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  • August 27, 2014

Hurricane Katrina Then and Now: Lifting the Fog of Memory

Author
Kurt Mutchler

Faded memories can eat at you. You may try to remember, but only a fog remains. The true power of photography records the present to help us remember the past. In today’s digital age, memories are captured frequently only to get lost in our digital vaults, but when we do go looking for them again, they can fire the billions of neurons that string together the pieces and lift the fog.

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The intersection of Causeway Blvd. and I-10 in Metairie, La. in 2005, at the top of the page, and in 2014, above.
Photograph by Ted Jackson/Nola.com/The Times-Picayune

So it was for Ted Jackson, a staff photographer for Nola.com/The Times-Picayune, who not only opened their photographic archive to revisit the staff’s coverage of Katrina’s destruction nine years ago after it made landfall near New Orleans on August 29, 2005, but he returned to the exact spot using the same focal length lens where each selected photograph was taken.

“It’s been fun, and challenging, like a mystery puzzle trying to find that spot,” Jackson said. And in one case, his memory of nine years ago caught him by surprise.

Encouraged by Photography and Video Manager G. Andrew Boyd, who proposed the project, Jackson scoured each area with an architect’s precision: “The right distance and the right height, everything has to be exact for it to work,” he said. “The closer the elements are in the photo the harder it is and the more elements you’re trying to match make it more difficult. I’ll shoot a picture and go to my car, upload it and layer it, and see where I’m off and go back and reshoot it.”

“The most important part of everything is there has to be one thing that will stay exactly the same,” Jackson said. “There has to be a landmark that you can recognize or I don’t think the reader is going to buy the premise. So, that limits what kind of pictures you can choose. It’s not necessarily your best pictures, but the ones that show something interesting before and after.”

According to the National Hurricane Center, Hurricane Katrina was the deadliest storm since 1928 responsible for 1,200 deaths. It was the costliest U.S. hurricane on record with $75 billion in damages to the Gulf Coast. This is a storm worth remembering.

The hurricane has passed and the flooding has begun Monday afternoon as three men, John Rainey, John Rainey Jr. and Courtney Davis help Terry Fox tug a tub full of children toward an overpass on South Broad Street.
  Photograph by John McCusker, Nola.com/The Times-Picayune
South Broad Street.
  Photograph by Ted Jackson, Nola.com/The Times-Picayune

A few of the situations stood out for Jackson: “Four guys are hauling an old tub through the water and the tub is filled with children. That happened right over the Broad Street overpass from the old newspaper office. I found the spot and there are so many telephone poles and street signs that you had to find the exact, exact spot, and of course the exact spot is right in the middle of Broad Street and traffic is coming from my back. And I think I’m most proud of that one because it was so hard to get,” Jackson laughs.

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  Photograph by Ted Jackson, Nola.com/The Times-Picayune
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  Photograph by Ted Jackson/Nola.com/The Times-Picayune
Ted Jackson climbs to the second rung from the top of the ladder where he made the after picture of the scene above.
Ted Jackson climbs to the second rung from the top of the ladder where he made the after picture of the scene above. Photograph by G. Andrew Boyd, Nola.com/The Times-Picayune

When Jackson returned to the site of one of his first pictures he made right after the storm, he was stunned to learn of the actual height of the water. He was in a boat and photographed a woman in a vest floating down the middle of the street. “I found the spot, it was very disguised now, but I found it and I had always thought she was tiptoeing down the street just because of the way it looked to me,” Jackson said. What he thought was maybe 4-5 feet of water was actually closer to 10 feet. “I just couldn’t believe that the water was that deep. I took a six-foot ladder to get up to the height that the boat would be and I was nowhere near the level I needed to be,” he said. Jackson ended up going back with a 12-foot ladder and stood on the second rung from the top. His fog had lifted.

Scroll down to see more before and after scenes from around New Orleans.

The site of the levee breach where the barge crashed through the levee wall flooding the Lower Ninth Ward.
  Photograph by Ellis Lucia, Nola.com/The Times-Picayune
 Lower 9th Ward, at the breach of the Industrial Canal, 2014. At right, new homes built by Make It Right, founded by Brad Pitt in 2007 to help rebuild the community.
  Photograph by Ted Jackson, Nola.com/The Times-Picayune

The Lower Ninth Ward at the breach of the Industrial Canal, where a barge crashed through the levee wall flooding the area. Now, new homes built by Make It Right, founded by Brad Pitt in 2007 to help rebuild the community, line the street.

A security worker walks past destroyed houses in Lakeview near the break in the 17th Street Canal.
  Photograph by John McCusker, Nola.com/The Times-Picayune
Neighborhood rebuilt after breach in 17th Street Canal.
  Photograph by Ted Jackson, Nola.com/The Times-Picayune

A security worker walks past destroyed houses in Lakeview near the break in the 17th Street Canal. The neighborhood has now been rebuilt.

A family of women and children cling to posts on their front porch as rising floodwater force them to evacuate their home on St. Claude Ave in the Lower 9th Ward. They had tried to get into their attic space to no avail. Floodwater raging down St. Claude Avenue prevented rescuers from reaching them during the storm. They were planning to swim to safety using the log in the lower right, as spectators pleaded with them to stay where they were until help could arrive. They said they had been clinging to the posts since 8 a.m. It was now after 12 p.m.
  Photograph by Ted Jackson, Nola.com/The Times-Picayune
Front porch at St. Claude Ave. at Industrial Canal, photographed from bridge, 2014. “The one thing I speculated, but I didn’t really know, was the fact that the women were so high up on that porch and I knew they couldn’t be standing on the porch because their heads were above the door top. And in the after picture you can see the rail they were standing on. I thought that was very interesting,” Jackson said.
  Photograph by Ted Jackson, Nola.com/The Times-Picayune

A family of women and children cling to posts on their front porch as rising floodwater force them to evacuate their home on St. Claude Avenue at Industrial Canal in the Lower Ninth Ward. Upon returning, Jackson said, “The one thing I speculated, but I didn’t really know, was the fact that the women were so high up on that porch and I knew they couldn’t be standing on the porch because their heads were above the door top. And in the after picture you can see the rail they were standing on. I thought that was very interesting.”

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    Photograph by Jennifer Zdon, Nola.com/The Times-Picayune
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  Photograph by Ted Jackson/Nola.com/The Times-Picayune

A woman walks by a growing pile of debris being dumped at the sanctioned Katrina dump site on the neutral ground between West End Blvd.and Pontchartrain Blvd, compared to how the site looks today.

For more before and after images by Ted Jackson and the Nola.com/Times-Picayune staff, visit their website.

Prior to joining National Geographic in 1994, Kurt Mutchler was a staff photographer, and then at the photo and graphics editor, at the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

There are 14 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Kiara
    March 4, 2016

    i think that the hurricane katria is killing people’s families to much and so the places that are having hurricanes should get destroyed and the places where there are not any hurrricanes the people that had hurricanes should move there.

  2. Evan Brinton
    December 2, 2014

    First of all the levees wouldn’t have been breached if it weren’t for the hurricane. The hurricane pushed all the water into Lake Ponchartrain when it was coming inland once it got past the coast the wind direction changed and pushed all that water against those faulty levees built by the Army Corps of Engineers. That’s how our beautiful city got flooded. Now as for the people that think we in New Orleans and the people on the gulf coast shouldn’t be living here well we and our past families have been living in these areas this is our home. Did anyone tell the citizens in New Jersey they should move after Hurricane Sandy? I never heard that said. So do you people tell people in California they should move because there are earth quakes there or the people in Hawaii because of typhoons and volcano’s. This is our homes and for some like me we’ve lived here for generations. We love our city there no other city like New Orleans I love New Orleans and I am so proud of the city and it’s people and the way everyone came together during and after Katrina. Move you say I don’t think so.

  3. JUDY HILL SULLIVAN
    October 30, 2014

    I thank God everyday for getting my family through Katrina and aftermath; character building experience; gratitude for volunteers. Wow, not much is an inconvenience today– hunger, broke stuff, lost forever treasurers– they put a new spin on life thereafter. So grateful for the ones who pulled together; so grateful for the ones who showed greater love– like the young folks from one race who backed car out of line to push old man’s car (from another race) to near the front of about ?maybe 75-80 cars? for when gas pumps would get power. Maybe before I would have thought, “N.O.L.A. thug”. Now I got my chops busted by their kindness and their doing the Good Thing with their own kind of pizzazz. I hate we had such a horrible disaster. I love that I got the pride pummeled out of me, so I can appreciate life, appreciate folks, appreciate any chance to give back. Hope we just keep growing back and growing better. Prayers and hugs, y’all…..:-)

  4. Rocky chaudhry
    September 2, 2014

    My brother Dave Danson went with truck load of water and food from NC .I could,t go cause I had two broke legs .I thanks him everyday .

  5. Bill
    September 2, 2014

    My friend Don Wilson made the Only (as far as I know) historically accurate documentary about Hurricane Katrina hitting the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. The film is called “Mississippi Son”. If one wants to see the Actual impact point of Hurricane Katrina and the damage it did to the Gulf Coast it is the go to Documentary. My Brother and I contributed music for the film. It won many awards in film festivals and has had some commercial broadcasting. (At one time it was on Netflix). It is available on Amazon I believe. Don did an excellent job. To me the most outstanding part is all of the help that was given by volunteers from all across the Country to the residents of the Gulf Coast. Very Powerful.

  6. lara
    September 1, 2014

    I don’t remember Katrina very well,I was in junior high when it happened. I saw the documentary of Katrina,on the weather channel and how it was absolutely incredible how all those people were at the coliseum waiting for help. That’s what I do remember.

  7. paula graham
    August 28, 2014

    Several months before the disaster NPR had a program on ‘what the scenario would be if a hurricane hit Nola and the Gulf coast. They called it blow by blow unfortunately. They also said why it would happen. They called the shots on gov. Lack of concern on the infrastructure.. that falls to local gov and federal. When Katrina hit I was in tears recalling earlier the npr program. Our politicians need to get with the program.. or father’s build a beautiful infra structure.. and the have there heads so far up there personal agenda buts they are letting the important things go.

  8. John Dennis
    August 28, 2014

    I was a bad experience for the select few that decided to live where they did. In the future, under a tea party govt, these people won’t be able to get the help they did. Move to higher ground NOW!

  9. Jessica
    August 28, 2014

    I agree with those that say NOLA was a man made disaster and the Mississippi Gulf was a natural disaster. FEMA, the governor of LA and mayor of NOLA are the ones to blame for what happened. And the governor of LA didn’t want President Bush stepping into to help. They said they could handle on their own. So wrong! I hated President Bush when he was interested office, but I can honestly say that what happened because of Katrina wasn’t his fault.

  10. benito jose garcia
    August 28, 2014

    grate job..thank’s

  11. Susan Price
    August 28, 2014

    For New Orleans, this was a man-made disaster. For the Gulf Coast, this was a natural disaster. The response to both was a Government disaster.

  12. Hope
    August 27, 2014

    The Mississippi Gulf Coast was hit by Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans was flooded by faulty levees. There is a difference ! I will be the first to say that NOLA suffered terribly but it was not due to a natural disaster. Theirs was man made.

  13. Chris Jeanes
    August 27, 2014

    Enjoy the tour and history refresher. It was a horrible time

  14. Linda Zdanwic Cooke
    August 27, 2014

    I’m thrilled…what the victims of Katrina went through, I feel they deserved the best reconstruction, rebuilding, replaning, to never have the horrible happening, like Katrina was.

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