|View of inundated areas in New Orleans following breaking of the levees surrounding the city as the result of Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans, Louisiana. September 11, 2005. Photographer: Lieut. Commander Mark Moran, NOAA Corps, NMAO/AOC; Creative Commons licence.|
As the 10th anniversary of the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe approaches, many news media are doing stories that try to make sense of it. For journalists, it's an inexhaustible subject because it's about people's lives and the moral perils of the governments we choose. It's about the looming catastrophes we deny.
Katrina began forming in the Atlantic in late August of 2005, crossed Florida August 25, strengthened in the Gulf of Mexico, reached category 4 and 5 intensity by August 28, and made landfall near New Orleans as a category 3 on August 29. Fortunately, extensive evacuation efforts in Mississippi and Louisiana limited immediate loss of life from the storm itself.
But the storm surge and a breach of levees caused floodwaters to start rising almost immediately in many parts of New Orleans, and it was soon clear that the lives of many who had not evacuated were in peril. People were trapped in attics and shouting for help from rooftops. Hundreds died. By August 30, some 15,000 people were trapped at the Superdome, which had been designated the refuge of last resort. By August 31, some 85% of New Orleans was under water.
Veteran Times-Picayune reporter Mark Schleifstein wrote later of evacuating the newspaper's office with colleagues in the back of a truck as the water rose. The newspaper kept publishing — electronically at first — providing a vital service to the stricken community. Few probably remembered that triple-Pulitzer Schleifstein had co-authored with John McQuaid a series ("Washing Away") back in 2002 that had pretty much foretold the disaster. It used computer models to look at the storm surge from a direct hit by a major hurricane and pointed to the levees as the weak spot in the below-sea-level city's protection. In a worst-case scenario, it hypothesized that as many as 100,000 people could be fatally trapped. The series had huge impact, and probably inspired evacuation planning that saved tens of thousands of lives. Schleifstein lost his house in the flood, as did many other New Orleanians.
Ten years later, big parts of the city have come back — but much damage also has remained. The diaspora of citizens is partly permanent. Many other parts of the Gulf Coast were devastated and are still recovering.
The story was much more than a failure of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). It was also for at least a while a story of failed governments — local, state and federal — and the almost total failure of basic infrastructure like water, sewer, drainage, electrical utilities, schools, hospitals and the like. It was about failure to ask: "What if?"
This month, there has been an outpouring of media coverage in advance of the anniversary. The Times-Picayune itself has collected links to much of that coverage as it keeps emerging. National Public Radio has been running a series of stories on Katrina's aftermath.
At the Society of Environmental Journalists' 2014 Annual Conference in New Orleans, many of the the rebuilding issues were explored. In preparation for that conference, SEJ published special TipSheets on coastal risk and resilience to help reporters with coverage, by Amy Wold of the Baton Rouge Advocate.
- Special Edition TipSheet: Gulf Coast Restoration
- Special Edition TipSheet: Coastal Risk and Resilience in the Gulf Region
- "As Katrina Anniversary Draws Near, Media Spotlight on New Orleans Grows" (New Orleans Times-Picayune)
- "Hurricane Katrina: 10 Years of Recovery and Reflection" (NPR Series)
- "Ten Years Later, the Lessons of Hurricane Katrina Apply to All of Us" (PRI)
- "Ten Years After Hurricane Katrina, Waters Rising Outside New Orleans" (AP)
- "10 Years After Katrina, New Orleans' Tourism Industry Reborn" (AP)
- "In Measuring Post-Katrina Recovery, a Racial Gap Emerges" (KPBS)
- "New Orleans Schools, 10 Years After Katrina: Beacon Or Warning?" (NPR)
- "A Katrina Relocation Project So Ambitious It Was Doomed To Fail" (Newsweek)
- "Stories and Sazeracs: Photographing New Orleans a Decade After Katrina" (National Geographic)
- "How to Save a Sinking Coast? Katrina Created a Laboratory" (New York Times)
- "Hundreds of Crooks Snagged Katrina-Relief Money" (McClatchy)
- "The Times-Picayune, Heroic During Hurricane Katrina, Braces for More Cuts As 10th Anniversary Nears" (Huffington Post)
- "Front Page of the Day: 'Katrina @ 10'" (Poynter)
- "Katrina Couple Made Famous by 'Treme' Has Moved on: Swipe Photo, Hear Story" (New Orleans Times-Picayune)
- "Protecting a New Generation of Poisoned Kids After Katrina" (National Geographic)
- "A Decade After Katrina, Are America's Flood Estimates Dangerously Wrong?" (Politico)
- "EXTREME WEATHER: Katrina Recovery Pits New Orleans Against Continuing Racial and Income Divides" (ClimateWire)
- "PODCAST: Elysian Fields" (Marketplace)
- "Rebuilt Confidence in New Orleans Flood Controls Fuels Rebuilding" (Reuters)
- "'Shots on the Bridge' Unpacks a Tangled Story of Deceit and Tragedy" (NPR)
- "Gulf Eats Away at Coast Outside Levee-Protected New Orleans" (Associated Press)
- "Concern in Manatee County Over Senate Bill Allowing Drilling Closer to Florida" (WWSB)
- "Starting Over" (New Yorker)
- "Race and the Storm" (New Yorker)
- "Ex-Presidents Bush, Clinton To Mark Katrina in New Orleans" (New Orleans Times-Picayune)
- "Katrina Survivor Describes Clinging to Trees for Hours as Husband Was Swept Away: ‘It Was All Just, Hang On'" (ABC News)
- "Ten Years After Katrina, New Orleans Museums Reckon With Recovery" (New York Times)
- "FACT SHEET: President Obama to Commemorate 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina" (White House)
- "Katrina Created Its Own Language" (Jackson Clarion-Ledger)
- "Barbour Book Tour Coincides with Katrina Anniversary" (WTOK)
- "A Tale of Two Cities: In New Orleans, Perceptions of Recovery 'Starkly Divided' Along Racial Lines" (Common Dreams)
- "Racially Disparate Views of New Orleans’ Recovery After Hurricane Katrina" (New York Times)
- "Why the Lower Ninth Ward Looks Like the Hurricane Just Hit" (Nation)
- "After Katrina: New Orleans Schools Fight to Flourish" (Education Writers Association)
- "The Lessons of Hurricane Katrina: How New Orleans Transformed Its Healthcare" (Huffington Post)
- "Katrina dolphins: The Untold Story Some Believe Should Never Have Happened" (Biloxi Sun Herald)
- "New Orleans Area's Upgraded Levees Not Enough for Next 'Katrina,' Engineers Say" (New Orleans Times-Picayune)
- "Making a Living on the Bayou After a Decade of Disasters" (takepart)
- "Scars Of Katrina Slow To Heal For Mississippi Gulf Coast" (NPR)
- "10 New Orleanians on How Katrina Changed Their City" (Next City)
- "The New New Orleans" (AP)
- "Portrait of a City 10 Years After Hurricane Katrina" (PBS Newshour)
- "New Orleans Rises Decade After Katrina _ But Gaps Remain" (AP)
- "Before And After: What 9 Places Destroyed By Hurricane Katrina Look Like Now" (Washington Post)
- "The Next Big One" (Washington Post)
- "Mississippi River Mouth Must Be Abandoned to Save New Orleans from Next Hurricane Katrina" (Scientific American)
- "10 Years After Katrina, a Look at President Obama's Campaign Promises" (Politifact)
- "How Katrina Made the NBA's Unstable Future in New Orleans More Uncertain" (New Orleans Times-Picayune)
- "A Housing Crisis Amid Tens of Thousands of Abandoned Homes" (Atlantic)
"New Orleans: The Calm After the Storm" (Bloomberg)