Memories of Hurricane Katrina:
10 years later

INSIDE

Essay

Andrew Hollenbach

Andrew Hollenbach: “We knew we had no time to lose and set to work harder and more focused than we had been before the storm.” Read more.

 

Recollections

Wayne Backes

Wayne Backes: “I recall going over the High Rise and seeing total darkness on the other side. I knew that a city was there but could not see it.” Read more.

 

Melanie Ehrlich

Melanie Ehrlich: “I never was politically active before.” Read more.

 

 

Iris Lindberg

Iris Lindberg: “Institutions need to involve scientists more in disaster planning.” Read more.

 

Larry Byers

Larry Byers: “The following year, there were more undergraduates enrolled at Tulane than before Katrina.” Read more.

The National Hurricane Center in 2011 published a memorandum titled “The deadliest, costliest, and most intense United States tropical cyclones from 1851 to 2010 (and other frequently requested hurricane facts).” As the name implies, the 47-page technical memo is swollen with data points about storms of all sizes and consequences.

The memo notes that Hurricane Katrina, a Category 3 storm that came ashore in Florida on Aug. 25, 2005, and then in Louisiana a day later, was the third deadliest and by far the most costly hurricane in U.S. history. The storm killed 1,200 people, and subsequent flooding killed hundreds more. It caused $108 billion in property damage.

Memo authors Eric S. Blake and Ethan J. Gibney focus primarily on those things that are quantifiable: wind speed, coordinates and air pressure. But they also emphasize things that are not so easily measured: urgency, attitudes and vulnerability.

Importantly, they raise the concern of forgetting. They say sociologists warn that people remember only “the worst effects of a hurricane for about seven years.” They say that those at the National Weather Service’s hurricane preparedness office worry that coastal communities will put too much faith in forecasting and technology. They say, “Katrina provided a grim reminder of what can happen in a hurricane landfall.”

In the weeks after Katrina, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology provided small grants to a few dozen Gulf Coast scientists who had lost just about everything. Ten years later, we asked some of those grant recipients and one of our regular contributors from the region to tell us what they remember and how their lives and careers were affected. In the following pages, we’ve printed their (shortened and edited) responses.

Like the memo by the hurricane center, their reflections are part technical and part cautionary. Perhaps they will help us not to forget.

Angela Hopp Angela Hopp is communications director for ASBMB and executive editor of ASBMB Today.