The story of Hurricane Katrina, through stunning local newspaper covers


On August 23, 2005, the storm isn’t cause for concern yet. It’s the 12th tropical depression of the season, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. It’s by the Bahamas; it’s thought that it might just head out farther into the Atlantic Ocean.

It doesn’t do that, though. The storm gets stronger, and it gets a name: Katrina.

The next day Katrina is declared a hurricane and later hits the shore in Miami. Two people are killed by falling trees. Katrina becomes extra ferocious after reaching the Gulf of Mexico.

On the 26th, in the evening, Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi and Gov. Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana declare states of emergency.

On the 28th, Katrina’s winds are clocked at 145 mph. New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin orders the city evacuated; many cannot leave, for a variety of reasons. Thousands seek shelter in the Superdome.

In Biloxi, the Sun Herald braces for impact amid fears that the storm will be worse than 1969’s Hurricane Camille, then the strongest Hurricane to strike the U.S.

On the 29th, the storm slams inland at the Mississippi-Louisiana border. Biloxi is devastated.

Also on August 29th, in New Orleans, the 17th Street Levee fails and water begins to pour into the city.

This “Hurricane Edition” came in at 27 pages and featured two ads: one for State Farm, one for All State. State Farm is currently being sued by the state of Mississippi for “maliciously” denying home insurance claims for wind damage that were then paid for by the federal government, a move that Mississippi attorney general Jim Hood says made the company millions.

More levees fail the next day.

People stranded in the city quickly run out of food and other supplies and do not know when relief will arrive.

On the 31st, a teary-eyed Gov. Blanco orders everyone who is still there to leave the city but there are no buses or trucks to evacuate people, and the roads are not usable.

In Biloxi, the destruction is only beginning to be assessed.

On September 1, pleading for federal assistance, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin informs the world that there is no food for the people in the Superdome. In the Times-Pic, the people still inside the Superdome complain about how terrible the conditions are.

Its chaotic, and it smells, said barbershop owner Ted Mitchell, who after three nights in the Dome was leaving and contemplating walking back to his flooded home near Canal and Broad streets. Its worse than the Depression. That place is not fit for people to be living in.

On the same page:

In the story several New Orleans police officers are quoted as saying that looting for food is not one of their concerns, and there are even reports of store owners giving food away so it does not spoil.

President George W. Bush visits Biloxi on September 2 as the relief effort begins in earnest. He’s photographed embracing two women.

The next day, federal trucks arrive in Biloxi and the long process of repairing the city and locating the missing begins.

Meanwhile, in New Orleans, as much of the city floods, fires break out.

The city begins to try to pick up the pieces.

In Biloxi, the relief effort is moving at a crawl. Officials worry that disease could spread because of a lack of clean water.

By September 6, people begin moving back into the city in Biloxi. Around 250 have died. A sense of normalcy returns to Mississippi.

In New Orleans, people are coming back slowly as well. And the dead are counted.

But more and more things keep going wrong.

The city was almost completely evacuated—sometimes by force.

There are glimmers of hope though.

The final death toll for the storm stands at 1,836—around 1,400 of whom were in New Orleans. But there are still over 700 people who are officially listed as missing. Most of the city’s dead were seniors who lived near heavily flooded areas.

President Bush comes to New Orleans on September 13th, 15 days after the storm hit the city.

The president vows federal commitment to repairing and rebuilding the Gulf region on the 18th day after Katrina hit.

It takes until the 20th day for city politics to rear its ugly head.

The incredible stories of everyday people begin to trickle in and and make the papers.

Another hurricane soon emerges in the Gulf named Rita.  Evacuees who had made it to Houston are once again evacuated. In New Orleans, there are concerns that the city will flood again.

Those concerns are realized on the 26th day when the 9th Ward and once again inundated with seawater.

One of the biggest stories in the aftermath of Katrina was the chaos and violence at the New Orleans Convention Center and inside the Superdome. Both places were reported on as lawless areas where the city’s refugees were tearing each other apart.

The Times-Picayune, which won two Pulitzer prizes for its coverage of the storm (one of which was shared with the Sun-Herald), actually looked into it and found out that it was mostly bunk.

Pumping out floodwater isn’t the only logistical nightmare facing the city.

Communication via cellphone and web is limited because 70% of the city’s cell towers were knocked out. But there is another problem: “Even if you had cell coverage, there was no one at the 911 centers to answer the call.”

Thirty-five days after the storm, clean drinking water is still mostly unavailable except for relief supplies.

Issues pile up in the city as employees begin to lose their jobs.

In one of the most drastic firings, the state of Louisiana took control of the New Orleans School Board and canned 4,600 teachers and administrators. Some were rehired, but most were not. The bulk of the firings occurred at predominantly African-American schools.

In the October 4 edition, the Times-Picayune announced it would re-open one of the plants that had become unusable after the storm. It detailed the efforts made to publish the paper both in print and online in the wake of the calamity.

About 250 Times-Picayune employees evacuated the building in the back of newspaper delivery trucks on Aug. 30, the day after Hurricane Katrina hit, as water rose around the building. While water did not enter the building, at 3800 Howard Ave., lack of electricity, water service and access to the building has delayed its reopening.
A group of reporters returned later that day to the city to report on Katrina’s aftermath, while others published the newspaper online on, the paper’s affiliated Web site, for two days at the Houma Courier, a New York Times newspaper. Still others began setting up a temporary base of operations in Baton Rouge. The paper’s staff also assisted in providing with information for its round-the-clock weblog coverage of Katrina and its aftermath.

The paper kept all of its employees after the storm and invited evacuees to take their jobs again when they returned. The next day, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin fired 3,000 city workers.

Weeks later, amid stories about the still-rising death toll and more people losing their jobs, the front page featured an optimistic tale about a woman grateful to have been placed in a trailer park home after being forced out of the city. The state declared that the city’s water was safe to drink. In weather, it was partly cloudy with a high of 79. Things were starting to get better.

Hurricane Katrina was one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history, a true humanitarian emergency, and one that somehow got worse and worse after it technically ended. The above is only a brief summation of events. It doesn’t touch upon the stories of the many thousands of people whose lives were interrupted or ended by the storm. It doesn’t touch on the story of a great American city laid to waste because of a whole host of factors like outdated infrastructure, real estate expansion into untenable areas, and a severe lack of government coordination.

The newspapers of New Orleans do tell those stories, though. The Times-Picayune doggedly reported in the immediate aftermath of the storm and didn’t stop, even when it may have been practical to. The paper won two Pulitzers for its efforts (a shared one for public service with the Sun-Herald and one for breaking news coverage, especially for its constantly updating website). From the above, it’s easy to see why.

The Times-Picayune has archived the entirety of their “Hurricane Edition” newspapers starting from the day before the storm hit until well into November of that year.

The Sun Herald is selling an app they created especially for the Katrina anniversary that includes a documentary and also have a robust anniversary section on their website.

Both are well worth a look.

David Matthews operates the Wayback Machine on—hop on. Got a tip? Email him: [email protected]

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