Results for category "Hurricane Katrina"

15 Articles

Now Playing: “When You Get Back” – Jon Cleary & The Absolute Monster Gentlemen

I still feel New Orleans in me with a weight similar to a very full belly, a heavy presence that leaves me wondering if it might be embedded in my belly forever. At no other point in my life have 10 days gone by so quickly. Never before have I felt so fulfilled from an amount of work that felt so small, in context. There is a part of me that is New Orleans, an itch I can’t ignore, but can’t yet scratch. I find myself wishing I’d brought more home. The voodoo doll from the French Quarter, cajun seasoning and sliced garlic from the cooking school (the vanilla bean extract was confiscated at the airport), bottle-cap framed ouija board from Dr. Bob’s, the “past cards” I’ll be sending away to parents and grandparents, the 3 CDs I acquired from musicians that inspired us all, the magnets on my fridge, the mud on the bottom of my suitcase, the crumpled up boarding pass in the front pocket of my backpack… I can put all these things in a pile in the living room but I can’t bring New Orleans home with me, at least not physically. I mean it honestly, though, when I say it’s a part of me forever.

New Orleans made me want to be a better musician. It made me want to forget the stupid little day-to-day things and focus on the important stuff. It made the “hard work” at home seem insignificant. I wanted to stay for a year and keep working, keep asking the locals to tell me their stories, keep learning about the history. I wanted to contribute. I learned things about gardening that I convinced myself I would re-create at home. I learned more about a history of a town with more stories than I could probably ever hear in one lifetime.


I did things I never thought I’d be able to do in less time than I would have ever imagined, like, for instance, when I was able to identify tree species by day 2, or hack through 100 meters of blackberry in an hour and a half. I got a taste of what strength really looks and feels like, and it was gone too fast. Does anyone know of any place around Ventura County where you can chop wood or hack at something with a machete, for recreation? Does anyone have anything invasive they need help tearing down? You have my number.


Tulane River and Coastal Center

  1. Today we visited the Tulane River and Coastal Center and were greeted by Amy Lessen, an assistant research professor at Tulane University. Amy studies the urban coast and works on projects that deal with sustainability, ecology, and diversity. She focuses on four major topics:
  2. Disease in a post trauma ecological landscape
  3. Community risk perceptions
  4. Landscape and vegetation
  5. Rodent populations and human health.

The most common theme regarding all four topics is abandonment. When places are abandoned after natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, it impacts green spaces, invasives, open space, and diversity.

Amy explaining her work

Amy is trying to link these land use changes in human health with rodent demographic studies. Very little information is available for rat populations in the city of New Orleans, so she is establishing a database. She looks at two kinds of rats, Norway and Black rats.

The largest populations are found in the 9th ward, mainly due to abandonment, habitat gain, and water sources. Rats are a viable pathway for pathogen spreading, and increase risk perception depending on the size of populations in neighborhoods.

Amy is also looking at consortion with resilient gulf communities. Most of the impacts are from the BP oil spill. This project deals with human dimensions, health, engagement, and social networks. A big find with this project is that mental health issues in communities are largely caused by cascading effects of natural disasters.

She used an example with local native peoples, called the Isle Dejohn Charles tribe. This tribe resides on a small island in the Isle Dejohn Charles area. They have been hit hard by rising sea levels, frequent storms, and flooding. The oil spill has also contaminated the local fishing in the area. These people have decided to relocate from the island, and have secured urban housing by the state to migrate to.

All of Amy’s projects are fascinating because they deal with science in the humanities, which is her background. It’s often rare to see human ecology being explored in the case of Hurricane Katrina.

Here are more photos of the Tulane River and Coastal center!

View of the Mississippi from the Windows


The Debate for a Delta

The state of Louisiana has not always looked the way that it does today. Over time the Mississippi River has caused the land to change and evolve. Today the river has been channelized to flow straight for the ease of industrial and trade boats to access the city. But it has not aways been this way, naturally the Mississippi River is a delta. A delta is a river that divides into smaller rivers and empties into a larger body of water. During this natural process, it picks up nutrients and sediments from the upper regions of the river resulting in a build up of sediment and organic material deposits at the mouth of the delta. This deposited sediment is highly rich in organic material which is important for the native wetlands and beneficial to the development of new land and crops. However with the channelization and prevention of the delta to flow naturally it has caused many environmental effects.

Currently along the Mississippi River levees have been installed to prevent the river from changing course over time. With the channelization the river has been forced to flow “straight”. This is beneficial to the city economically. New Orleans is known as one of the largest port cities in the United States. If the river was allowed to naturally divide it would result in the development of sand bars. Sand bars would inhibit the ability of cargo ships to access the city to deliver and pick up items such as food, oil, coal, and clothing. This is the reason why the levees were built to channelize the river. If the river was allowed to naturally flow into a delta it would affect the state of Louisiana economically, however the channelization is also impacting the state environmentally.

The citizens of Louisiana have been depleting the land of its rich resources over the last 120 years. As a result, major environmental consequences have occurred such as the degradation and loss of wetlands, decrease in water quality, and land loss. Loss of wetlands have occurred because the channelization of the river has caused it to flow faster and thus not allowing it to divide and disperse its rich sediments. This sediment is an important contributor to wetlands because it accommodates increase land mass and organic materials increasing the ability of wetlands to act as a storm buffer. In addition, man has removed a great amount of the wetland Cypress trees for the use of lumber. Without the presence of cypress trees, the land of Louisiana is more vulnerable to the effects of wind and flooding. Cypress trees are known for their ability to absorb copious amounts of water and act as a wind buffer. Furthermore, the channelization of the river has affected levels of salinity within the estuaries. This means that the oysters have migrated closer towards the shores. As a result, industries have taken advantage of this change and are now harvesting oysters at alarming rates. Oysters are important for their ability to filter water, their loss within the ocean has therefore decreased the overall water quality within the surrounding gulf. Not only does this affect water quality but the ability of the wetlands to survive. The most important environmental effect caused by man is land loss. Land loss is a consequence of the channelization of the river. Channelization due to the installation of levees has caused a choking effect down river causing water levels to rise and speed to increase. The increased water speed has prevented the river to naturally slow and disperse sediments evenly over the land. Furthermore inhibiting the build up of sediments to support the growth of wetland ecosystems and the surface area  of the land. All of these factors put together have contributed to the devestating  effects of Hurricane Katrina.

To prevent a repeat of what happened during the storm of Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana has installed a system that is called siphons. Siphons are large pipes that when turned on will pull nutrient and organic rich sediment out of the Mississippi River and push it into nearby wetlands. The goal of this project is to replicate mother natures ability to disperse sediment naturally, just as a delta would. The problem is that these pipes are rarely ever turned on. Some think that the restoration of of these wetlands will be detrimental the city economically. While others think that it is necessary to keep the city above water. However the larger problem in this situation seems to be the debate over whether it is more important to save the city economically or the ecosystem. But what most people do not realize is that without a well balanced and functioning ecosystem, there will be no city.

  • Katie and Hayden

From the woodlands to the city

Like most days, today was all over the place! We started off in the field first thing in the morning. Most teams finished up yesterday’s transects, and by 12:00 pm we all decided to join forces and power through a full 100 meters. We called ourselves Hayden and the machete girls. We had two ladies carving the path of blackberry and box elder, and groups of three recording the first, second, third, and fourth 20 meters. It was a hard trail, but we finished just in time!

If you turn your head, here’s a field selfie!

By 1:30pm we were in the French quarter, ready to meet Daphne at the historical New Orleans museum. We watched a 30 minute documentary on the geomorphology of NOLA pre-hurricane. Because we were crunched for time, we only had around 20 minutes to explore the museums historical exhibits.

Check out this dude. Sleepy in the 1700s

Afterwards we were joined by Harry Schearer who discussed the politics of the levee failures in depth. He had a very smooth voice!

it was interesting to hear about not only the structural failures but also the socio-political ones as well. We had one more talk after Harry, with Mark S. (Full name in another post.. Too long to remember right now!) of He talked to us about history of his newspaper business, as well as all of the failures of the Louisiana Storm Protection Master Plan. All the details are listed in Katie and I’s other post!

We got to listen to Mark in fancy business chairs!

We finished off our night at the Waffle House after a failed dinner attempt at Chickie Wah Wah. It had to be the best decision we’ve made so far. Our waitress was named Keedy and she was the sweetest. They were all so sweet! And the food was amazing. Good night y’all!

Day 6: Speaker Harry Shearer at The Historic New Orleans Collection

Harry Shearer an actor, musician, and creator of the documentary of the Big Uneasy explained in detail how Americorps and the federal government are responsible for the levee failure that followed Hurricane Katrina. Negligence is what caused the most destruction, not the hurricane itself. The hurricane was only a catergory 3 by the time it hit land. He explained how the media only covered part of the whole story because it is known that corrupt politicians and powerful companies control them. The levees failed because engineers failed to build them adequately. They should have been much taller and been reevaluated every [insert how many] years to meet the impact of a 100-year hurricane. The Army Corps of Engineers does not want to take responsibility for the levee failure. They spent more money trying to cover up than on fixing the failure.

Read More →

A look into the levee failures of Huriccane Katrina

Dr Nelson standing along a T-wall levee

Today we explored the 5 myths of levee failure in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina made landfall, and how the disasters unfolded. Dr. Steve Nelson a Professor at Tulane University guided us through three different levee sites in the lower 9th Ward and talked about how the levees failed during Katrina.

We started off by discussing 5 common myths most people have concerning levee failure in New Orleans.

  1. Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans on August 25th 2005, and left the city mostly unharmed because the extent of the damage occurred after the storm passed. The levees only breached once the storm was gone.
  2. The levees ONLY along the Mississippi River breached
  3. The “corrupt” Levee Board had built the failed levees
  4. Hurricane Katrina was so large that it overwhelmed the city
  5. New Orleans is well below sea level.

Dr. Nelson debunked these myths, clearly explaining how things actually went down. The reality of things goes like this:

  1. All levees failed during Hurricane Katrina, around 3 hours after it had passed through. ~ 9:00am
  2. Hundreds of other levees had breached, most being poorly constructed after the storm of Hurricane Betsy
  3. The U.S Army Corp of Engineers built all of the levees as a part of the Flood Protection Act of 1965
  4. Hurricane Katrina only really overwhelmed the Gulf Coast. It was a category 5 starting and had died down to a Category 3 once reaching the city. The most devastating part was the levee failures.
  5. Only half of New Orleans is below sea level due to how it was built (from draining the swamps and sinking the land).

To get a closer look of the history of the city’s levees, we need to explore the major events that happened pre-Katrina. We’ll begin with the construction of the Industrial Canal. This canal was built in the 1920’s to connect the Mississippi River to Lake Ponchatrain for port access. In the 1960’s, the Mississippi Gulf Outlet was constructed for ship traffic but the U.S Army Corp of Engineers. Both of these canals were major disaster channels during Hurricane Betsy in 1965. The Industrial Canal allowed for storm surge to pass into the city, thus flooding the canals. This in turn heavily flooded the lower 9th ward.

Shortly after Betsy, the 1965 Flood Protection Act was passed by congress in order to ensure protection from future storms and hydrological events. The U.S Army Corp of Engineers carried on the construction of the levees surrounding major canals and drainage channels in New Orleans. The first design of all major levees was the I-wall design. It looked something like this!

View of the industrial canal

Dr. Anderson talked about the “coastal squeeze” and how we need to find as far as the wetland can go and also how far the community can go. The water isn’t allowed to spread inland as it did evolutionary. In 2006 after Katrina hit they rebuilt the entire flood wall and replaced the section on Jourdan St. with a T-wall. There is a big difference in elevation between the Jourdan St. wall and the I-wall in that the I-wall it is 2.5 ft lower and the storm surge took it out because it was not reinforced like the T-wall. Also the flood wall is behind and hasn’t been rebuilt since Katrina. The only reason why they rebuilt the wall on Jourdan St. is because it failed but it seems silly to rebuild the wall to 15ft and leave all the other walls at their original elevation because it provides a pathway for the storm surge to come in.The Army Corps of Engineers admitted in 1985 that they’ve been using the wrong datum (2.5ft too low. 12ft instead of 15ft). The Army Corps of Engineers came up with a new plan to keep the water out of the Industrial Canal entirely because it is connected to Lake Pontchartrain. In the New Hurricane Protection system they built a flood gate on Lake Pontchartrain that keeps the water from entering in from the Lake. There are two gates on the wall. One to allow fruit boats to get out to the Gulf of Mexico through Bayou Bienvenue and another set of gates to allow boats to get to the inter coastal waterway. The wall is 25 ft. high, it’s supposed to keep storm surge out and protect NOLA from the 100 year storm which is a storm that has a 1% chance of occurring every year.

Image result for t-wall new orleans

Saving money, but also cutting corners isn’t worth it in the end especially when an entire state is in danger and people’s lives are at risk. Levee failure should not be happening in an ideal world, but hopefully the Army Corps of Engineers learned their lesson.

To learn more, check out these videos




Open-Air Levee Exhibition and Garden

There are several levees that failed when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans most of these caused severe damage to homes and all around the area. In this case it was London avenue levee failed which moved a house completely off its foundation by several yards. The women that owned the house didn’t want to rebuild it, she then sold her house to the state of Louisiana. With this new property LA decided to lease it out to a private company that decided to make it into an open air museum. Before all of this happened though there was A LOT of sand that covered the area. Steve Nelson who is a professor at Tulane talked to us for most of the day about levees talked about how and why the sand got there. About 4 thousand years ago the land that New Orleans sits on currently was new land that was mostly made up of sand and over time it became the bottom of the river. Once the levee failed it covered the surrounding area with 100 million cubic feet of sand! The private company has done a tremendous job with telling the story and they recently got a house right next to it which they will turn it back to what it looked like shortly after Katherine hit.

The one odd looking brick was from the original house

Over looking the posters


I’ve got two lists – one “to bring” list, and one list of names, the names of people for whom I can definitely not fail to buy souvenirs.

A death/skull themed gift for Professor Olsthoorn, the osteologist.
A portrait of Mistress Marie Laveau – the voodoo queen – for my mentor, a French historian.
A mask for my mom, since she’s brought so many home for me over the years.
My dad is a drummer. I’m sure I can find something, what with the jazz and all.
Something for my boyfriend… probably a beer coozie and a shot glass.
The list keeps getting longer. I hope New Orleans has some good clearance bins.

I’ve hardly slept this week, haven’t packed, have worked almost every day after school but won’t get my paycheck until next Thursday. At least I got my laundry done, and the only homework I need to complete is an essay on Women & Gender in History.

I’m saying all this because this is what I’ve done in the time I’ve waited for this trip to come. I may not be packed, but I’ve been so very ready for days now. I’m ready to get dirty, sweat, possibly faint. I’m ready to probably cry. I’m anxious to finally know, in person, a culture I’ve been obsessed with for years. To hear, in person, jazz around which I’ve formed a musical identity as a singer, flute player, and occasional desk drummer. To taste, finally, the shellfish, beignets, alligator, gumbo, and jambalaya I’ve only attempted to recreate in my tiny apartment kitchens. Well, except for the alligator…

As an anthropologist, I’m ecstatic. As a foodie, I’m hungry. As a musician, I’m anxious – in the toe tapping sense of the word. As a historian, I’m honored. As a student, I’m ready for the challenge.


On Tuesday we went to a place called Capstone, located in the lower 9th ward of Louisiana. The lower 9th ward was one of the most dramatically damaged places after Katrina, and there is a very serious problem concerning food availability there because of that damage. The existence of a farm in a place like this would be special on its own, but what makes this place even more special is that all the produce grown here is grown through a process called aquaculture 

Greenhouse at Capstone


Foundation of a House in the Lower 9th Ward

   It’s amazing and really inspiring, actually, to see the ways in which New Orleans citizens have answered back to such devastation. 

I Got the Blues for New Orleans

The 10 days that were spent in New Orleans were nothing but good times with great people. Unfortunately, it has been 4 days since I was last in NOLA and seem to be cherishing every minute that I had there as it stretches into memory. From Jackson Square in the French quarter where you could walk for days looking at all the art and listening to the unique cultural and musical gumbo that is played there to the swampy forested wetlands where we laid out transects and identified plant species to characterize the health of the swamp ecosystem.

The culture that NOLA brings to the United States is unique in my experience. It is filled with people from all different origins. The food (which is spicier then I was expecting) is a culinary gumbo, unique to the New Orleans/coastal Louisiana area. We sampled a range of eatings from the Po’ Boys to crayfish (aka crawkfish) boils we gleefully gulped down. The food in New Orleans will give any traveler the spicy kick they are needing and sensory backdrop to their NOLA experience. Another important aspect to the city life is the music. John Boutte and Irvin Mayfield showed us what it really means to jazz it up New Orleans style. As they (and so many others) played, their soul sung out with multitudes of experiences accumulated over years of triumph and tragedy living in NOLA.

From the city to the swamps the experience was amazing. Professor Anderson worked us hard in the swamps. Cutting down blackberry and identifying every plant in each little transect. After days of doing this in combination with sleep deprivation I realized that what I was doing for NOLA was crucial to keeping this city alive. We the students of CSUCI are one of few groups that are actively monitoring bottomland hardwood forests since Hurricane Katrina. Understanding the health of these wetlands is key as these swamps are the last natural wind and storm surge buffer to prevent natural disasters from destroying all that human life and culture in NOLA (not to mention the intrinsic value of such systems).  The people of New Orleans were all very thankful for what we did and that touched the deepest parts of my heart. Knowing that what we did over our Spring Break can and will contribute in some way to potentially helping save the city and many other people in the surrounding areas made all the difference. I would go back and do it all over again. This trip was the most rewarding experience I have had in my college life.

Thank you Dr. Sean Anderson for bringing me along on this fun adventure and introducing me to everyone that you knew in NOLA. This trip was honestly a fun and memorable service learning experience.