The Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

 The impact of Hurricane Katrina.

The impact of Hurricane Katrina.

The indelible memory I have of covering the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans was how quickly and completely a modern, powered, connected, policed, orderly American city can descend into utter chaos.

There was no 911 service; streets were impassable. No emergency rooms, no electricity, no stores, no communication system. The city had become pre-industrial, medieval.

And no one was coming. No one was in charge. No one knew what to do. Once people were rescued from rooftops and deposited on dry land, they were left completely on their own.

Reporters became, in some cases, first responders. We were the first individuals that some evacuees encountered when they trudged out of their underwater neighborhoods. They wanted food, water, diapers, medicine — they didn't want an interview. All we could do was get their stories. I recall an overwhelming sense of powerlessness that we could not do more to help people, instead of just making deadline.

The storm didn't just strip the city of law and order and utility services. It stripped people down and revealed who they were. How would you react? Some police stayed on the job heroically. Others abandoned the city. Still others joined the looters. Some flood victims preyed on one another. But most of the victims of Katrina helped one another. I watched people at the Morial Convention Center sharing water, sandwiches, and clean clothes lifted from the mall next door.Of course we had a job to do, because the rest of the country needed to see and hear what was happening to this great Southern city. They needed to see that the reassuring pronouncements from federal officials meant absolutely nothing. New Orleans had dissolved into bedlam and the scale of the disaster had overwhelmed every local, state and federal emergency response plan formulated to handle a major hurricane.

Most of the victims of Katrina helped one another. I watched people at the Morial Convention Center sharing water, sandwiches, and clean clothes lifted from the mall next door.
— John Burnett, NPR Correspondent

The storm didn't just strip the city of law and order and utility services. It stripped people down and revealed who they were. How would you react? Some police stayed on the job heroically. Others abandoned the city. Still others joined the looters. Some flood victims preyed on one another. But most of the victims of Katrina helped one another. I watched people at the Morial Convention Center sharing water, sandwiches, and clean clothes lifted from the mall next door.

Written by John Burnett in "3 Views On A Tragedy: Reporters Recall First Days After Katrina." Accessed 20 October 2015.