On the 18th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall, one brown brick house, just off of Mirabeau Avenue in Gentilly, stands as a reminder of the devastation of August 2005.
The inside of this home tells a story of destruction that many New Orleans residents witnessed when the federal levee failures that followed Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city. Water marks scar the windows and wallpaper. Photo frames hang askew. Toys are tossed around the room and a thick layer of dirt sits on every piece of furniture. “Katrina takes aim,” reads a wrinkled copy of The Times-Picayune lying atop a broken table.
As the nation remembers those who lost their lives as a result of the levee failures, the Flooded House Museum is a difficult reminder of the personal impact the storm had on New Orleans residents, many of whom lost everything in the floods. The museum opened in 2018 with a recreation of what some homes may have looked like in Katrina’s aftermath.
Replicating the destruction was the goal of Levees.org, the nonprofit that in 2016 bought the property at 4918 Warrington Drive, right next to where the London Avenue Canal levee breached and flooded homes in the neighborhood. Down the block from the Flooded House Museum is a garden and exhibit also about Hurricane Katrina. The house that was there was pushed into the street during the floods, leaving only the foundation. Levees.org bought that plot in 2006.
The museum, garden and exhibit also serve to educate the public about the engineering failures that led to the disastrous flooding, said Sandy Rosenthal, founder of Levees.org.
Rosenthal created Levees.org, along with her son Stanford, in 2005. The organization aims to educate people about the levee failures and how to prevent those failures from happening again.
“The main reason the levees broke is because the Army Corps of Engineers failed to drive the sheet piling deep enough,” Rosenthal said, pointing at one of the six exhibit panels at the Levee Exhibit Hall and Garden. “This flooding was due to man-made mistakes.”
Around 62% of Americans lived in counties and parishes at least partially protected by earthen and concrete levee systems in 2019, according to federal data obtained by Levees.org. What happened to New Orleans during Katrina “could happen to anyone,” Rosenthal said.
The Flooded House Museum was created by volunteers, including artists Ken Conner and Aaron Angelo, and involved other residents in the community who provided suggestions on what a typical house in the neighborhood looked like. “It was all out of love and it took a lot of work and time and effort,” Rosenthal said.
Conner and his family, who have lived in the city for the past three decades, witnessed Hurricane Katrina firsthand. When they returned to New Orleans from Alexandria, where they had evacuated, they found their home wrecked. Those experiences helped to inform the design of the museum, Conner said.
“I said, ‘Well, why don’t we recreate the flood?’” Conner told a reporter as he fixed the gate outside the Flooded House Museum a few days before the hurricane’s 18th anniversary. (Someone had called him earlier that day because they couldn’t open the gate, he said, adding that the lock was becoming misaligned because the land on which the house sits was sinking.) “I volunteered to come in … I built the whole room and propped it just like it was a house.”
As Conner locked the gate to the Flooded House Museum, he glanced into the windows, reflecting on the legacy that the storm left across the city that he loves.
“There are several people that say they’ll never [live in New Orleans] again. Other people say they’ll keep coming back and will die here,” Conner said. “I will be one of those that die here.”
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