Friday, August 29, 2014

New Orleans - Presbytere Katrina Museum

I lived in New York and never went to the Statue of Liberty. I lived in New Orleans and never went to the Presbytere. But this past year, I've been living in the French Quarter and walking right by it on a regular basis. I finally did and it was amazing.The downstairs is devoted to Hurricane Katrina, which I'll discuss here. The upstairs was the Mardi Gras Museum, which I will cover in a different post. But the anniversary of Katrina is a good time to examine the remnants of the storm.

Although I grew up in Louisiana, and lived in New Orleans sporadically over the years, I wasn't living here when Katrina hit. But when I watched the news with horror, like everyone else at the time, it was with the added punch of personal familiarity with the city. And yet, that still was not as intense as visiting the museum. It is a remarkably personal informative exhibit, and one I can't recommend strongly enough. 

The first thing you see, in the front of the building as you go in, is a boat that was used to rescue people after the waters made roads impassable. On the side of the boat, it's written that 450 people were rescued by this one boat. The thing is, communications were completely cut off. Those 450 people must have been terrified until that boat showed up. They had no way of knowing if anyone could, or would, come for them.

One of the first rooms you come to, once inside, has a large screen showing video about the storm. Then, right around the corner from there, you can see the actual axe used by a woman to chop a hole in her attic roof, when the water was rising so high that was her only route of escape. I have to say, I wondered why she had an axe on hand. I mean, it's an extremely lucky thing she did, but did she buy it because of the storm? Or did she already have it. And if she already had it, then...why?

 Continuing around another corner takes you to a huge room filled with so many exhibits, it's hard to grasp the enormity of the disaster. There are more, smaller, screens all running videos on different aspects of the storm and its aftermath.

There are a trio of chairs from the Superdome, which was used as a refuge of last resort. I remember some very sickening stories coming out about what was happening in there, but fortunately the worst of them turned out not to be true.

There is a quilt made by evacuees, after the storm.

Signs from after the storm gave some idea of what conditions were like, and how so many were doing their best to help. And then there were gory reminders of what was waiting for those whose job it was to investigate the homes that had been destroyed. This is an actual garage door, typical of the information provided by first on scene.

This was the point I had to leave. The city has come far in its recovery, but many of the people who were here at the time suffer from PTSD. I know, because I've met a lot of them since I've been here. I've met one young woman, and her son, who was born in a helicopter less than 24 hours before Katrina made landfall. I don't think most of us had any inkling just how bad it all was, even after watching nonstop news coverage for weeks. This exhibit, makes it all seem much more real.

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