1½ Years After Katrina: The Houses of New Orleans

28 August 2015  
Hurricane Katrina thundered ashore ten years ago this week, leaving devastation and chaos behind. It was the costliest natural disaster in history of the United States. Over 1200 people died, tens of thousands of people relocated and property damage exceeded $105B. 

In early 2007, one and a half years after Katrina, New Orleans was still rebuilding. A team from the Prescott Cornerstone Church drove for two days to Louisiana to offer volunteer labor and assistance. They partnered with Castle Rock Community Church . Living out the motto, “We are about loving God with all we got and loving people ’til we drop,” the Castle Rock Community Church coordinated teams from churches across the country for years, helping their city rebuild and reinvigorate. 

The Cornerstone team consisted of people as young as 14, and folks over 60. I was the photographer and documented the trip. Here Is what we saw. 


 This was Castle Rock’s Church building. This is where we ate and attended worship services. We were housed in another facility a short walk away. 


Even though it had been a year and a half since the levies overflowed, thousands of homes still had unrepaired flood damage. Skilled contractors and repairmen were hard to find and booked out months in advance. Much of the labor needed was provided by volunteers like the Cornerstone team.

Scenes like this were all over the city. A restored business or a home right next to one that was nothing more than a shell.


 Evacuation signs were still evident throughout the town. 


This was one of the first homes our team went to. It was obviously in need of a lot of work. Because teams would schedule dates months in advance to come, each team would get as much done as possible, and the next team would continue the work. Castle Rock coordinated the workload seamlessly, everyone had something to do. 


 Here’s another view. This was obviously a beautiful home at one time. But restoring it would be a lot of work. 



We didn’t work on this home, but if you look closely, you can see the water line, and where the rescue teams wrote on the house in orange spray paint. Many homes still had markings explaining how many animals were in the home, or if they found bodies.  

This home was on the same street as one of the homes we were at. You can see that a kitten was found here during the flood. You can also see the water line went almost to the top of the stairs. 



Houses told the story in big letters and spray paint of what was found when rescuers arrived. Usually the messages were dated. It was often called the “X-code” because frequently the marks were an “x” with information in each quadrant. X-codes can also be used to indicate the structural integrity of the building. 


Sometimes the messages left were in different colors. Usually the bright orange or red marked the first go-through, later other colors were used. 

Of course, not all messages were left by S&R personnel. Some were left by the owners.  




Some of the houses were barely standing. 



When I was taking these photos, a man came by in a truck. “It’s not for sale,” he told me. I assured him that I was just taking photos, not interested in buying this home. “It’s my home,” he said, surprising me with the obvious pride I heard in his voice. “I plan to fix it. But right now, I’m busy fixing everyone else’s home, so this has to wait."


The house below, however, was for sale. But, I didn’t call my husband to tell him to pack the house, we were moving to New Orleans. He’s not a fixer-upper kind of guy. 



On the other hand, this house was for rent. To me this represented a glimmer of optimism and vision. As my daughter says, it’s a process, but it was obvious that people in New Orleans were tackling the challenges they met head on. 


Many people were still living in the trailers provided by FEMA while they waited to have their home restored. 



The problems were far more than simply flood damage, however. After the waters subsided, mold quickly permeated the homes. Most had to be gutted before they could be restored. All the way down to the frame. 


That was what many of the Cornerstone team members worked on. They had to wear masks because the dust was so toxic. 



Some homes were destroyed by fire. 


Not everything was gloomy, however. 

 There was a big sign in this front yard. I had to smile when I saw it.


Paulette Riley stands in front of her beautifully restored home. At the time, Riley said it was about 90% complete. 




Lynne LaMaster