The impact of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans had far-reaching effects. It exposed profound weaknesses at many levels of government and tested the judgment and responsiveness of a broad range of individuals and organizations. While most people would agree to start a list of key people and organizations with Mayor Ray Nagin, Governor Kathleen Blanco, FEMA Director Michael Brown and President George Bush, the “complete” list of the most important players in the events associated with Katrina depends on your focus – on the story you want to follow and the specific questions you are asking about what happened and why.
This listing contains more than 70 entries, grouped by category. Different combinations of entries tell different stories and the importance of any one entry depends on interest and judgment.
Please submit the names of people or organizations who have a significant association to Katrina, but are not on this list. Knowing the myriad interests of people studying Katrina, the listing is not presented as complete. Depending on your point of view, categories might be over-represented and while others are ignored. As with any historic event, some of the most important people associated with the hurricane are beneath the radar of many published accounts. It is our hope that this listing will become more comprehensive through the contributions of its users.
To submit the name of a person or organization for inclusion, please click here.
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DHS is a Cabinet-level department of the U.S. government created in November 2002, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was placed under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security and its Secretary.
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FEMA was created by the Carter administration in 1979, when the many different federal departments dealing with disaster and emergency relief were merged into a single agency. FEMA became part of the newly-created Department of Homeland Security in 2003. Headed by a presidentially-appointed administrator, the agency has more than 2,600 full-time employees. Its principal function is to coordinate the response to disasters that overwhelm state and local authorities. The governor of a state in which a disaster occurs must declare a state of emergency and formally request that the federal government and FEMA respond to the disaster.
The Orleans Levee Board was the local agency responsible for inspecting and maintaining the levees around Orleans Parish. In the aftermath of Katrina, the board was abolished and its functions merged into two new regional levee boards serving all of southeastern Louisiana.
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The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers brings together civilian and military engineers and scientists to provide a variety of services, including flood prevention and environmental protection. The New Orleans District of the Corps oversaw the construction of the complex system of levees and flood protection along the Louisiana coast.
The Coast Guard is the smallest branch of the U.S. Armed Forces. Its responsibilities include enforcing maritime law, mariner assistance, and search and rescue operations. During and after Katrina, the Coast Guard conducted numerous helicopter rescues of New Orleans residents stranded on the rooftops of flooded homes. The Guard was one of the few government agencies to receive praise for their response in the aftermath of Katrina. Historian Douglas Brinkley partially dedicated his book about Katrina, The Great Deluge, “For the U.S. Coast Guard first responders, whose bravery was unparalleled.”
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The National Guard is a component of the U.S. Armed Forces. Maintained by the National Guard Bureau, units are under command of the state’s governor. When a unit is federalized, it falls under the command of the President of the United States. On Sunday, August 28, 2005, the day before Katrina made landfall, 150 National Guard troops assisted state police with evacuations and conducted security at the Superdome. By Tuesday, August 30, the governors of Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi had called up an additional 7,500 troops. The National Guard assisted with land and air evacuations of those at the Superdome as well as thousand of people throughout the city, secured the Convention Center, and brought convoys of food and water to the city. By Saturday, September 10, 50,000 National Guard troops had been dispatched to the region.
Bahamonde, a career FEMA employee, was the only agency official in New Orleans when Katrina hit the city. In later testimony before the U.S. Senate, Bahamonde sharply criticized his superiors for not responding more quickly to the flood damage.
Barbour has been the Republican Governor of Mississippi since 2004. Barbour’s strong Republican credentials – he was chairman of the Republican National Committee 1993 to 1997. It is alleged that his close ties to the Bush administration helped him win billions of dollars in federal aid for his state after Katrina. Barbour was named a 2006 Public Official of the Year by Governing.com for his leadership after Katrina.
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Blanco, a Democrat, was elected governor of Louisiana in 2003. She was the state’s first woman governor. The most controversial aspect of her leadership in the aftermath of Katrina was her reluctance to request federalization of emergency operations. Blanco announced she will not seek re-election in 2007.
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Brown, who was appointed FEMA director in January, 2003, by President Bush, became the symbol – some observers say scapegoat – for the federal government’s slow response to Katrina. Though President Bush publicly praised Brown on September 2, saying in televised comments, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job,” Brown was widely blamed for the inadequacy of the FEMA response in the early days of the Katrina catastrophe. He was removed from his duty overseeing relief operations on September 9, when he was replaced by Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad Allen. Brown resigned as director of FEMA three days later.
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Bush, the 43rd President of the United States, declared a federal state of emergency on August 27, 2005, two days before Katrina made landfall. When the storm hit land, he declared an Emergency Disaster for Louisiana and Mississippi, freeing up federal funds to supplement local and state aid. After cutting his vacation short, Bush surveyed the damaged area from Air Force One on Wednesday, August 31. The following day he sent a request to Congress for $10.5 billion in emergency relief aid and appointed former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton to lead fundraising efforts for hurricane victims. The following day, he flew to the Gulf region, spoke at Louis Armstrong International Airport, and met with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco. Over the next five days, Bush dispatched over 11,000 active duty troops to the area and requested an additional $52 billion from Congress in relief aid. Later that month he took responsibility for the flawed response of the federal government. On June 15, 2006, Bush signed for an additional spending of $19.4 billion for Katrina.
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Chertoff, a former federal judge and prosecutor, was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security during Katrina, a position that included responsibility for FEMA. One day after Katrina made landfall, Chertoff declared an “incident of national significance” and invoked the National Response Plan. The next day he said he was “extremely pleased with the response.” Chertoff continues to hold this post.
Ebbert, a Vietnam veteran, was the city of New Orleans’ director of Homeland Security, operating the city’s Emergency Operations Center out of City Hall when Katrina hit.
Landrieu, a Democrat, was elected Louisiana Senator in 1996. Her father, Maurice Edwin “Moon” Landrieu, was mayor of New Orleans from 1970 to 1978; her brother, Mitch Landrieu, has been Lieutenant Governor since 1999. Landrieu’s home was destroyed by Katrina.
Landrieu, brother of Senator Democratic Mary Landrieu and son of former New Orleans Mayor Maurice Edwin “Moon” Landrieu, was Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana when Katrina hit. He ran for Mayor of New Orleans in 2006, losing a close election to Ray Nagin.
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Nagin, a New Orleans businessman, was first elected Mayor of the city in 2002. He is perhaps best remembered for his desperate pleas for help made on a live radio interview with host Garland Robinette the day after Katrina hit: “Don’t tell me 40,000 people are coming here,” he told Robinette during the interivew. “They’re not here. It’s too doggone late. Now get off your asses and do something, and let’s fix the biggest goddamn crisis in the history of this country.” Despite being at the receiving end of much of the criticism for the inadequacy of early relief efforts, Nagin was re-elected mayor in May, 2006, defeating Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu.
Rick Perry, the Republican governor of Texas, assumed that post when George W. Bush resigned to run for president. Perry was re-elected in 2002 and 2006. Perry responded to Louisiana Gov. Blanco’s request for assistance as Katrina headed toward New Orleans, helping organize relief efforts and working with Houston Mayor Bill White to prepare the Astrodome and other facilities to receive storm evacuees.
Bill White, a Democrat, was elected mayor of Houston, Texas, in 2003. In that position, he helped organize the city’s massive response to Katrina, including staging the Astrodome and other facilities as shelters for thousands of storm evacuees. He was later awarded a John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for his assistance to Katrina evacuees.
Allen became Chief of Staff of the Coast Guard and Commanding Officer of the Coast Guard Headquarters in May 2002. Allen replaced ousted FEMA chief Michael Brown as the chief coordinator of the federal government’s relief efforts on September 9, 2005.
Bayard, commander of the New Orleans Police Department’s Vice and Narcotics Division, helped coordinate boat rescues during Katrina. Bayard personally led crews of narcotics and vice detectives who rescued hundreds of people from their flooded homes during the days after the levees broke.
Eddie Compass, a 27-year veteran of the force, was the New Orleans police chief when Katrina hit; he resigned unexpectedly on September 25, 2005. Later reports suggested that he was forced to resign. His emotional comments in the aftermath of Katrina are recorded in When the Levees Broke.
Duckworth, a lifelong Coast Guard reservist, was one of the first-responders who “knew the waterways of southern Louisiana like the backs of their hands,” according to author Douglas Brinkley in The Great Deluge. Duckworth was able to use his experience to direct Coast Guard troops to rescue thousands of stranded people in the immediate aftermath of Katrina.
Honore, a Louisiana native and army commander, was appointed commander of Joint Task Force Katrina on Aug. 31, 2005, in an effort to combine FEMA and military operations and provide relief to the Gulf Coast. Honore’s general competence was summed up by New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who called him “one John Wayne dude … that can get some stuff done.”
McLaughlin, an officer in the Louisiana National Guard, helped organize relief efforts both at the Superdome and the New Orleans Convention Center. He was described by Douglas Brinkley in his book, The Great Deluge, as someone who “performed heroically throughout the Katrina ordeal.”
Paskewich, the Coast Guard’s commanding officer in New Orleans when Katrina hit, and is widely credited with providing the kind of leadership and planning that allowed the Coast Guard to become the one government agency to respond effectively in the immediate aftermath of Katrina. Paskewich moved the Coast Guard’s command post to Alexandria, Louisiana, on August 25, several days before the storm hit, allowing his troops to have a dry, well-equipped base from which to stage rescue operations after Katrina made landfall.
The newspaper, serving the Mississippi Gulf Coast, was flooded and forced to operate for eleven days from offices of a newspaper in Columbus, Georgia, but was able to keep publishing. It shared the Public Service Pulitzer Prize with the New Orleans Times-Picayune. The Pulitzer committee cited the paper’s “valorous and comprehensive coverage of Hurricane Katrina, providing a lifeline for devastated readers, in print and online, during their time of greatest need.”
Cooper rose to mega-stardom at CNN in the aftermath of Katrina. His on-location reporting helped catapult his show, Anderson Cooper 360, into the network’s prime 10 pm time slot. He is perhaps best remembered for a heated interview with Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, in which he bemoaned listening “to politicians thanking each other and complimenting each other” while “no one seems to be taking responsibility” for the situation.
Ignatieff, Carr Professor of Human Rights at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, wrote a column for The New York Times Magazine on September 25, 2005, called “The Broken Contract,” in which he condemned the denial of basic rights of citizenship to “the poor, abandoned, hungry people huddled in the stinking darkness of the New Orleans convention center.”
Loy, a law student who publishes The Irish Trojan’s Blog, warned on August 26, 2005, that “at the risk of being alarmist, we could be 3-4 days away from an unprecedented cataclysm that could kill as many as 100,000 people in New Orleans.” Loy is featured in When the Levees Broke. To see Loy’s August 26, 2005 blog, click here.
Despite having its headquarters flooded by Katrina and being forced to move its operations to Baton Rouge for six weeks, New Orleans’ hometown newspaper was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2006. Along with the Biloxi/Gulfport Sun Herald, the Times-Picayune was cited “for its heroic, multi-faceted coverage of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, making exceptional use of the newspaper’s resources to serve an inundated city even after evacuation of the newspaper plant.”
O’Brien, a morning anchor for CNN, was the face of much of the network’s extensive coverage in the aftermath of Katrina. Her confrontational interview with FEMA Director Michael Brown is featured in When the Levees Broke.
A longtime local news journalist in New Orleans, Robinette’s broadcasts on WWL-AM radio in the immediate aftermath of Katrina were one of the few sources of on-the-spot information available to New Orleans residents. On September 2, 2005, he conducted a live interview with Mayor Ray Nagin in which the mayor implored the federal government to speed up its response. For a transcript of the interview, click here.
Schleifstein, a reporter for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, co-authored a front-page series in the paper in June 2002 warning of the dire threat of a major hurricane to the city.
Williams, the seventh anchor of the NBC Nightly News, replaced Tom Brokaw in December, 2004. Williams anchored extensive live coverage from New Orleans before, during and after Katrina, including broadcasts from inside the Superdome. He later anchored a 30-minute retrospective called “In His Own Words: Brian Williams on Hurricane Katrina.”
Images outside the New Orleans Convention Center shot by Zumbado, a photojournalist for NBC news, were among the most riveting of the Katrina experience. Zumbado later told a reporter “I thought I’d seen it all, but … I’ve never seen anything in my life like this.”
Until Katrina, the 1927 Mississippi River flood was considered the greatest natural disaster in American history. Barry, an expert on flood control and resident of New Orleans, chronicled that event and its far-reaching effects on American society in the best-selling Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America, published by Simon & Schuster in 1997. Click here to see his homepage.
At the time of the storm, Brinkley was a historian and director of the Roosevelt Center at Tulane University in New Orleans. He wrote The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, a 716-page chronicle of the events before, during, and after Katrina.
At the time of the storm, Dyson was the Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania and author of numerous books about race and class in modern America, including Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster. Click here to see his homepage.
Horne was a member of the team of reporters and editors at the New Orleans Times-Picayune awarded a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of Katrina, and the author of Breach of Faith: Hurricane Katrina and the Near Death of a Great American City.
Piazza is a novelist, music critic, and longtime resident of New Orleans. After Katrina, he wrote Why New Orleans Matters, an affectionate homage to the city’s cultural importance to the United States. Click here to see his homepage.
Meteorologist Mayfield was director of the National Hurricane Center when Katrina hit. Having worked for the National Weather Service since 1972, he had experience with numerous hurricanes, including Andrew in 1992 and Isabel in 2003. He is scheduled to be featured in the forthcoming documentary New Orleans Story. Mayfield retired in 2007 and became hurricane expert for WPLG-TV in Miami.
Born in South Africa, Van Heerden is cofounder and deputy director of the LSU Hurricane Center and director of the Center for the Study of Public Health Impacts of Hurricanes. He is the author with Mike Bryan of The Storm: What Went Wrong and Why During Hurricane Katrina – The Inside Story From One Louisiana Scientist, published in 2006 by Viking.
The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now is a national grassroots organization working to improve life in low- and moderate-income communities. ACORN has been at the forefront of rebuilding efforts in New Orleans. See their Katrina Recovery and Rebuilding Campaign Report.
This fund is the commission established by Mayor Ray Nagin to help with the city’s rebuilding efforts. The group includes 17 civic and business leaders, including real estate mogul Joseph Canizaro, Rev. Alfred C. Hughes, the Archbishop of New Orleans, and Alden J. MacDonald, President and CEO of Liberty Bank and Trust Company since 1972, one of the five largest African-American owned banks in the nation. Click here to see their homepage.
The “Cajun Navy” is the term used to describe the flotilla of small boats used to rescue some 4,000 residents of New Orleans trapped by Katrina’s flood waters. The group was initially organized by a New Orleans accountant named Sara Roberts, of Cajun descent. Read more here.
Established immediately after Katrina hit, the Common Ground Collective has worked to provide relief for hurricane victims as well as support for the rebuilding of New Orleans.
Morial, the son of New Orleans’ first African-American mayor, served in that same position from 1994 to 2002. He became President of the National Urban League in 2003. The New Orleans Convention Center, which played a dramatic role in the events after Katrina, was named for his father, Ernest Nathan (“Dutch”) Morial. Click here to see his homepage.
“Big Charity” was New Orleans’ oldest public hospital, having been founded in 1736, known for catering to a largely poor, African-American population. Big Charity was forced to evacuate in the aftermath of Katrina, with 363 patients and a total of some 2,200 people led from the flooded building, and has not re-opened. Read more here.
McSwain, chief of trauma surgery at Big Charity Hospital, helped organize a heroic evacuation of patients and hospital workers from the flooded medical center in the days after Katrina hit. For an account of his efforts, click here.
Some 35 residents of this nursing home in St. Bernard Parish drowned when the building was flooded. The owners, Sal and Mabel Mangano, were charged with negligent homicide for failing to follow a mandatory evacuation order. Read more here.
Sister hospital to “Big Charity,” University Hospital (originally known as Hotel Dieu), was flooded during Katrina and its patients and staff forced to evacuate. Unlike Charity Hospital, however, it was partially renovated and reopened in late 2006.
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Tulane, the largest hospital in New Orleans, successfully evacuated its patients and staff with helicopters. The hospital’s CEO, Jim Montgomery, later directed the helicopters to assist with the evacuation of Big Charity. The hospital, which endured more than $90 million in damaged, reopened its emergency room and some other facilities in February, 2006. For Montgomery’s account of the experience of Katrina at the hospital, click here.
Members of this church, in the Broadmoor neighborhood, have used their facilities to house and feed volunteers helping to rebuild the devastated neighborhood.
Pastor of Mary Queen of Vietnam Catholic Church, Nguyen is helping his church rebuild the Vietnamese community of eastern New Orleans devastated by Katrina.
Walker, the pastor of the flooded Noah’s Ark Missionary Baptist Church in the poverty-stricken Central City neighborhood, led dozens of boat rescues of parishioners and others stranded by Katrina’s floodwaters. Read more here.
La Salle was the French explorer (1643-1687) who claimed the Louisiana territory (named in honor of Louis XIV) for France on April 9, 1682. La Salle is credited with being the first European to sail the full length of the Mississippi River. He was murdered by mutineers on an expedition in Texas in 1687.
Virginia-born Claiborne (1775-1817) was the first American governor of Louisiana, elected after the territory became a state in 1812. He briefly served as Senator of the State in 1817, the year he died at age 42.
Often called the “Father of New Orleans,” the Montreal-born Bienville (1680-1767), was the French governor of the Louisiana colony in the early 1700s. Among his accomplishments were the founding of Charity Hospital (“Big Charity”) and leading relief efforts after several 18th-century hurricanes.
Longtime Louisiana Senator, Long was the son of the legendary Louisiana Senator and Governor Huey Long. During Hurricane Betsy in 1965, Long personally telephoned President Johnson, a longtime friend, pleading for assistance from the federal government and assuring Johnson that a personal visit might reverse his political fortunes in Louisiana, a state Johnson had failed to carry in the 1964 presidential election because of southern opposition to Democratic support of the Civil Rights movement.
Considered by many the single most influential figure in the early development of American jazz, Armstrong was a native of New Orleans who learned to play trumpet while incarcerated as a young boy at the city’s “Home for Colored Waifs.” Armstrong spent the early years of his career in New Orleans, where numerous landmarks, including the city’s international airport and a 32-acre park that houses the New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park, are named in his honor. Read more here.
Blanchard is a jazz trumpeter and composer and has worked on the soundtracks for several of Spike Lee’s films. He is a native of New Orleans and appears in When the Levees Broke. Click here to see his homepage.
Domino is a legendary rock-and-roll and rhythm-and-blues artist, famous for such recordings in the late 1950s and early 1960s as Blueberry Hill and Ain’t That a Shame. Domino retired to New Orleans, his hometown, in the 1980s, and stayed in his Lower Ninth Ward Home during Katrina. At first, it was widely believed that he had died – the spray-painted words “RIP Fats You Will Be Missed” on his home were shown on television – but it was later revealed that he had been rescued by the Coast Guard. Read more here.
Harrison-Nelson is “Big Queen” of the Guardians of the Flame, one of the many tribes of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras Indians, who has led efforts in recent years to publicize the activities of this New Orleans subculture. The Mardi Gras Indians are African-American residents of the city who create elaborate costumes and rituals for performance in Mardi Gras and other city festivals. For more information, click here.
Click here to download a lesson plan on the Mardi Gras Indians.
Founded in 1995 by tuba player Bennie Pete, the Hot 8 Brass Band continues the long tradition of New Orleans street bands that haved played in traditional “Second Line” parades for nearly a century. The band was prominently featured in When the Levees Broke.
Trumpeter Marsalis, a native of New Orleans featured prominently in When the Levees Broke, is considered one of the finest jazz musicians working today. He is director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, where he organized a benefit concert for Katrina victims. He has won numerous Grammy Awards as well as a Pulitzer Prize for Music, and also performs classical music. Click here to see his homepage.
The Neville family is one of the best-known musical family in New Orleans. Family members include the Neville Brothers (Aaron, Art, Charles, Cyril and Ivan), who have made dozens of recordings as a group and individually, and Charmaine Neville, whose recordings include Queen of the Mardi Gras. Charmaine Neville’s graphic accounts of rape and survival in the aftermath of Katrina made national headlines.
Shavers, a drummer for the Hot 8 Brass Band, was featured in When the Levees Broke. He became a victim of the wave of violence that followed Katrina when, in December, 2006, a teenager targeting another victim in a neighborhood dispute shot him in the back of the head, killing him. Read more here.
Blitt is the cartoonist whose Sept. 19, 2005, cover illustration for The New Yorker was voted best cover of the year by the American Society of Magazine Editors. The cartoon, entitled “Deluged,” featured President Bush, Karl Rove, Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld seated in an Oval Office filled with floodwaters, offering a commentary that, the magazine editors said, “unleashes the floodgates of the nation’s collective anger.”
Read more here.
Alexander is a New Orleans street poet featured prominently in When the Levees Broke.
An award-winning filmmaker and actor, Lee directed the four-hour documentary When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, which first aired on HBO in August, 2006. For more information about the film and an interview with Lee about it, click here.
Polidori is a staff photographer for The New Yorker Magazine whose photographs of post-Katrina New Orleans have been displayed in a highly-acclaimed photographic exhibit at numerous museums and were published in an art book called After the Flood, published by Steidl. To see a slideshow of his work, click here