Denver Broncos 10 72,919
January 26, 1997 XXXI New England Patriots 21 Green Bay Packers 35 72,301
February 3, 2002 XXXVI St. Louis Rams 17 New England Patriots 20 72,922
February 3, 2013 XLVII Baltimore Ravens 34 San Francisco 49ers 31 71,024

Home field advantage Edit

Since the Superdome's reopening in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the increased success of the New Orleans Saints, the Superdome has developed a reputation for having a very strong home field advantage. While all domed stadiums possess this quality to some degree, the Superdome is known to be extremely loud during games, especially during offensive drives by the visiting team.

During a pregame interview before the Minnesota Vikings' opening game of the 2010 NFL season against the Saints, Brett Favre, reflecting on the Vikings' loss to the Saints in the 2009–10 NFC Championship Game, said of the Superdome: "That was, by far, the most hostile environment I've ever been in. You couldn't hear anything." It was during that loss that some of the Vikings players elected to wear earplugs, including Favre. It was the first game of the season that they had chosen to do so. [32]

Baseball Edit

When the plaza level seats remained moveable, the capacity for baseball was 63,525 and the field size was as follows: 325 feet (99 m) to both left field and right field, 365 feet (111 m) to both left-center field and right-center field, 421 feet (128 m) to center field, and 60 feet (18 m) to the backstop. The bowl was reconfigured in a renovation from 2006–2011, which replaced the moveable seats with a pre-cast concrete deck and moved the seating closer to the field, creating 3,500 new seats in the lower bowl. This made the bowl more suitable for football, but less accommodating for baseball. [33]

The first baseball game in the Superdome was an exhibition between the Minnesota Twins and the Houston Astros on April 6, 1976. [34]

Superdome officials pursued negotiations with Oakland Athletics officials during the 1978–79 baseball off-season about moving the Athletics to the Superdome. The Athletics were unable to break their lease at the Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum and remained in Oakland. [35] Superdome officials met with the Pittsburgh Pirates in April 1981 about moving the club to New Orleans when the Pirates were unhappy with their lease at Three Rivers Stadium. [36]

In the mid-1990s, the Superdome was planned to be the home of the yet-to-be named New Orleans team, a charter franchise of the United League (UL) which was a planned third league of Major League Baseball (MLB).

Minor League Baseball Edit

The American Association New Orleans Pelicans played at the Superdome during the 1977 season. The Pelicans' season attendance was 217,957 at the dome. [37]

Major League Baseball exhibitions Edit

The Minnesota Twins and the Houston Astros played an exhibition game on April 6, 1976. [34] The New York Yankees played exhibition games at the Superdome in 1980, 1981, 1982, and 1983. The Yankees hosted the Baltimore Orioles on March 15 and 16, 1980. 45,152 spectators watched the Yankees beat the Orioles 9–3 on March 15, 1980. The following day, 43,339 fans saw Floyd Rayford lead the Orioles to a 7–1 win over the Yankees. [38] In 1981, the Yankees played the New York Mets, Philadelphia Philles and Pittsburgh Pirates in the dome. In 1982, the Yankees played the Montreal Expos and Texas Rangers and late in 1982, the Yankees considered opening the 1983 regular season at the Superdome if Yankee Stadium would not be ready yet after renovations. [39] The 1983 New York Yankees also played the Montreal Expos and Toronto Blue Jays in the Superdome that year. [40] The Philadelphia Phillies and St. Louis Cardinals closed the 1984 spring training season with two games at the dome on March 31, 1984 and April 1, 1984. [41] In what was a preview of the 1989 World Series, the Oakland A's played the San Francisco Giants in two games on March 28–29, 1989. [42] In 1991, the Los Angeles Dodgers played the Oakland A's in two games on March 22–23, 1991. The A's also played the New York Mets in two contests on March 26–27, 1993. In 1994, the Boston Red Sox played the New York Yankees in two games on April 1–2, 1994. The last professional baseball games played in the Superdome occurred on April 3–4, 1999, when the Chicago Cubs and Minnesota Twins played a two-game series dubbed the "New Orleans Major League Baseball Classic." [42]

Busch Challenge/Winn-Dixie Showdown Edit

The Busch Challenge/Winn-Dixie Showdown was a college baseball tournament held in the Superdome from 1987 to 1999. LSU, Tulane and University of New Orleans played an in-state team and out-of-state teams from Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Texas in the annual tournament. The in-state team was Louisiana-Lafayette. The out-of-state teams were Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Cal State Fullerton, Duke, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Southern, Georgia Tech, Houston, Lamar, Miami (FL), Mississippi State, NC State, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Oral Roberts, South Alabama, Southern California, Southern Mississippi, Texas A&M, UCLA. [43]

Basketball Edit

The NCAA has hosted the Men's Final Four at the Superdome five times in 1982, 1987, 1993, 2003, and 2012. The Men's Final Four is also scheduled to be hosted at the Superdome in 2022. The stadium hosted regional semifinals and finals in 1981 and 1990, as well as first- and second-round games in 1999 and 2001.

The NBA's New Orleans Jazz used the Superdome as their home court, from 1975 to 1979. In 1977, the Jazz set a then-record in attendance for an NBA game, with 35,077 watching the Jazz led by Pete "Pistol Pete" Maravich against the Philadelphia 76ers, [44] led by fellow future Hall of Famer Julius Erving.

Tulane used the Superdome as its primary home court from its opening in 1975 through 1982. It played occasional games there in the 1990s against high-profile opponents before the opening of the New Orleans Arena (now the Smoothie King Center) in 1999.

In 1996, the stadium hosted the AAU Junior Olympics basketball competition. [45]

Boxing Edit

On October 14, 1975, the Dome hosted Muhammad Ali Appreciation Day. The Muhammad Temple of Islam 46 in New Orleans organized the activities, with Ali's appearance as the day's highlight. Speakers included Dr. Na'im Akbar, Wallace D. Muhammad and Louis Farrakhan. [46]

The Superdome hosted the September 15, 1978 fight some called the Ali rematch where Muhammad Ali won the world Heavyweight title for the third time by beating Leon Spinks in front of a crowd of 65,000. It was Ali's last professional win.

Leonard–Durán II, also known as the No Más Fight, took place on November 25, 1980 at the Louisiana Superdome. In the match, Sugar Ray Leonard defeated Roberto Durán to regain the WBC Welterweight Championship. The match gained its famous appellation in the end of the eighth round when Durán turned away from Leonard, towards the referee and quit by saying "No más" (Spanish for "No more").

On December 3, 1982, the Superdome hosted the Carnival of Champions. In the first of two co-main events, Wilfredo Gómez would defend his WBC world Jr Featherweight championship against WBC's world Bantamweight champion Lupe Pintor. In the second, Wilfred Benítez defended his WBC world Jr Middleweight championship against the former WBA Welterweight champion of the world Thomas Hearns. [47]

Gymnastics Edit

The USSR National Gymnastics Team performed for the first time in Louisiana in 1976. The Superdome event featured Olga Korbut, Nelli Kim, Nicolai Andrianov and Alexander Dityatin.

At the 1995 U.S. Gymnastics National Championships, [48] Dominique Moceanu became the youngest Women's All-Around National Champion in U.S. history at 13 years old, a record that still stands. [49] John Roethlisberger also won his fourth and final U.S. Men's All-Around National Championship.

In 1996, the stadium hosted the AAU Junior Olympics gymnastics competition. [50]

Motocross Edit

The Superdome hosted an AMA Supercross Championship round from 1977 to 1980, 1998 to 2002, 2009 and 2012. On June 4, 1977, 40,000 fans watched Jimmy Weinert win the sixth of 12 races for a $250,000 purse. 20 million pounds (9,100,000 kg) of dirt were piled into the center of the Superdome for the event. [51]

Rugby Union Edit

The Superdome was scheduled to host a rugby union match on August 1, 2015 between English Premiership team Saracens and New Zealand's Super Rugby team Crusaders. [52] The match was organized by RugbyLaw, organizers of the National Rugby Football League. The match was cancelled, however, as USA Rugby, the governing body of the sport in the United States, refused to approve the artificial turf playing surface. [53]

Soccer Edit

The Superdome's first soccer matches occurred on September 5, 1976. In a doubleheader, two local club teams (Costa Rica and Olympia) squared off, followed by a post-season North American Soccer League matchup between the New York Cosmos and the Dallas Tornado. Pelé and Kyle Rote, Jr. led their respective teams, but it was Werner Roth and Ramon Mifflin who notched goals for New York in the Cosmos' 2-1 victory.

The US women's national team met China in the Superdome on December 16, 2015 in what was both the final match of the USWNT's post-World Cup Victory Tour, as well as Abby Wambach's last game for the national team. China won, 1–0, in front of 32,950 fans: a record-setting attendance for a soccer match in Louisiana. On October 19, 2017, the USWNT played an international friendly against the Korea Republic, defeating them 3–1. Alex Morgan scored in the 40th minute for the United States, tallying her 78th career goal. [54]

International Soccer Matches Edit

Date Winning Team Result Losing Team Tournament Spectators
December 16, 2015 China PR 1–0 United States Women's U.S. Final Victory Tour 32,950
October 17, 2017 United States 3–1 South Korea Women's International Friendly 9,371

Professional wrestling Edit

The Superdome was renowned for hosting many of Mid-South Wrestling's large, "Blow Off" events that were culminations of weeks or months of feuds and rivalries. Bill Watts was the promoter of this territory and gained much notoriety from promotion of his events in the Superdome.

April 19, 1986 saw Jim Crockett Promotions (in association with Bill Watts' UWF and All Japan Pro Wrestling) host the first of three annual Jim Crockett Sr. Memorial Cup Tag Team Tournaments. 24 teams competed in a single day show with an afternoon 1st rounds and finals in the evening. The tournament final saw The Road Warriors prevail over Magnum T.A. and Ron Garvin. Besides tag team tournament the Superdome attendance of 13,000 saw NWA World Champion Ric Flair retain the title via disqualification from Dusty Rhodes and Mid-South North American Champion Hacksaw Jim Duggan beat Buzz Sawyer.

WCW held its sixth Clash of the Champions on April 2, 1989. The event saw Ricky Steamboat defeat Ric Flair in a two out of three falls match 2–1 to retain the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. Clash VI was held on the same day as WrestleMania V and on free TV in an attempt to hurt the PPV rating. WCW also held the January 13th, 1997 episode of WCW Nitro at the superdome.

WWE WrestleMania XXX Edit

The 30th annual WrestleMania pay-per-view event, WrestleMania XXX, was held at the Superdome on April 6, 2014. This was the first time WWE held its annual event in New Orleans. At the event, The Undertaker's WrestleMania winning streak was ended by Brock Lesnar in front of 75,167 in attendance. Daniel Bryan won two matches. The first match was won against Triple H for a spot in the Triple Threat match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, which he went on to win later in the evening against Randy Orton and Batista. Also the WWE Divas Championship was defended for the very first time at WrestleMania with the champion AJ Lee retaining her title. [55]

WWE WrestleMania 34 Edit

The 34th annual WrestleMania pay-per-view event, WrestleMania 34, returned to the Superdome on April 8, 2018. At the event, Charlotte Flair defeated the 2018 Women's Royal Rumble winner Asuka, ending her 2-year undefeated streak as well as retaining the SmackDown Women's Championship, Brock Lesnar defeated Roman Reigns to retain the Universal Championship in the main event, also AJ Styles defeated the 2018 Men's Royal Rumble winner Shinsuke Nakamura to retain the WWE Championship which was also promoted as the main event. In the event, former UFC star Ronda Rousey made her WWE debut in a mixed tag team match with her partner Kurt Angle to defeat Stephanie McMahon and Triple H. Daniel Bryan returned to in-ring action for the first time in nearly 3 years, when he teamed with Shane McMahon to defeat Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. It also featured the return of The Undertaker since his previous loss at WrestleMania 33, who defeated John Cena in an impromptu match lasting under three minutes. The show took place in front of 78,133 people.

Tennis Edit

The New Orleans Sun Belt Nets were a charter franchise of World TeamTennis (WTT). The Nets played in the Superdome during the 1978 season.

Wrestling Edit

In 1996, the stadium hosted the AAU Junior Olympics wrestling competition. [56] In February 1997, the Dome hosted the Louisiana High School Athletic Association state wrestling championships.

The Superdome held its official dedication ceremonies on August 3, 1975. Jazz musicians Al Hirt and Pete Fountain played for the event.

Entertainment Edit

Concerts Edit

On October 3, 1975, June Carter, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter performed in the Dome. Fans included then Governor Edwin Edwards, wife Elaine, children Anna, Victoria, Steven and David, and Edwards' grandchildren. [58]

The Superdome's 1977 New Year's Eve celebration opened with The Emotions and Deniece Williams, followed by Earth, Wind and Fire.

On May 29, 1977, the First Annual Superdome KOOL Jazz Spectacular featured Aretha Franklin, Al Green, The Spinners and The Mighty Clouds of Joy. Jimmie "J.J." Walker from the TV series Good Times was the guest M.C.

The Superdome hosted Jimmy Buffett in 1976, Willie Nelson in 1977, the Commodores and Fats Domino in 1978, Kenny Rogers in 1979, Hank Williams Jr. 1981, and Lil Wayne in 2018.

Governor Edwin Edwards held his third inaugural ball at the Superdome on March 12, 1984. Headline acts included Doug Kershaw and Susan Anton.

Because of a booking mixup, the Jets performed a full set to an empty Superdome in the summer of 1987. [59]

The annual Essence Music Festival has been held in the Superdome every year since 1995 (with the exception of 2006, when it was held in Houston, Texas due to Hurricane Katrina repairs, and 2020 when it was cancelled).

Date Artist Opening act(s) Tour / Concert name Attendance Revenue Notes
July 13, 1978 The Rolling Stones Van Halen
Doobie Brothers
US Tour 1978
December 5, 1981 The Rolling Stones George Thorogood
The Neville Brothers
American Tour 1981 87,500 / 87,500 $1,531,250 Attendees filled the floor area, as well as the regular seating sections. [60]
February 14, 1983 Kiss Zebra Creatures of the Night Tour/10th Anniversary Tour 10,421 / 15,000 $107,866 Mardis Gras Eve Spectacular
February 1, 1985 Prince Apollonia 6
Sheila E.
Purple Rain Tour
October 6, 1987 David Bowie Glass Spider Tour
November 27, 1987 Whitney Houston Kenny G Moment of Truth World Tour
October 18, 1988 George Michael Faith World Tour 24,000 / 30,000 $450,555
November 13, 1989 The Rolling Stones Living Colour Steel Wheels Tour 59,339 / 59,339 $1,682,220
July 8, 1990 Janet Jackson Chuckii Booker Rhythm Nation World Tour 1990
August 23, 1990 New Kids on the Block The Magic Summer Tour
August 29, 1992 Guns N' Roses
Metallica
Faith No More Guns N' Roses/Metallica Stadium Tour 39,278 / 39,278 $1,080,145
April 24, 1993 Paul McCartney The New World Tour 38,971 / 41,211 $843,850
May 14, 1994 Pink Floyd The Division Bell Tour 41,475 / 41,475 $1,401,445
October 10, 1994 The Rolling Stones Bryan Adams Voodoo Lounge Tour 32,687 / 40,000 $1,464,250
July 9, 1996 Kiss The Melvins Alive/Worldwide Tour 16,308 / 16,308 $513,665
November 21, 1997 U2 Third Eye Blind PopMart Tour 21,465 / 25,000 $911,528
October 28, 1998 Janet Jackson The Velvet Rope Tour
April 12, 1999 Celine Dion Let's Talk About Love World Tour 20,047 / 20,047 $1,153,562
June 23, 1999 Cher Cyndi Lauper
Wild Orchid
Do You Believe? 12,754 / 16,000 $712,529
February 26, 2000 Backstreet Boys Jungle Brothers
Willa
Into the Millennium Tour 54,365 / 56,211 $2,286,582
May 27, 2000 NSYNC P!nk
Sisqó
No Strings Attached Tour 32,516 / 32,516 $1,456,245
September 20, 2000 Britney Spears BBMak Oops. I Did It Again Tour This concert was taped for a Fox TV special titled There's No Place Like Home. [61]
August 22, 2001 NSYNC Amanda PopOdyssey Tour This show was filmed and released on VHS and DVD. [62] [63]
August 25, 2004 Usher Kanye West
Christina Milian
Truth Tour
July 2, 2005 Destiny's Child Destiny Fulfilled. and Lovin' It This concert was part of the Essence Music Festival [64]
July 7, 2007 Kelly Rowland This concert was part of the Essence Music Festival. [65] [66]
July 4, 2008 Rihanna Good Girl Gone Bad Tour This show was part of the 2008 Essence Music Festival.
July 3, 2010 Alicia Keys Robin Thicke
Melanie Fiona
Freedom Tour This concert was part of the Essence Music Festival [67]
August 3, 2012 Kenny Chesney
Tim McGraw
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
Jake Owen
Brothers of the Sun Tour 37,916 / 40,876 $3,385,855
July 7, 2013 Beyoncé The Mrs. Carter Show World Tour 38,441 / 38,441 $5,766,150 This concert was a part of the Essence Music Festival. [68] [69]
July 20, 2014 Beyoncé
Jay-Z
On the Run Tour 42,374 / 42,374 $5,206,490
September 25, 2014 One Direction 5 Seconds of Summer Where We Are Tour 50,349 / 50,349 $4,258,450
July 2, 2015 Kevin Hart What Now? Tour
July 31, 2016 Guns N' Roses The Cult Not In This Lifetime. Tour 32,894 / 40,215 $3,447,362
September 24, 2016 Beyoncé DJ Khaled The Formation World Tour 46,474 / 46,474 $5,349,960 Beyoncé was introduced to the stage by New Orleans native and "Formation" rapper Big Freedia. [70]
May 27, 2017 Miranda Lambert Highway Vagabond Tour This concert was part of Bayou Country Superfest.
September 14, 2017 U2 Beck The Joshua Tree Tour 2017 34,536 / 34,536 $3,873,405 [71]
September 13, 2018 Beyoncé
Jay-Z
Chloe X Halle and DJ Khaled On the Run II Tour 40,939 / 40,939 $5,437,147
September 22, 2018 Taylor Swift Camila Cabello
Charli XCX
Taylor Swift's Reputation Stadium Tour 53,172 / 53,172 $6,491,546
October 31, 2018 Ed Sheeran Snow Patrol
Lauv
÷ Tour 42,295 / 42,295 $2,827,815
July 15, 2019 The Rolling Stones Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk
The Soul Rebels
No Filter Tour 35,023 / 35,023 $7,163,692 This concert was originally scheduled to take place on July 14, 2019, but was postponed due to Hurricane Barry. The highest-grossing concert at the stadium to date.

Other events Edit

  • The Seventh-day Adventist Church held its 54th General Conference session at the Superdome in June and July 1985. addressed 80,000 children at the stadium in 1987. [44]
  • The Republican National Convention was held there in 1988, nominating then-Vice PresidentGeorge H. W. Bush for president and U.S. SenatorDan Quayle of Indiana as vice president. [44]
  • In June 1996, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Disney's 34th animated feature, had a gala world premiere at this stadium, with over 65,000 people attending the event.
  • From February 14 to 25, 2000, Wheel of Fortune aired two weeks' worth of shows that were taped in the dome in January 2000.
  • In August 2001, the Bassmaster Classic XXXI final weigh-in was held in the stadium.
  • In 2014, it also held the WrestleMania event and again in 2018.
  • In 2020, the Finish Line of CBS's reality competition The Amazing Race 32 was held at the Superdome. [72]

Planning Edit

Sports visionary David Dixon (who decades later founded the United States Football League) conceived of the Superdome while attempting to convince the NFL to award a franchise to New Orleans. After hosting several exhibition games at Tulane Stadium during typical New Orleans summer thunderstorms, Dixon was told by NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle that the NFL would never expand into New Orleans without a domed stadium. Dixon then won the support of the governor of Louisiana, John McKeithen. When they toured the Astrodome in Houston, Texas in 1966, McKeithen was quoted as saying, "I want one of these, only bigger", in reference to the Astrodome itself. Bonds were passed for construction of the Superdome on November 8, 1966, seven days after commissioner Pete Rozelle awarded New Orleans the 25th professional football franchise. The stadium was conceptualized to be a multifunctional stadium for football, baseball and basketball—with moveable field level stands that would be arranged specifically for each sport and areas with dirt (for the bases and pitchers mound) covered with metal plates on the stadium floor (they were covered by the artificial turf during football games)—and there are also Meeting Rooms that could be rented for many different purposes. Dixon imagined the possibilities of staging simultaneous high school football games side by side and suggested that the synthetic surface be white. [73] Blount International of Montgomery, Alabama was chosen to build the stadium. [74]

As the dome was being constructed, various individuals developed eccentric models of the structure: one was of sugar, another consisted of pennies. The so-called "penny model" traveled to the Philadelphia Bicentennial '76 exhibition. New Orleanian Norman J. Kientz built the model with 2,697 pennies and donated it to the Superdome Board of Commissioners in April 1974. [75]

It was hoped the stadium would be ready in time for the 1972 NFL season, and the final cost of the facility would come in at $46 million. Instead, due to political delays, [76] construction did not start until August 11, 1971, and was not finished until August 1975, seven months after Super Bowl IX was scheduled to be played in the stadium. Since the stadium was not finished in time for the Super Bowl, the game had to be moved to Tulane Stadium, and was played in cold and rainy conditions. Factoring in inflation, construction delays, and the increase in transportation costs caused by the 1973 oil crisis, the final price tag of the stadium skyrocketed to $165 million. Along with the state police, Elward Thomas Brady, Jr., a state representative from Terrebonne Parish and a New Orleans native, conducted an investigation into possible financial irregularities, but the Superdome went forward despite the obstacles. [77]

Early history (1975–2003) Edit

The New Orleans Saints opened the 1975 NFL season at the Superdome, losing 21–0 to the Cincinnati Bengals in the first regular-season game in the facility. Tulane Stadium, the original home of the Saints, was condemned for destruction on the day the Superdome opened.

The first Super Bowl played in the stadium was Super Bowl XII in January 1978, the first in prime time.

The original artificial turf playing surface in the Superdome was produced and developed by Monsanto (which made the first artificial playing surface for sports, AstroTurf) specifically for the Superdome, and was named "Mardi Grass". [2]

The Superdome replaced the first generation "Mardi Grass" surface to the next-generation FieldTurf surface midway through the 2003 football season on November 16.

Shelter of last resort during Hurricane Katrina Edit

The Superdome was used as a "shelter of last resort" for those in New Orleans unable to evacuate from Hurricane Katrina when it struck on August 29, 2005. During the storm, a large section of the outer covering was peeled off by high winds. The photos of the damage, in which the concrete underneath was exposed, quickly became an iconic image of Hurricane Katrina. A few days later, the dome was closed until September 25, 2006.

By August 31, there had been three deaths in the Superdome: two elderly medical patients and a man who is believed to have committed suicide by jumping from the upper-level seats. There were also unconfirmed reports of rape, vandalism, violent assaults, crack dealing/drug abuse, and gang activity inside the Superdome. After a National Guardsman was attacked and shot in the dark by an assailant, the National Guard inside the Superdome used barbed wire barricades to separate themselves from the other people in the dome. [78] On September 11, New Orleans Police Superintendent Eddie Compass reported there were "no confirmed reports of any type of sexual assault." [79]

Military sniper Chris Kyle claimed that during the hurricane, he and another sniper climbed to the top of the dome and killed 30 armed looters during the chaos following the event. This has never been verified. [80]

The Superdome cost $185 million to repair and refurbish. To repair the Superdome, FEMA put up $115 million, [81] the state spent $13 million, the Louisiana Stadium & Exposition District refinanced a bond package to secure $41 million and the NFL contributed $15 million.

After being damaged from the flooding disaster, a new Sportexe MomentumTurf surface was installed for the 2006 season.

On Super Bowl XL on February 5, 2006, the NFL announced that the Saints would play their home opener on September 24, 2006 in the Superdome against the Atlanta Falcons. The game was later moved to September 25.

The reopening of the dome was celebrated with festivities including a free outdoor concert by the Goo Goo Dolls before fans were allowed in, a pre-game performance by U2 and Green Day performing a cover of the Skids' "The Saints Are Coming", and a coin toss conducted by then-President George W. Bush. In front of ESPN's largest-ever audience at that time, the Saints won the game 23–3 with 70,003 in attendance, and went on to a successful season, reaching their first ever NFC Championship Game.

The first bowl game played in the Superdome after Katrina was the New Orleans Bowl won by the Troy Trojans 41–17 over the Rice Owls.

2008–present Edit

Further renovations Edit

In 2008, new windows were installed to bring natural light into the building. Later that year, the roof-facing of the Superdome was also remodeled, restoring the roof with a solid white hue. Between 2009 and 2010, the entire outer layer of the stadium, more than 400,000 square feet (37,000 m 2 ) of aluminum siding, was replaced with new aluminum panels and insulation, returning the building to its original champagne bronze colored exterior. An innovative barrier system for drainage was also added, allowing the dome to resemble its original facade.

In addition, escalators were added to the outside of the club rooms. Each suite includes modernized rooms with raised ceilings, leather sofas, and flat-screen TVs, as well as glass brushed aluminum and wood-grain furnishings. A new $600,000 point-of-sale system was also installed, allowing fans to purchase concessions with credit cards throughout the stadium for the first time.

During the summer of 2010, the Superdome installed 111,831 square feet (10,389.4 m 2 ) of the UBU Speed S5-M synthetic turf system, an Act Global brand. In 2017 Act Global installed a new turf in time for the NFL Season. For the 2018 , 2019 and 2020 NFL seasons Turf Nation Inc located in Dalton , GA have supplied the synthetic turf system for the Superdome, The Superdome has, as of 2017, the largest continuous synthetic turf system in the NFL.

Beginning in 2011, demolition and new construction began to the lower bowl of the stadium, reconfiguring it to increase seating by 3,500, widening the plaza concourse, building two bunker club lounges and adding additional concession stands. Crews tore down the temporary stairs that led from Champions Square to the Dome, and replaced them with permanent steps. Installation of express elevators that take coaches and media from the ground level of the stadium to the press box were also completed. New 7,500-square-foot (700 m 2 ) bunker lounges on each side of the stadium were built. The lounges are equipped with flat-screen TVs, granite counter tops and full-service bars. These state-of-the-art lounges can serve 4,500 fans, whose old plaza seats were upgraded to premium tickets, giving those fans leather chairs with cup-holders. The plaza level was extended, closing in space between the concourse and plaza seating, adding new restrooms and concession areas. The renovations also ended the stadium's ability to convert to a baseball configuration. [82] The renovations were completed in late June 2011 in time for the Essence Music Festival.

Naming rights Edit

The Superdome had not taken on corporate naming rights until Mercedes-Benz USA acquired the rights in 2011. Though the stadium is owned by the state of Louisiana, the New Orleans Saints' lease gives the team the authority to sell the rights. [83] Then-Saints owner Tom Benson also owned Mercedes-Benz dealerships in New Orleans and San Antonio. [8] At that time, it was the third stadium that had naming rights from Mercedes-Benz (and first in the United States), after the Mercedes-Benz Arena, the stadium of Bundesliga club VfB Stuttgart, in Stuttgart, Germany, and the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai, China. [ citation needed ]

Despite Mercedes-Benz acquiring the naming rights for the Atlanta Falcons' new stadium in 2015, the naming rights contract for the Superdome would remain in place until its expiration in 2021. [84] Atlanta's stadium opened in 2017 and became the fifth stadium (and second in the NFL) to bear the Mercedes-Benz name. [ citation needed ] On May 19, 2020, Mercedes-Benz announced that they would not renew their deal with the Superdome to focus on its Atlanta stadium naming rights deal, meaning that the Superdome will receive a new name or revert to its original name in 2021. [85]

Statue Edit

On July 27, 2012, a statue was unveiled at a plaza next to the Superdome. The work, titled Rebirth, depicts one of the most famous plays in Saints history—Steve Gleason's block of a Michael Koenen punt that the Saints recovered for a touchdown early in the first quarter of the team's first post-Katrina game in the Superdome. [86]

Super Bowl XLVII power failure Edit

The Superdome hosted the Super Bowl XLVII football game on February 3, 2013. A partial power failure halted game play for about 34 minutes in the third quarter between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers. It caused CBS, who was broadcasting the game, to lose some of its cameras as well as voiceovers by the commentators. At no point did the game go off the air, though the game had no audio for about two minutes. While the lights were coming back on, CBS reporters deployed around the stadium reported on the outage as a breaking news situation until power was restored enough for play to continue.

On February 8, 2013, it was reported that a relay device intended to prevent an electrical overload had caused the failure. [87] The device was located in an electrical vault owned and operated by Entergy, the electrical utility for the New Orleans area. That vault is approximately one quarter mile away from the Superdome. A subsequent report from an independent auditor confirmed the relay device as the cause. [88] The Superdome's own power system was never compromised.

The Superdome was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2016. [89]

During the 2016 off-season, the smaller videoboards formerly located along the end zone walls above the upper seating bowl were replaced with two large Panasonic HD LED displays that stretch 330 feet (100 m) wide and 35 feet (11 m) tall that are much easier to see throughout the bowl. [90] Other upgrades included a complete upgrade to the Superdome's interior floodlighting system to an efficient LED system with programmable coloring, light show effects, and instant on-off in normal mode the stadium will have a more vibrant and naturally pleasing system resembling natural daylight. [91] [92]

In November 2019, phase one plans were approved by the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, commonly known as the Superdome Commission, for a $450 million renovation. The renovation, designed by Trahan Architects, will include atriums that will replace the current ramp system, improved concourses, and field-level end zone boxes. [93] The first phase of work began January 2020 [94] and includes installing alternative exits and constructing a large kitchen and food-service area.

On March 24, 2021, The Athletic reported that Caesars Entertainment is expected to sign a deal to buy the naming rights to the Superdome when Mercedes-Benz's naming rights expire an official announcement is pending. [95]


Hurricane Katrina

The week before Labor Day in August it was,
In 2005 the whole town was a-buzz.
There was a killer coming, a huge hurricane
Headed for New Orleans, Katrina was her name.

The storm had been brewing for days in the gulf.
She increased her size and blew in with a huff.
The warnings were broadcast that this was THE ONE.
Please leave and find shelter, the warnings were done.

Why the whole town did not flee is unclear to us all.
A mandatory evacuation was what the officials called.
Still some people stayed, and ignored the warnings
And a lot of families now are in mourning.

Katrina was the size of the great state of Texas.
She packed winds in excess of 150 they tell us.
But still she hit to the east of New Orleans
And spared that town in spite of the warnings.

At daybreak officials surveyed the damage
Mississippi and Alabama caught the brunt of her rage.
But later in New Orleans a new catastrophe hit
Floodwaters breached the levee and went over it.

So as hurricanes go, Katrina was tough,
But with all she gave it wasn’t enough.
In New Orleans the winds did not blow it down,
The weak levee was what destroyed the town.

It looked like New Orleans had gotten off light
Just after the storm in broad open daylight.
There were hours between when the hurricane hit
And when floodwaters came and destroyed all of it.

Now some people say that help came too late.
They said they were ignored because of their race.
That just was not so, it was all about timing.
So get on with the clean up and stop all the whining.

Quit pointing and blaming and bemoaning your fate
Maybe next time you’ll leave before it’s too late.
Listen well to the warnings, pack up and get started.
For a fool and his money will soon be parted.


In October 2005, The Historic New Orleans Collection initiated Through Hell and High Water: Katrina’s First Responders Oral History Project, partnering with local, state, and federal agencies to document their experiences. The interviews done as part of this project reflect the disaster’s painful, chaotic, and murky aftermath. They cast a wide net over this important event and reveal many potential avenues for further research. Interview excerpts from six agencies are provided here. Our intent is not to make judgments or to interpret events, but to permit contemplation. Full interviews and transcriptions are available on the THNOC online catalog.

St. Bernard Parish Fire Department

St. Bernard Parish, located southeast of New Orleans, was almost entirely flooded. Members of the St. Bernard Parish Fire Department (SBFD) were positioned throughout the area and began rescue operations immediately after the storm. Some firemen were pre-positioned at Chalmette and St. Bernard high schools both were parish-designated special needs shelters. As flood waters rose, residents from nearby neighborhoods sought refuge on the high schools’ upper floors. One of the fire department’s fundamental challenges was keeping the thousands of residents sheltering at the high schools alive. The near-complete inundation of the parish meant that it was nearly a week before substantial outside help arrived.

Eddie Appel, Captain, discusses the rapid rise of floodwaters at Chalmette High School.
April 17, 2006
(2:04)

Barry Hadley, Captain, recalls two memorable rescue missions.
May 3, 2006
(1:06)

Michael Binder, Fire Engineer, on searching for and recovering the bodies of St. Bernard Parish residents who perished during Hurricane Katrina.
May 3, 2006
(1:14)

Barry Boos, Captain, discusses rising floodwaters at the Frederick J. Sigur Civic Center in Chalmette.
April 17, 2006
(1:50)

Barry Boos on the need for body bags after Hurricane Katrina and the emotional impact of not being able to provide them.
April 17, 2006
(00:54)

Raul Vallecillo, Fire Engineer, details the evacuation of the St. Bernard High School emergency shelter.
May 3, 2006
(2:07)

New Orleans Fire Department

Members of the New Orleans Fire Department (NOFD) were pre-positioned in “places of last refuge” prior to the storm. Some firemen brought their own personal boats to these locations and began rescue efforts immediately after the levees broke. Others creatively commandeered boats. As their communications network broke down, groups of isolated firemen continued independent rescue operations. In New Orleans East, for example, firemen set up a boat rescue operation based in the Bell South building, working for nearly a week with little outside assistance. Fire soon became a huge concern: water pressure was low to nonexistent debris and floodwaters made some fires inaccessible broken gas lines caused large, rapid-burning conflagrations. Firefighting assets needed to be accounted for and systematically deployed. Members of the fire department established an emergency command center at the Mary Joseph Residence for the Elderly, a defunct nursing home on the west bank of the Mississippi River. By Wednesday, most of the department had regrouped there, and expanded into two adjacent facilities, Our Lady of Holy Cross College and Our Lady of Wisdom Healthcare Center. The compound, which came to be known as Woodland, quickly became a major multiagency command center for the NOFD, New Orleans Police Department, and Emergency Medical Services.

Gordon Cagnolatti, District Chief, discusses the creation of the West Bank compound—which came to be known as the Katrina Hilton—where the NOFD regrouped after the floodwaters rose.
January 24, 2006
(00:58)

Thomas Howley, Captain, on safety measures taken during search and rescue missions.
April 28, 2006
(1:00)

Robert McCoy, Captain, recalls rescuing a man trapped in his flooded home.
December 29, 2005
(2:26)

Thomas Meagher, Captain, on conducting water rescues throughout the night.
January 4, 2006
(1:47)

Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries

Agents and biologists with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) arrived in a convoy from Baton Rouge with about 120 boats in tow on the day the storm hit. They immediately launched extensive boat rescue operations, taking over a staging area set up by the New Orleans Fire Department on the Elysian Fields I-10 exit ramp and establishing another base at the St. Claude Avenue Bridge in the Ninth Ward. Their mission was to pull people out of the floodwaters and bring them to dry ground. They were very successful in this on the first day they saved thousands. But a lack of available transportation to bring rescued flood victims to shelters outside the city proved a major problem, particularly at the St. Claude Avenue Bridge. LDWF agents were involved in boat rescue efforts throughout the area following the storm. They were also instrumental in the evacuation of downtown hospitals.

Joe Chandler, Senior Agent, describes the crowded, chaotic, and at times violent conditions on the interstate during the course of rescue operations.
May 12, 2008
(00:59)

James Hagan, Sergeant, details his involvement in search and rescue efforts in the Ninth Ward.
May 14, 2008
(1:33)

Stephen McManus, Captain, relates his frustration with the inability to provide for the basic needs of people being rescued.
January 18, 2008
(1:41)

Darryl Moore, Lieutenant, explains how he acquired school buses to transport residents of St. Bernard Parish away from the Algiers Ferry Landing.
April 22, 2008
(2:16)

Rachel Zechenelly, Lieutenant, describes the chaotic situation near the St. Claude Avenue Bridge.
January 28, 2008
(3:09)

Paul Scott Watson, Sergeant, details the rescue of a child who was alone for several days following the storm.
May 12, 2008
(1:32)

Louisiana Department of Corrections

Immediately following the storm, Louisiana Department of Corrections (LDOC) staff members from around the state were dispatched to New Orleans. The Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff’s office determined not to evacuate the prisons prior to the storm. When the levees broke, there were more than 6,500 inmates housed in a downtown New Orleans prison complex. In one building, prisoners broke through interior walls and ran loose within the prison compound. Fights, fires, and small-scale rioting ensued. With the water still rising, LDOC officers’ first priority was to move inmates to dry ground. Inmates were transported from the prison complex by boat to a highway overpass where they waited under the supervision of correctional personnel and probation and parole officers. The prisoners were then transported by bus to correctional facilities throughout the state. Many civilians stranded on the same highway overpass resented that prisoners were being evacuated while they remained stranded, but LDOC’s mission was to first secure and evacuate inmates. Probation and parole officers used their state vehicles to carry “walking wounded” civilians with them in the convoy to Baton Rouge, while correctional officers focused on evacuating the Orleans Parish Prison. LDOC staff went on to assist with the establishment and operation of a temporary city holding facility and with efforts to provide security to the New Orleans Fire Department on call-outs.

Burl Cain, Warden at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, describes the dismal conditions inside Orleans Parish Prison’s Community Correctional Center building, security concerns, and evacuating the building with the Angola Tactical Team.
March 23, 2009
(2:44)

Orville Lamartiniere, Lieutenant Colonel at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, recalls the evacuation of Orleans Parish Prison facilities and the importance of communicating with inmates.
March 24, 2009
(3:46)

Melissa Murray, Probation and Parole Officer II, from the Natchitoches District Office, Louisiana Division of Adult Probation and Parole, recounts hearing gunfire in the distance while providing security in New Orleans after the storm.
June 18, 2009
(2:10)

James A. Paul, Captain, from the J. Levy Dabadie Correctional Center, recalls memorable interactions with civilians on the Broad Street overpass and his concern for an unresponsive infant whose mother refused to be evacuated.
June 17, 2009
1:51)

Melissa Young, Probation and Parole Specialist, from the Baton Rouge District Office, Louisiana Division of Adult Probation and Parole, on the transportation of the “walking wounded” to safety in Baton Rouge and the difficulty of choosing who was transported and who was left behind.
December 17, 2008
(1:19)

Michael Wynne, Probation and Parole Supervisor, from the Alexandria District Office, Louisiana Division of Adult Probation and Parole, discusses guarding evacuated Orleans Parish Prison inmates held on the Broad Street overpass.
December 16, 2008
(1:58)

DMAT CA-6

DMAT CA-6, a Disaster Medical Assistance Team from the San Francisco Bay area operating under the FEMA umbrella, was pre-positioned to Houston just prior to the storm. From Houston the team traveled to Baton Rouge, where they helped set up a staging area for federal resources. On Wednesday, August 31, they traveled to the New Orleans Arena to provide medical assistance to those at the nearby Superdome. They were successful at first, evacuating hundreds of patients by helicopter and caring for hundreds more as best they could with rapidly diminishing supplies. But the frustration level among the thousands stranded in and around the Superdome was high tensions flared. According to DMAT team members, numerous victims assaulted in the crowd were brought to the clinic, some severely beaten, along with a National Guardsman with a gunshot wound to his leg. As time passed, the crowds outside the clinic became larger and more desperate. Guardsmen assigned to the clinic security detail were called away, and several people forced their way into the clinic area to grab supplies or to force the medical team to treat ill family members. Several DMAT members were physically assaulted. On September 1, with dwindling supplies, no means to evacuate patients, and rapidly deteriorating safety, the team’s commander ordered an abandonment of their mission. DMAT CA-6 was later assigned to Louis Armstrong International Airport, where team members assisted in the evacuation of thousands of medical patients.

David Lipin, Commander, highlights the security challenges that made it necessary for the DMAT team to leave the Superdome and their patients behind.
January 19, 2007
(2:28)

Ron Lopez, Supervisory Nurse Specialist, recalls the journey to the Superdome, and details the pickup of a woman from an interstate ramp.
January 20, 2007
(00:43)

Leia Mehlman, Registered Nurse, describes the triage process at the Superdome, and how a lack of access to medications severely aggravated patients’ chronic conditions.
January 20, 2007
(1:35)

Barbara Morita, Physician Assistant, on conditions at the Superdome and deaths of individuals waiting to be evacuated.
January 20, 2007
(3:19)

Toby Nelson, Chaplain, recalls working in the “expectant area” at the airport and arena.
January 20, 2007
(2:53)

Toby Nelson describes how quickly social order broke down and “survival ethics” emerged among people sheltered at the Superdome.
January 20, 2007
(1:38)

Arkansas National Guard

When Katrina struck, the 39th Infantry Brigade of the Arkansas Army National Guard (AANG) had recently returned from Iraq, and much of its equipment was still overseas. It was the first unit called to back up the Louisiana National Guard. At the time of AANG’s deployment to New Orleans, the media reported that Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco made statements suggesting that the AANG was willing to use deadly force in order to prevent looting in the city. On September 3, 2005, the New York Times reported Blanco as saying, “These troops know how to shoot and kill, and they are more than willing to do so if necessary.” In reality Blanco had approved explicit instructions to incoming troops that limited their authority to the protection of civilians.

Guardsmen were instrumental in facilitating the evacuation of the veterans’ hospital in downtown New Orleans, and in providing security and aid during the evacuation of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. The Arkansas guard, which included members of the Arkansas Air National Guard, remained in southeast Louisiana for months following the storm and was instrumental in the initial cleanup and recovery of St. Bernard Parish.

James David Cox, Lieutenant, on why establishing a joint task force was the most effective way for the Arkansas National Guard to respond to Hurricane Katrina.
October 25, 2006
(00 :38)

Jeffrey Frisby, Staff Sergeant, discusses the impact of the war in Iraq on the Arkansas National Guard’s response to Hurricane Katrina.
October 26, 2006
(00:56)

Mark Lumpkin, Lieutenant Colonel, on evacuating the Convention Center and ensuring that families stayed together.
October 25, 2006
(1:49)

Thomas L. Parks, Command Sergeant, remembers the dead left behind at the Convention Center.
October 26, 2006
(00:56)

George Ross, Colonel, discusses communication, misunderstandings, and preparedness.
October 24, 2006
(1:22)

John C. Edwards, Lieutenant Colonel, on Governor Blanco, the media, and the shoot-to-kill order that never existed.
October 24, 2006
(2:32)


Comments

Paul Harris replied on June 21, 2010 - 2:07pm Permalink

Katrina

What a poignant way to acknowledge the devastation caused by the levee failures after Hurricane Katrina. I was a tourist stuck in the Superdome during Katrina and will be back in NOLA on 8/29 to acknowledge the 5th anniversary as well. I look forward to revisiting my "home" during those bleak days.

Paul Harris
Author, "Diary From the Dome, Reflections on Fear and Privilege During Katrina"


10 Years Since Katrina: When The Astrodome Was A Mass Shelter

Earlier this year, Houston celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Astrodome. This month marks 10 years after the Dome’s critical role in hosting evacuees from Hurricane Katrina.

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The Astrodome containing about 25,000 Katrina victims.

Two days after the levees broke in New Orleans in August 2005, evacuees arrived at the Astrodome in Houston.

&ldquoThe biggest mission at that time was getting the cots set up,&rdquo says Rick Flanagan, emergency management coordinator for the city of Houston.

In 2005, he was with the Houston Fire Department and assigned deputy area commander for the Astrodome.

&ldquoLater that night, the buses started coming in,&rdquo Flanagan says. &ldquoAnd not only did they start coming in they continued coming in.&rdquo

The Astrodome hosted about 25,000 Katrina victims, most of whom were bused directly from the Superdome in New Orleans, where conditions had gotten worse every day.

Taking care of so many people was a challenge at the Astrodome, too.

&ldquoSome people didn&rsquot have medication, a lot of people left their glasses, some people had no clothes,&rdquo Flanagan says. &ldquoThey had no food to eat, they had no water to drink, they had no shower facilities. So all of those things that were in that particular category, we had to provide those things.&rdquo

A few weeks later, evacuees had to leave again, because Hurricane Rita was expected to make landfall near Houston.

But the few weeks that the Astrodome sheltered so many people in need was a defining time for Houston, says then-Harris County Judge Robert Eckels.

&ldquoThis was probably its finest moment,&rdquo he says. &ldquoKatrina was probably its finest moment. And it&rsquos got a place in history assured from the way Houston welcomed through that gateway 60,000 people and ultimately maybe a quarter million people into the Houston area after Katrina.&rdquo

The Dome&rsquos future continues to be unsure.

The Houston Texans and the Rodeo propose demolishing it and turning the area into green space.

The Urban Land Institute and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett propose turning it into an indoor park.

But where the funding would come from is unclear, and a majority of Houstonians oppose saving what was once called the Eighth Wonder of the World.

Related Articles:


When Storm Hit, National Guard Was Deluged Too

The morning Hurricane Katrina thundered ashore, Louisiana National Guard commanders thought they were prepared to save their state. But when 15-foot floodwaters swept into their headquarters, cut their communications and disabled their high-water trucks, they had their hands full just saving themselves.

For a crucial 24 hours after landfall on Aug. 29, Guard officers said, they were preoccupied with protecting their nerve center from the waves topping the windows at Jackson Barracks and rescuing soldiers who could not swim. The next morning, they had to evacuate their entire headquarters force of 375 guardsmen by boat and helicopter to the Superdome.

It was an inauspicious start to the National Guard's hurricane response, which fell so short that it has set off a national debate about whether in the future the Pentagon should take charge immediately after catastrophes. President Bush has asked Congress to study the question, and top Defense Department and Guard officials are scheduled to testify on the response before a House panel today.

Other elements of the response to Hurricane Katrina are also coming into question. The New Orleans police chief, Edwin P. Compass III, resigned yesterday after the department announced that 250 police officers -- roughly 15 percent of the force -- could face discipline for leaving their posts without permission during the storm and its aftermath.

The former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael D. Brown, testified in Congress that he had warned the White House of impending disaster several days before the storm struck. [Page A25.]

In interviews, Guard commanders and state and local officials in Louisiana said the Guard performed well under the circumstances. But they say it was crippled in the early days by a severe shortage of troops that they blame in part on the deployment to Iraq of 3,200 Louisiana guardsmen. While the Pentagon disputes that Iraq was a factor, those on the ground say the war has clearly strained a force intended to be the nation's bulwark against natural disasters and terrorist attacks.

Reinforcements from other states' National Guard units, slowed by the logistics and red tape involved in summoning troops from civilian jobs and moving them thousands of miles, did not arrive in large numbers until the fourth day after the hurricane passed. The coordinating task was so daunting that Louisiana officials turned to the Pentagon to help organize the appeal for help.

At the convention center, 222 soldiers trained in levee repair, not police work, locked themselves into an exhibit hall at the convention center rather than challenge an angry and desperate crowd of more than 10,000 hurricane victims at the center.

The near-total collapse of communications made every task far more difficult, forcing some Guard commanders to use "runners, like in World War I," as one put it. With land lines, cellphones and many satellite phones out of action, the frequencies used by the radios still functioning were often so jammed that they were useless.

"I think the Guard has performed admirably -- unbelievably well -- based on the conditions that Mother Nature gave us," Col. Glenn Curtis, deputy commander of the state's response to Hurricane Katrina, said in an interview. Disaster experts say that whatever the faults in execution, the 5,700 troops at the disposal of the Louisiana National Guard were far too few.

"What do you expect of 5,700 soldiers when so much of a state is destroyed?" said James Jay Carafano, who studies emergency response at the Heritage Foundation. "If we want the military to close the 72-hour gap in responding to natural disasters, we'll have to come up with a new model."

The eventual military response, which climbed to 35,000 guardsmen and active-duty troops, was widely judged effective. Yet questions about the first few days haunt many Louisiana guard officials: Should commanders have moved their headquarters to higher ground before the storm? Could they have better headed off the lawlessness or built more resilient communications?

And especially, could they have moved more troops faster to New Orleans and other devastated areas?

"I think to a man, we will live with the pain of this experience," said Col. Douglas Mouton, commander of 2,500 Guard engineers. The restoration of order at the convention center, when it came, was "phenomenally quick," Colonel Mouton said. "I think the frustration we all have -- the country has -- is, why couldn't it have been done a lot quicker?"

It was Colonel Mouton who made the decision not to send his soldiers into the crowd at the convention center. A 41-year-old New Orleans architect whose own house was destroyed by the flood, Colonel Mouton defended that decision but said the scenes of anguish that became an international emblem of American failure were particularly painful for local guardsmen.

"These are fellow New Orleanians who are suffering," he said, "people that I go to Mardi Gras parades with."

When the storm hit, 4,000 Louisiana guardsmen were on duty, including 1,250 in New Orleans and surrounding parishes, Guard officials said. By the next day, all 5,700 available Guard members were dispersed around the state, they said.

The senior commander of National Guard troops at the Pentagon, Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, said the Iraq deployment did not slow the hurricane response. He said that Louisiana Guard troops were "in the water and on the streets throughout the affected areas rescuing people within four hours of Katrina's passing," and that out-of-state troops arrived as soon as they could be mustered.

But state Guard commanders disagreed. "We would have used them if weɽ had them," said Lt. Col. Pete Schneider, a spokesman for the Louisiana Guard. "We've always known in the event of a catastrophic storm in New Orleans that weɽ use our resources up pretty fast."

There is little disagreement that Guard equipment sent to Iraq, particularly hundreds of high-water trucks, fuel trucks and satellite phones, could have helped speed the response. The chairmen of the Senate National Guard caucus, Christopher S. Bond, Republican of Missouri, and Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, said in a Sept. 13 letter to Mr. Bush that the Guard nationally had only 34 percent of its equipment available for use in the United States.

With about 150 high-water trucks available statewide, Guard commanders placed most of them outside the danger zone at bases more than two hours' drive from New Orleans. They risked parking 20 trucks at the low-lying Jackson Barracks so they could be immediately available.

Even though the National Hurricane Center warned that Hurricane Katrina might be catastrophic, they did not consider setting up headquarters elsewhere. In 10 years with the Guard, said Col. Tom Beron, who oversees most of the Guard's trucks and drivers, he had never seen more than a few inches of water on the grounds and none inside the buildings. But by midmorning on Aug. 29, as the flood approached the second floor of an armory where 35 truck mechanics, many of them unable to swim, had found refuge, Colonel Beron decided they needed to get out of that building.

The trucks were useless. "There's not a truck in the U.S. Army arsenal that could get through that water," Colonel Beron said.

After ferrying the mechanics to the three-story headquarters building in a borrowed fishing boat, guardsmen grabbed civilian neighbors as they floated past.

"It was best to have a rope tied to you, because the water would just carry you away," Colonel Curtis said.

The relocation of the Guard command on Aug. 30 to the Superdome from the flooded barracks assured attention to the huge crowd there. But as word arrived the next evening of the ballooning numbers at the convention center, commanders felt they had no soldiers to spare.

By happenstance, there were guardsmen at the convention center: backhoe operators, truck drivers and mechanics who had chosen a huge exhibit hall to stage their heavy equipment.

Of the 222 there, almost none were trained in police work or riot control. Many did not have weapons, said Colonel Mouton, the engineers' commander. "We didn't expect a martial law situation," he said. "We were building levees."

Thirsty, hungry civilians began banging on the doors. But commanders decided opening them would pose a danger of a stampede.

"We understand we're soldiers," Colonel Mouton said. "But what we had at the convention center was a partially armed group of engineers, ready to operate equipment," -- and with enough food and water to anger 20,000 people.

On Sept. 1, he withdrew the engineers to the Superdome.

Aware that the Guard would be stretched thin, state officials had contacted other states two days before the storm hit about sending troops under an agreement called the Emergency Management Assistance Contract. The day the storm hit, Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco of Louisiana asked President Bush for all the help he could provide. After touring New Orleans by helicopter the next day, she asked General Blum, of the National Guard Bureau at the Pentagon, to speed and coordinate aid from other states.

Some states got troops there quickly. Sgt. Lawrence Ouellette, a Rhode Island guardsman who works as a police officer, was in court in Central Falls, R.I., on Aug. 31, when he got the call. Just 24 hours later, he and his fellow soldiers had flown to a base near New Orleans and then flew by helicopter to the Superdome to help.

At least one governor, Bill Richardson of New Mexico, has complained publicly that his early offer of help went unanswered. Officials said New Mexico offered 200 Guard members the day the storm hit, and the troops were packed and ready to move the next day. But no orders were received to move those troops until two days later, Sept. 1, and 400 soldiers finally flew to the hurricane zone on Sept. 2.

At the Pentagon, National Guard officials offered no explanation for the apparent delay. An officer not involved in the specific case said the reasons might include lack of aircraft and housing for the troops or uncertainty about their mission.

In the weeks since the military presence brought order to the Gulf Coast, officials in Washington and statehouses have suggested that the state-controlled National Guard is no match for a disaster on the scale of Hurricane Katrina. Some have suggested that the military have a domestic force ready for instant deployment, while others say the Pentagon should simply assume responsibility for communications and other support services. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday that he expected a debate on the military's role.

"It's up to the country, the government, to think that through and decide how they want to be arranged for a catastrophic event," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

Denise Bottcher, press secretary to Governor Blanco, said state officials supported such a rethinking. "Every piece of emergency preparedness, including the military, should be scrutinized," Ms Bottcher said. "There should be some examination of how we can do this better."


The Tragedy of Hurricane Katrina Began More Than 100 Years Ago

Historian Andy Horowitz argues that understanding the New Orleans tragedy means understanding the political and social forces that controlled the city decades before the storm hit.

Matt Hanson

U pon moving to New Orleans after a lifetime spent in the frigid Northeast, one of the first things I noticed, amid the warmth and color and music, is that New Orleanians are talkers. This can be a surprise for a newcomer: The first time a stranger started amiably chatting with me at a bar, I assumed they were trying to sell me something. Another thing I quickly found out is that every local has a Hurricane Katrina story and they aren’t shy about sharing them.

Now that the coronavirus has rudely silenced this deeply musical city—temporarily, we hope—at least there is plenty of time to read about “The City That Care Forgot.”

That somewhat whimsical phrase resonates a little differently after reading Tulane history professor Andy Horowitz’s Katrina: A History, 1915-2015, which investigates the different social, political, and economic forces at work long before the levees broke.

Horowitz defines history as “telling other people’s stories” and New Orleanians have plenty. The city’s been in the midst of controversies and contradictions pretty much from its start: bohemian and genteel, racially diverse but segregated, flush with resources but perpetually broke, politically egalitarian but deeply corrupt, nurturing all kinds of artistic talent that often ends up leaving town. Many of the issues that have distressed NOLA’s modern history are reflected back in the infrastructure of American life. As Horowitz argues, human agency is part of it, but “people do not tend to find themselves living in risky places because of cosmic bad luck. Structures of power push them there.”

You can see it in the differences between Mardi Gras krewes. The krewe of Rex is composed largely of the city’s white elite. They ride high above the street in brightly lit and elaborately designed floats, masked and dressed to resemble royalty, tossing plastic trinkets down to throngs who pack the streets.

In contrast, Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs are neighborhood-based and composed primarily of Black people, who were able to provide different social services, such as street parades and funeral processions—the origin of the famous New Orleans jazz funerals, which are both street parades and funeral processions, complete with brass bands and a “second line” of neighborhood participants who, on the way back from the graveyard, make their own joyful noise.

Every club leads a second-line parade once a year—and there are enough to have a second line nearly every Sunday. The second lines pass through the neighborhoods where members actually live. SAPC members do get dressed up, but they don’t wear masks their parades are meant to celebrate who they are, not the fantasy of being someone else. There are no trinkets hurled from above—second lines proceed on foot, and rather than being pushed to the curb, everyone joins in and follows the band through the neighborhood.

Katrina’s wreckage, contrary to what those in power claimed at the time, was not unprecedented or an unpredictable “act of god.” In September 1965 Hurricane Betsy hit “like a sledgehammer” and was considered to be the worst natural disaster the country had ever seen. Collapsing floodwalls along the city’s industrial canal flooded the largely African-American Lower Ninth Ward. The progress that had recently been made on civil rights in Washington also helped establish communities of color in that area that made people feel they had a partnership in the federal government, which sadly responded by offering rebuilding loans that were the equivalent of a second mortgage on now ruined houses.

This bureaucratic bungling, among plenty of other factors, made many locals feel like they were victims not only of a natural disaster but of official state policy, a complaint which loudly reverberated a few decades later with Katrina. To his credit, then-President Lyndon Johnson did grab a lantern and go sloshing through the wreckage to inform people that their president was indeed with them. In some ways, it’s an amusing image, but in retrospect it seems almost heroic given that it’s hard to imagine either George W. Bush or Donald Trump doing anything remotely like it. In the wake of Hurricane Betsy, one local congressman callously announced to the Black community that “this was not the time for charges of any kind” or a time “to lean on others,” others in this context meaning the largely white political power structure. As usual, whether in a crisis or not, the mantra for American elites is socialism for the rich, free enterprise for the poor.

One of the reasons why Bush botched Katrina so badly was because of the routine Washington pussyfooting around the exasperating question of whether a given disaster is ultimately a federal or state problem. This is a particularly timely issue, given how the Trump administration plays whack-a-mole with its pandemic response and its general callousness about Black suffering. This discriminatory opportunism also runs deep in NOLA history. Back in the 1920s, when oil was discovered in the Gulf of Mexico the sly, cynical, and overtly racist District Attorney Leander Perez maneuvered to privatize large amounts of public land, ruining the Louisiana wetlands that help offset hurricanes’ impacts and disenfranchising those who had lived and worked in the area for generations. Perez then used his massive profits to create a mini-fiefdom and support segregationists like Strom Thurmond and George Wallace in their presidential campaigns, which often used the rhetoric about state’s rights as cover for segregation.

Horowitz’s lucid, detailed, and balanced account of the long, crooked paths that led up to Katrina reinforces one of history’s most important lessons. Admirably, he also puts the post-Katrina conspiracy theory that the government intentionally blew up the levees in its proper context, as an expression of a wounded community’s undeniable pain. As he puts it, “for better or worse, things might have been different.” I emailed Horowitz about this very question and how New Orleans can rebuild once again.

Horowitz spoke to The Daily Beast in an email interview about Katrina: A History, 1915-2015.

What inspired you to write this book?

In 2005, I was a couple of years out of college and living in my hometown, New Haven, Connecticut. I remember watching the levee failures on television, seeing New Orleans fill with water. I went to bed that night comforting myself with the idea that, tomorrow I will get to see the most powerful country in the history of the world do something unambiguously right, and it will be amazing. The next day, things only got worse. In some ways, this book—and my career since then—has been focused on reckoning with the distance between the country I thought I lived in, and the one I really do.

What's the significance of treating Katrina's history as going back a whole century?

Most accounts of Katrina start with the arrival of the hurricane, or at the terrible moment when the levees broke. Doing so is consistent with how we imagine disasters in general: that they are catastrophes that come out of nowhere to upset the regular order of things. But I wanted to trace Katrina’s causes and consequences across time to pursue the idea that disasters are less discrete events than they are historical processes that unfold over time. I wanted to understand who built the levees, and why. I wanted to know who developed the neighborhoods that were most vulnerable, and why they were vulnerable, and who lived in those neighborhoods, and why. Answering these kinds of questions demanded looking further back in time.

Treating Katrina as history and placing it in the historical context of the development of metropolitan New Orleans unsettled many of my initial ideas about the disaster. For example, I was surprised to learn that neither the race nor the class of a building’s inhabitants was a particularly strong predictor of whether a home flooded in 2005 a building’s age, however, was a strong predictor. Most homes built in the 18th and 19th century did not flood, but most homes built in the 20th century did. As I write in the book, “it was not primarily poor New Orleans or rich New Orleans, nor was it white New Orleans or Black New Orleans that flooded during Katrina. It was 20th-century New Orleans.”

Disasters don’t come out of nowhere to upend history. Rather, they are products of the history they seem to upend.

One theme that comes up over and over again is the idea of corporations and politicians using rhetoric about "states’ rights" as a kind of an ideological fig leaf for pushing all kinds of very undemocratic stuff—oil domination, segregation, botching the federal response to Katrina.

People familiar with American history know that “states’ rights” is a frequent constitutional claim made by white racists seeking to protect slavery in the 19th century, or segregation in the 20th from federal oversight or intervention. I found that it was also used to defend against oversight of oil development, as you mention.

The centuries-long conservative effort to weaken the federal government under the banner of states’ rights has done unbelievable damage. A weaker state can offer fewer protections. I don’t want to be misunderstood here: White supremacy benefits white people and harms everyone else. But because states’ rights—which is to say, racism—undermines white people’s support for government to help any American, regardless of race, it can sometimes harm white people too.

The continuing U.S. failure to prevent mass death, suffering, and economic collapse during the pandemic offers a terrifying display of what I mean. This suffering disproportionately hurts non-white people, but white people are not immune from it. And stronger federal protections would have benefited everyone.

There are many examples of this process at work in the Katrina story. Here’s one: After Hurricane Katrina, nearly all New Orleanians wanted what was called a “Category 5 levee system”—a protection system that attempted to protect the region from very large hurricanes. But conservative resistance to federal spending in the public interest led Congress to approve only a comparatively modest hurricane protection system. I expect I will live to see it overwhelmed.

The national media outlets certainly hyped up the horror of Katrina. There were very hyperbolic references to atrocities in the Superdome that didn't actually take place. Why, do you think?

In a word? Racism. Evidently many white people were prepared to believe that in a matter of hours, African Americans would descend into an orgy of baby rape and cannibalism. These rumors did not emerge anew during Katrina, of course they are among America’s oldest stereotypes, and they become activated during times of white anxiety.

If the federal government is no help, it doesn’t seem like the free market worked very well either. Privatization didn’t deliver. Lots of people got paid a lot of money, but most of the money didn’t trickle down to everyday people or build as much infrastructure as it was supposed to.

Perhaps the main reason we have a government is to regulate and mitigate the operation of the market. So I think it is fair to read the abuses of companies like ICF as government failures. ICF is the Virginia-based firm to which Louisiana contracted out the administration of its “Road Home” housing recovery program it took ICF years to distribute most grants, leaving homeowners in purgatory, or maybe someplace worse. But the company’s primary purpose was not to aid anyone, it was to profit.

And profit they did, when the government neglected to create regulations that would have forced them to operate in the public interest. This failure was not inevitable—critics at the time warned what would happen and identified what was happening as it happened—which is what makes it shameful. The government was and remains capable of handling the problems Katrina posed. That it failed does not mean that it could not have succeeded.

You write that “advocating their commitment to home and to self-determination, an African-American and labor-led coalition of neighborhood-based groups forced City Hall to authorize and enable their vision of rebuilding the whole city. This was less disaster capitalism than democracy.” I’d love to hear more about this.

That passage refers specifically to what came to be called the “Green Dot Plan” for New Orleans: It was a plan to turn many of the city’s lowest lying areas into flood control infrastructure. Planners understood it as a humane, if technocratic, way to protect the city from future floods. But many residents of the neighborhoods that appeared to be under those green dots on the proposal—who were mostly African American—understood it as a gentrification scheme, an effort to dispossess them and prevent them from returning to New Orleans. So, they fought back, and were successful: The city abandoned the plan, and permitted rebuilding across the city. Many people have glossed the post-flood history of New Orleans as a process of disaster capitalism, but I don’t think that frame fits the picture I’ve just described very well.

Now to be sure, it may fit other policy changes that occurred after the flood, but nonetheless, I worry that while “disaster capitalism”—basically, the idea that profit-making firms seize on moments of upheaval to institute neoliberal or capitalist changes—has been used to great effect to call people’s attention to the imposition of sometimes dramatic policy changes, it can be misleading. As I sometimes see the term deployed, there is a whiff of inevitability about it. When in reality, there is no universal or inevitable response to disaster—floods don’t prompt people to enact a certain kind of politics. How people respond depends entirely on the political, cultural, and historical moment. I could cite examples of disaster socialism, disaster anarchism, and any other manner of political or ideological response to disaster.

A central argument of my book is that conceiving of certain times as “disasters” often does more to blind than to sharpen our vision. Rather than treating disasters as exceptional moments, events that happen outside the normal order of things, we should see disasters in history, and as history. They take place in time, and ultimately there is more to be gained by understanding them as part of our regular life than as deviations from it.

Certainly, I believe that has turned out to be the case with Katrina. Fifteen years ago, it was perhaps easy, or comforting, for Americans to look at New Orleans and see that kind of failure is an exception. But after Hurricanes Sandy, Harvey, and Maria, and in the midst of this pandemic, it no longer appears as an exception. Horrifying to realize, it seems that Katrina may have been heralding the shape of 21st-century America.


Watch the video: Hurricane Katrina Day by Day. National Geographic