Katrina & New Orleans – 5 Years Later


Katrina 5 Years Later – Images by Vincent Laforet

Today marks the 5-year-anniversary of Katrina hitting the Gulf Coast and the New Orleans levee breaking and flooding one of the most beautiful communities of this country.

This was easily the single most difficult assignment of my career as a photojournalist.  I saw many fellow colleagues – and most surprisingly hardened war photographers – break down as they covered this story.

When you’re overseas, it’s easy to distance yourself and say: “This would never happen back home.”

But when it hits this hard – this close to home – no professional journalist/photojournalist/human being can build up a strong enough emotional wall or “professional distance.”

It took me well over a year to get over the experiences and things I witnessed during my 10 days there.  I was one of the first photographers to get images out from Katrina as most were not able to get images (let alone Television feeds) out during the first few days without significant difficulty as almost everything was knocked out in a huge geographical area.

No one was prepared for what happened – what we saw – what we heard – what we witnessed.

I saw the very worst of humanity – and the very best – all in the span of minutes, several times a day.

In fact when I was asked to go back one year later,  I pleaded to be sent to Iraq instead.  That’s how close to home this assignment hit and how terrified I was of returning.

It was one thing to witness the disaster – but somehow even harder to go back and witness how little progress had been made one full year later.

I did eventually go back on the anniversary date to work on an essay that documented the frighteningly small amount of progress that had been made.  I have to admit that I fell into a pretty deep depression as a result and had to leave after just 6 days.

But what we as journalists felts is absolutely irrelevant.  I just mention it because at that point I had been a journalist for close to 15 years and documented a lot of tragic events around the world as a staff photographer for The New York Times- and this event knocked me out cold.

Can you imagine how hard this was for “regular” people who were not just witnesses – but right in the middle of all of this?

I honestly can’t.

The people of New Orleans did not have that ejection cord to pull – to get out of this nightmare.   We journalists could get out of there an go home.

Their stories and futures are what matter here.

I won’t even begin to describe the stories of the hell people experienced the day the hurricane hit and the levee broke – not to mention the hell they lived through in the days, months and now years that have followed.

What I can do is to share some of the images from 5 years ago – and ask you not to forget that things are very far from “fixed” in New Orleans.   The BP Oil disaster is yet just another cruel joke that has been played on this community.

If you can help the people out there in any way – do.  By donating money, your time, or by visiting and contributing to the local economy,  or even by coming up with ideas to help the area to continue to rebuild.

If you’d like to read more about what it was like to witness this event five years ago – I was able to dig up a few articles from 5 years ago:

Here’s an article from 5 years ago that I wrote for the Digital Journalist and an accompanying slide show with captions. And another interview from PDN that gives you (and reminds me) of what it was like to be in the thick of things during that first hellish week.