New Orleans
Photo of flooded New Orleans

I took a quick glance at the front page of the newspaper on September 1, 2005. I was horrified to see the tragedy unfolding in New Orleans. In the days, weeks, months and now years that have followed Hurricane Katrina, more than the roofs came off. Americans and the world have been exposed to indifference and incompetence. Further research has led me to understand that New Orleans is the ultimate contemporary city: a place of paradox where even good intentions have been lost in the politics of race, class, and geography. The city's troubles did not begin with Katrina and its current situation highlights both the state of our expectations and limitations in the early years of the new American millennium.

Debra Block, Director of Education, NBLMC

New Orleans



After the storm surges of Hurricane Katrina passed, 80% of New Orleans flooded.


New Orleans and entire Gulf coast of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama


Approximately 90% of the residents were evacuated. Those who remained were poor, elderly and/or sick.


Late August and Early September, 2005


Breaches of the levees and flood walls were caused by faulty design specification, incomplete sections, and substandard construction.

Interesting Facts:

Price Paid to Acquire New Orleans and Louisiana Territory: $15,000,000 (1803)

Percentage of New Orleans residents who have not returned home: 40 (as of September 1, 2007)

Height of flood waters: 15 feet

Home elevation mandated in new FEMA building guidelines in flood plain: 3 feet

Current rate for homeowners' insurance: 21.6% of home's value

Number of homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina: 200,000

Important Names

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
The federal agency that supervises disaster relief and recovery. It was begun by presidential order in 1979 to accommodate the reality that state and local resources were unable to address wide ranging crises. FEMA became part of the Department of Homeland Security on March 1, 2003.

Army Corps of Engineers (CORPS)
The CORPS has been in existence since the nation's founding to oversee construction projects that were beyond the scope of local or state jurisdiction. It began working on fortifications on the Mississippi River after the war of 1812 and has been responsible for flood control in New Orleans since 1965. The CORPS is funded solely by Congressional earmarks, and its assignments are often the result of a political process that creates many "pork barrel" projects.

Mayor Ray Nagin
Mayor of New Orleans since 2002; re-elected in 2006. Becoming mayor is Nagin's first political job. He had been an executive at a communications company and vowed to bring discipline to corrupt city politics. He was highly critical of the Federal response after Hurricane Katrina. Others have criticized Nagin for not preparing the city better before the storm and for politicizing rebuilding efforts.

Governor Kathleen Blanco
Governor of Louisiana, elected in 2003; did not run for re-election in November 2007. She was criticized for not having sufficient preparations for storm whose effects had been predicted. She also hesitated to use National Guard troops from other states, fearing that this federalization would limit her authority over them.

Road Home
State run program to administer federal funds for rebuilding. It began in October 2006 and stopped accepting applications on July 31, 2007. The program predicts budget shortfalls of $4.3 billion due to higher estimated costs and less revenue than anticipated from private insurance.

Norman B. Leventhal Map Center (