Oral History Collection

On Monday August 29, 2005 a Category 3 Hurricane, Katrina, landed on the Gulf Coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. New Orleans levees broke and over 80% of the city was flooded. Some areas were 9 meters under water. Katrina has been described as the worst Hurricane in U.S. History. The estimated population of New Orleans in 2005 was 455,000.  All residents were under a mandatory evacuation and most were not allowed back into the city until the end of September 2005.

When they returned, even if they wanted to rebuild, many could not afford to and could not live in their homes while rebuilding. Mold and fungus posed health issues and basic utilities, water, electricity, gas, were not available in some areas for nearly a year after Katrina. FEMA trailers dotted the devastated landscape of the city but many of those also did not have access to utilities and so were not really a viable dwelling while rebuilding. In the face of such obstacles, who decided to stay and rebuild? What factors contributed to being able to rebuild?

By mid-2006 the New Orleans population rose to about half of what it was before Katrina (223,000 U.S. Census Bureau, 2007). Before Katrina, many predicted that NOLA would be much different if a Hurricane flooded the city. Quite a few studies have documented the statistics of this disaster. This research documents the oral histories of those who stayed, where they went during the exodus, how and why they rebuilt, and their perceptions of New Orleans now. What has been rebuilt compared to what was lost as a result of Katrina?   Historically, New Orleans neighborhoods had distinct identities — Gentilly, Faubourg Marigny, Mid-City, Uptown, etc. Have the characteristics of these primarily middle-class non-tourist route neighborhoods changed since Katrina?

Outcomes from this project will include an archive of New Orleanian oral histories and a documentary film that explores New Orleans 10 years Post Katrina. The archive, film, and associated web presence will explore the following questions:

  1. Is New Orleans different now 10 years post-Katrina than it was before Katrina? 
  2. Who stayed in NOLA after Katrina? WHY did they stay?
  3. What factors contributed to decisions to stay?  Rebuild or not rebuild? 
  4. What does census data/economic data tell us? How (or is?) NOLA different 10 years post-Katrina?
  5. What are the educational and economic situations in NOLA now? Education, health, basic services (electricity, gas, hospitals for instance lost medical records in the Hurricane), population distribution relative to police units and crime?
  6. How does the current status of these system level resources compare to other cities of similar size and characteristics?
  7. Do first person accounts and oral histories of residents who stayed in NOLA align with census and economic data?

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