Published: December 2005

Global Article

City Hurricane

Hope in Hell

Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast as National Geographic was preparing a report on the mechanisms of global disaster relief.

By Chris Carroll
National Geographic Staff
Photograph by Kuni Takahashi, Chicago Tribune

Friday, September 2, 2005

My first impression of Willie Mae Davis is that she is out of place on Convention Center Boulevard. In her red sundress and straw hat, she looks fresh and healthy, as though she's going on a picnic with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. But no, she and her family are a few of the thousands of people still awaiting rescue in downtown New Orleans more than four days after flooding from Hurricane Katrina destroyed the city.

The Ernest N. Morial Convention Center is half a mile long, and from one end to the other on the street in front of it stretches a scene of human devastation I couldn't have imagined until I walked into it. Dead bodies have been left lying. Babies are withering from dehydration. Old people are passing out in the heat. And there seems to be no help anywhere.

I sit down on a crate next to Willie Mae and ask how she's managing.

"My children found a clean bathroom in the back of the dancehall," she says delicately, as if it's not a fit subject for conversation. Just behind her, Mulate's, a Cajun restaurant and dancehall, is a shambles, its door broken open, the floor inside smeared with filth. "We were able to get a wash—sort of a wash, anyway. So we're doing all right."

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