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Katrina . . . Photos of a devastated city

Katrina . . .  Photos of a devastated city

 

You thought I was exaggerating, when I said that Hurricane Katrina turned modern reinforced concrete buildings into rubble, didn’t you?

Although they look like they were taken a couple of days after the hurricane, most of the photos you are about to see were made in the last week in February or March 1, 2006. One could not ask for a professional more qualified to deal with storm damage than a historic preservation architect.  I had also brought along the materials that I needed to show people how to use the sun to distill drinking water, construct temporary toilets and build water tight shelters from debris.  There was still a terrible shortage of potable water in New Orleans.  All of the water lines were contaminated and the pumps weren’t working. However, I was never allowed to tell anyone in a position of authority how the people could create their own water and build their own shelters.

In my first trip to New Orleans in early October 2005, I was not allowed to visit Houma and not even allowed into the core city by National Guardsmen. Even five weeks after the storm, there was still no one for me to offer my services to.  Everyone was running around like chickens with their heads cut off and the police were trigger happy . . .  assuming anyone without a uniform on was either a looter or a mugger.

 The first National Guardsmen checkpoint rejected my letter from the Houma Nation, asking for my assistance.   I then walked to the next check point a couple of blocks away and told the soldiers that my dogs were experts in finding cadavers.   The dogs and I were immediately given special ID tags. I thought I had told a fib, but my two herd dogs turned out to be very good cadaver dogs . . . but such an experience is the making of nightmares.  Only people with press credentials were allowed to walk around the city and take photos, so I was only able to take a few photos, when there were no cops or soldiers around. 

Virtually nothing was done in New Orleans the first six months.  As of March 1, 2006, most of the city still had no electricity, no operating traffic lights, no garbage pickup and for that matter . . . few human occupants outside the French Quarter and affluent neighborhood around Tulane University. East New Orleans would look like Hiroshima for several years.  Until February 27, 2006, the nearest gasoline pumps were 38 miles away.  On that day, a convenience store reopened in Slidell, 33 miles from the French Quarter.

Some parts of New Orleans stayed flooded for several months, because the city was originally a swamp.

Some parts of New Orleans stayed flooded for several months, because the city was originally a swamp.

3-katrina

 

The massive billboards along Interstate 10 were supposedly designed to withstand 150 mph winds.

The massive billboards along Interstate 10 were supposedly designed to withstand 150 mph winds.

 

Mostly what my dogs found were the rotting remains of deer, dogs, cats and cattle, but sometimes . . .

Mostly what my dogs, Rob Roy and Shena, found were the rotting remains of deer, dogs, cats and cattle, but sometimes . . .

 

(left) Coast Guardsmen remove decayed bodies from a house. (right) My dogs found a child's mummified body under the boat.

(left) Coast Guardsmen remove decayed bodies from a house. (right) My dogs found a child’s mummified body under the boat.

 

7-katrina

 

A 25 mile wide swath of Metro New Orleans looked like this six months after Katrina.

A 25 mile wide swath of Metro New Orleans looked like this six months after Katrina.

 

9-katrina

 

Nearby was a devastated house with a boat on its roof, but by then, my camera batteries were dead.

Nearby was a devastated house with a boat on its roof, but by then, my camera batteries were dead. Everywhere I looked, I saw massive destruction and the broken hearts of  American citizens. I couldn’t stop taking pictures.  Someone had to know what happened here.

 

In this neighborhood near Slidell, all that was left were the floor slabs.

In this neighborhood near Slidell, all that was left were the floor slabs.

 

Notice the bicycle and toys mixed in with the rubble.

Notice the bicycle and toys mixed in with the rubble.   The house on the left might have survived with heavier steel beams upstairs.

 

13-katrina

 

The only houses that survived near the water had two story, steel-framed structures. Their steel members were stouter and had reinforced joints. Most importantly, this allowed the rushing water to disintegrate the first floor rooms and pass on through. None of the two story concrete buildings survived however. The concrete framing could not resist the powerful circular pressures of the multiple maelstroms that roared through the 28 feet high tsunami.

The only houses that survived near the water had two story, steel-framed structures. Their steel members were stouter and had reinforced joints. Most importantly, this allowed the rushing water to disintegrate the first floor rooms and pass on through. None of the two story concrete buildings survived however. The concrete framing could not resist the powerful circular pressures of the multiple maelstroms that roared through the 28 feet high tsunami.  Even so, most of the brick veneers on the steel columns were stripped away, except for this house on the right.

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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history.Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.

6 Comments

  1. quarefremeruntgentes7@yahoo.com'

    You are truly a pillar of our nation, Richard. You deserve better.

    Blessings,

    Jeff

    Reply
    • A pillar of the nation? I don’t know about that . . . but I do believe there is a real good reason that Jesus said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This nation’s current religion is “Take as much from others as you can get away with.”

      Reply
  2. wakefieldrising@gmail.com'

    Sad, sad, sad.

    Reply
  3. markveale@hotmail.com'

    Richard, I wish everyone would follow Your example to help others when help is “needed”. Our political system has failed many times in the past and Man has failed GOD. This land of our forefathers was Very Beautiful just 3 hundred years …..now look at the mess Greed of Man has produced.

    Reply
    • And I don’t think many Americans realized the scale of the disaster. The TV media concentrated on the chaos at the Superdome, because none of their reporters got out and viewed the vast areas that were destroyed on the east and southeast sides of New Orleans.

      Reply

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