Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Of Resilience 15 Years Later

Fifteen years ago this weekend, Hurricane Katrina swept through the Gulf Coast, causing a wake of destruction in its path from Florida to Texas and extensively in Louisiana. The storm became one of the deadliest and costliest in U.S history. Over 1,800 people died as a result and property damages were estimated at more than $108 billion. Much of New Orleans and parts of Louisiana were under floodwaters for weeks after.

Today, in the midst of a global health pandemic, it is important to reflect on the valuable lessons learned from this cataclysmic event that are still being felt today—both the complexities of recovery and the resilience of community.

The account below was written by Elliot Ackerman in Time Magazine and has been adapted:

As a Marine, I participated in the federal response to Hurricane Katrina and witnessed firsthand the importance of strong communities, the limits of a federal response and the consequences when a community falters.

Three days after the hurricane, I arrived in New Orleans leading a platoon of 70 Marines. Our platoon was sent to a suburb to augment recovery efforts.

The mayor said the most essential service we could provide would be to help first responders take care of their own homes and families. Each day, the people on his list would come to the warehouse where we were staying and take a few Marines with them to help.

What soon became obvious was the people on this list were not those most in need.

Marines on the work sites were sledgehammering out drywall, tidying up front yards and, in one case, cleaning someone’s swimming pool. The list the mayor handed us did contain some first responders, but his definition of first responder also included many of his political friends and allies.

After a week, we tore up that list. We relied on others in the community to guide us to where our help was required.

In one instance, a gas-station attendant directed us to an elderly couple. A tree had fallen through the roof of their home. With nowhere else to go, they were still living in the house, even among the continuing rains.

To remove the tree, we’d need chain saws to cut it into manageable pieces. No surprise, chain saws weren’t something the federal government typically issued to Marines. So we drove to the nearest Lowe’s. After we explained the situation to the store manager, he lent us four chain saws as well as a couple of extra ladders. He simply asked that we bring them back “not too broken,” as I recall.

By that night, we had cut out the tree and slung a tarp over the hole in the roof, but only after destroying one of the chain saws.

We wound up spending just over a month in New Orleans. My experiences there demonstrated how a community could falter but also how it could come together.

We’re facing another test of that collective will now as we battle the pandemic. We have only one another to rely on. Call me sentimental but I believe in the general goodness of people and I believe that that goodness will pull us through.

As for the chainsaws, we knew the Marine Corps bureaucracy wouldn’t foot the bill. After having already given so much in support of those in so much need, the guys in the platoon took up a collection and paid for any damages.


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