Publish Date: Sept. 12, 2005
Cover Story: The Aftermath
How TIME Covered the News: Even as the Category 5 hurricane moved inland, the worst was yet to come for New Orleans. A broken levee allowed a lake to flood the city, leaving its poorest neighborhoods languishing in the floodwaters. A crippled response effort was captured on live TV. A nation was outraged:
“But it was in New Orleans where the cameras converged, a city that had braced for the worst, then briefly exhaled when it looked as if the threat had passed. Several hours after the storm moved through on Monday, some streets were essentially dry. Then shortly after midnight, a section almost as long as a football field in a main levee near the 17th Street Canal ruptured, letting Lake Pontchartrain pour in. The city itself turned into a superbowl, roadways crumbled like soup crackers as the levees designed to protect them were now holding the water in. Engineers tried dropping 3,000-lb. sandbags, but the water just swallowed them. As the days passed, the Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees the levees, admitted they weren’t able to assess what might work. Part of the problem was a lack of heavy helicopters; the choppers were all busy doing search and rescue.
The levee breach left 80% of the city immediately submerged and 100,000 people stranded. Canal Street lived up to its name. As the temperature rose, the whole city was poached in a vile stew of melted landfill, chemicals, corpses, gasoline, snakes, canal rats; many could not escape their flooded homes without help. Among those who could, only a final act of desperation would drive them into the streets, where the caramel waters stank of sewage and glittered with the gaudy swirls of oil spills. A New Orleans TV station reported that a woman waded down to Charity Hospital, floating her husband’s body along on a door.”