Remembering Katrina 15 Years Later


August 24, 2020

As we watch the storms in the Gulf this week, we remember the devastating storm that hit the Gulf exactly 15 years ago this week—Katrina.

2005 was a record-breaking season: 15 storms attained hurricane status, the most active Atlantic storm season in documented history. With over 1,800 lives lost, 1 million displaced, and $81 billion in property damage, Katrina was one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the US and showed the importance of preparedness, insurance coverage details, and more. Follow along this week as we share stories from Gulf Coast residents, adjusters, and business owners who lived through the destruction of Katrina.

Chris Fowler, Flood Adjuster

After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, Chris Fowler was deployed as a flood adjuster. In this audio clip, he describes what it was like.

Michele Prather, Louisiana

Michele Prather and her family were living just outside of New Orleans in August 2005. As they watched Katrina tracking toward their area, they were not terribly worried: “Here we go again.” They had prepared to evacuate for another storm just one month before and it turned out to be a minor storm. They watched the news as Katrina roared through the Gulf Coast. When they returned, their city was unrecognizable. Read Michele’s story of Katrina:

What did you see before the storm made landfall?

Before we left on Sunday the 28th, I remember no birds anywhere. I made a point to look for birds when I picked up my husband at the boat launch, and there weren’t any. There were millions of love bugs everywhere—something I’ve never seen. My car was full of them.

How did you find out about the state of your home during the storm?

We had Nextel phones, and the walkie talkie function and texts would work, so we did get in touch with some people like that. Not many though. We had some friends who were first responders and they stayed, and they told us the awful news as it was happening. One guy was outside our house in a boat and told us our gutter cans were under water. The news was broadcasting that New Orleans had dodged a bullet, but we knew better. It wasn’t until that evening of the 29th that the news began to break that everything was under water.

What did you see as you were re-entering your neighborhood?

It was surreal, like a war zone. Everything was covered in a gray sludge, there were no colors at all. Cars were on houses, slabs with just the toilets still bolted to them were all over. Boats on houses, houses on houses, Jacuzzi’s on top of houses… we saw a refrigerator in a tree right up the street from our house. No power lines anywhere, just total devastation. No one was spared, all properties in the entire parish were wiped out.

Everything stunk, rot everywhere. There also weren’t any people, very few, mostly workers. Everything was gray, covered in mud. Our house had 3 ft. of mud in it, and the attic wasn’t even spared as we had 8 ft. ceilings, but the flood water had reached 13 ft. We found furniture by sticking a PVC pipe in the mud and as we hit something, we would dig the mud off to see what it was. There were no sidewalks, just mud. There was a bar that had been about two blocks away that floated up in the back of the house. There was a two-story apartment building across the street that had no second story, but the furniture was still there. As you drove through neighborhood after neighborhood, all was the same. All doors had been kicked in by the rescuers looking for bodies, and they drew an X on the front of the house. Each quadrant was designated for a statistic, one was how many dead animals in the house, one was the police force who looked inside, one was for how many dead were in the house and the last was the date they entered.

As you walked you could see where someone had stayed and drowned. When everyone began getting back to start cleaning their houses, there was a massive hill the length of the street of debris, waiting to be picked up. We got power because we had applied for it in late December, and we were the only ones along a 2-mile long street. We were told by the National Guard that we were the 2nd family in the entire town of Meraux that had returned. It was complete darkness anywhere you went. We had to go about 20 miles to get groceries… again, surreal.

Did you witness any acts of kindness after the storm?

We had so much kindness, between the National Guards helping to make sure the kids got on the bus in the morning while my husband and I went to work, to the Red Cross bringing us boxed lunches, people buying our groceries—it was unbelievable. Since we were one of the first ones back, we got the royal treatment. I think they really felt sorry for us and wanted to help anyway they could.

How did your kids respond to the situation?

We had two 16 year olds and a 12 year old. When we lived in Prairieville, we signed them up for school. They were called the refugees. They hated going to new schools and were picked on. The town was overwhelmed with evacuees and really was not ready for the invasion. All the kids wanted was to come home. Once the school system decided they would reopen, that was it. We knew we had to get them home.

What was the wildest thing you witnessed or saw in person?

There was a 50-foot shrimp boat in the middle of the street that had floated over the levee and came to rest in a neighborhood. Anderson Cooper actually would shoot live from in front of it for a few nights. There was something else astonishing: we could pass a slab, where the house had washed away, but the statue of the Virgin Mary was still there. That actually was common to see.

How has your life changed because of Katrina?

It makes you look at what is really important. The people you love are important, not your house or your car. It’s the relationships you cultivate over time. St. Bernard was a tight-knit community where even though there was 70,000+ living in it, you had the feeling you knew everybody. So many of our friends have not come back, so many businesses we frequented are gone. We were fortunate that all of our immediate family did return home, but there are a lot less people living here now.

How has New Orleans changed because of Katrina?

We live around 10 miles from the city of New Orleans. As far as change, I think some good has come out of it. Less traffic was a big plus when commuting to work. When driving around the city, I see a lot of young professional people have made New Orleans home. The rebuilding is still in progress 15 years later. I don’t think it will ever be as it was, at least not in my lifetime.

TatoNut, Ocean Springs, Miss.

If you’re ever passing through the Gulf Coast, you’ve gotta stop in and try TatoNut. The doughnut shop in Ocean Springs, Miss. is famous for its doughnuts, but also for coming out the other side of Hurricane Katrina with a new product.

After Katrina hit in 2005, TatoNut’s building stood unscathed but supplies were running low in the hard-hit area. With a line out the door, the owner of TatoNut took the irregularly shaped edges of dough that were normally discarded and fried them, creating “Katrina Pieces.” These odd-looking donuts were such a hit that they’re still on the menu today.

Bobby Mahoney, Biloxi, Miss.

Mary Mahoney’s of Biloxi, Miss. opened in 1964, five years before Bobby Mahoney and his family rode out Hurricane Camille. When Katrina was approaching the Gulf Coast, he decided to ride it out in the restaurant once again. Bobby describes the swells approaching the building as he looked out the window, and what he did to try to keep the glass from breaking. After his Katrina experience, he says he won’t be staying for the next big storm.

Thank you to Bobby Mahoney for sharing his story with us, and make sure to stop in to the famous Mary Mahoney’s next time you’re in Biloxi.

‘Hurricane Hal’ Needham and other grad students on Dr. Keim’s Hurricane Katrina tour in the Lakeview neighborhood of New Orleans during the summer of 2015. Note the line of where Katrina came up on the building.

Rick Stickler, Gulfport, Miss.

City of Biloxi’s Rick Stickler has valuable insights after Hurricane Katrina. CNC’s Hurricane Hal interviews Rick.

Kai Roth, Pass Christian, Miss.

Kai Roth, Senior Hydrologist with the National Weather Service at the Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center is interviewed by CNC’s Hurricane Hal.

Seneth Baker — Thanks for reading! What did you think of this post? Email us.