The Truth About New Orleans After Hurricane Katrina

Elevated view of a horse-drawn carriage on a street in the French Quarter, New Orleans

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Hurricane Katrina, which hit New Orleans, Louisiana, in August of 2005, was a Category 5 hurricane that only worsened when the city's levees failed. About 80 percent of the city—mostly neighborhoods more than tourist areas and the business district—was suddenly underwater. Katrina, which caused approximately 1,200 deaths, is frequently thought of as one of the worst storms in U.S. history. It's also earned the reputation of being the most costly storm on record, with an estimated $108 billion in property damage.

Adding to the devastation was the fact that Katrina displaced more than 1 million people in the Gulf Coast region. Efforts to create stronger hurricane defenses for the city were completed in 2018, at a cost of $14.6 billion.

The Role of Levees and Wetlands

In June 2006, Lieutenant General Carl A. Strock accepted responsibility on behalf of the Army Corps Engineers for the failure of the flood protection in New Orleans. According to The New York Times, a corps report called the poorly-constructed levees "a system in name only." Strock said the report showed that they missed something in the design.

The loss of the natural wetlands that formerly protected the city from flood surge was also a contributing factor in the devastation, worsened by the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) built by the oil companies through the wetlands. MRGO funneled the rising storm surge directly into St. Bernard Parish and Eastern New Orleans.

Since Hurricane Katrina, many levees have been reconstructed, MRGO has been closed, and the fight to save local wetlands has finally been noticed around the country.

The St. Charles streetcar in the Garden District, New Orleans
Brooke Slezak / Getty Images

New Orleans After Katrina

The French Quarter, which most tourists associate with New Orleans, was not structurally damaged by Katrina. The old city took care of itself, and the Quarter looks pretty similar to how it's looked for years. Jackson Square is still beautiful and inviting, surrounded by artists painting, fortune tellers seeing the future, mimes, musicians, and dancers: It is alive with spirit. The restaurants, hotels, and clubs are vibrant and welcoming, as always. It is almost impossible to be disappointed if you are a returning visitor, for you know what to expect—charm, music, food, and fun.

The historic St. Charles Streetcar is running fine, and the beauty of St. Charles Avenue is nearly intact. Take a tour of the city on a streetcar, or a walking tour of the Garden District, still the most informative and pleasant way of seeing this part of the American Sector. Most tours start at Lafayette Cemetery across the street from venerable Commander's Palace restaurant. Uptown is full of great restaurants and the popular and long-running Camellia Grill reopened, causing joy among the locals.

The Warehouse District, with its restaurants, museums, art galleries, and entertainment, is the same as it was: Less bohemian than the Quarter, not as decorous as Uptown, and always a lot of fun. New places are opening, and old places are thriving.

People walk along the New Orleans riverfront at night near an historic paddleboat
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Post-Katrina Restaurants, Hotels, and Shops

Small businesses suffered after the hurricane due to insurance issues, personnel problems, and other financial concerns. While many smaller businesses have struggled, many more are blooming. A number of stores opened on Magazine Street to join old favorites, making it the most successful retail area in town. You can still buy high-end antiques and stylish clothing in the Quarter as well. The port reopened, and cruise ships regularly sail from the river near Woldenberg Park. There are more restaurants open now than before Katrina, along with new music venues.

Bourbon Street appears to be returning to its jazz roots—Irvin Mayfield has a club, The Jazz Playhouse, in the Royal Sonesta. Frenchmen Street, made famous by the HBO series "Treme," is filled with patrons.

The Revival of Homes and Neighborhoods

The Lakeview area and the Ninth Ward, not usually on the tourist route, came back vigorously. The Lakeview area is filled with determined residents who worked hard to reopen schools and businesses, and many returned to their homes or relocated to the area, as there were opportunities to obtain great homes at bargain prices. The lower Ninth Ward returned, thanks in part to actor Brad Pitt and his Make it Right Foundation, which built new, green affordable homes in this area. Some mansions sprung up where ruins used to languish.

Safety in New Orleans

Despite the media's portrayal of the city as dangerous, you are as safe as in any major metropolitan area. Common sense is the rule in New Orleans, just like anywhere else. Efforts to reduce crime in New Orleans have shown results.

In every city, there are parts of town you need to stay away from. Tourists have always been advised not to go into the cemeteries except with tours (with the exception of St. Louis Cemetery Number 3 and Lafayette Cemetery). Central City is not the best place to be, but visitors likely won't be in that area.

Sports After the Hurricane

Sports fans have plenty to be happy about in NOLA. A major renovation to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome will help keep the Saints of the National Football League in New Orleans for years to come, and Champions Square outdoor plaza and sports venue took the place of the New Orleans Centre Shopping Mall across the street from the dome, making the parties before Saints home games better than ever.

New Orleans' NBA team came back in 2007 to play home games in the Smoothie King Center, and changed its name from the Hornets to the Pelicans. Another team that changed its name is the New Orleans Baby Cakes, a minor league baseball team that used to go by the Zephyrs; they are a Triple-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins.

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