Photo History: 15 Years After Hurricane Katrina, Revisiting the Devastation and Renewal of New Orleans Schools

By Mark Keierleber | August 23, 2020
NEW ORLEANS - SEPTEMBER 24: A submerged school bus is seen in the flooded Lower Ninth Ward September 24, 2005 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Lower Ninth Ward was flooded again when waters overtopped a levee on the Industrial Canal as Hurricane Rita passed through the Gulf of Mexico yesterday, just over three weeks after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the region. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The few photographers who dared venture into New Orleans’s devastated schools after Hurricane Katrina emerged with images that were harrowing and haunting. Portraits of sheer obliteration, wreckage towering frame after frame.

When the storm came ashore on Aug. 29, 2005, some neighborhoods in the city were submerged beneath 12 feet of water. More than 1,800 were killed by the surge and its aftermath; an estimated million Gulf Coast residents were displaced by the storm.

The city’s school system was left in ruins. More than 100 buildings were damaged or destroyed beyond repair, and the images that emerged from those derelict structures point to the magnitude of the challenge that awaited the city.

Fifteen years after one of the worst natural disasters in American history, here’s a look back at how Hurricane Katrina forever reshaped New Orleans schools.


AUGUST 30, 2005

A woman is rescued from a school rooftop after being trapped with dozens of others in high water in Orleans parish during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. (Photos by Getty Images)
A resident uses a board to paddle through a flooded school zone in New Orleans.
Survivors from New Orleans’s Lower Ninth Ward wait to be rescued from the rooftop of the Martin Luther King Jr. School and Library, one of the only two-story buildings in the area, after Hurricane Katrina on Aug. 30, 2005.



Two men paddle in high water after Hurricane Katrina.



A submerged school bus is seen in the flooded Lower Ninth Ward on Sept. 24, 2005.



A destroyed classroom at St. Dominic’s school is seen before it is cleaned up after more than a month underwater in the Lakeview area of New Orleans, Oct. 14, 2005.



Emily Lampo, 15, and Jessica Meyer, 14, wait for their St. Bernard Parish United School bus to leave the new school campus after the first day of classes, following Hurricane Katrina’s wrath, in New Orleans on Nov. 14, 2005.



A small group of lockers continue to rust inside Alfred Lawless High School in the Lower 9th Ward on July 29, 2007.
The auditorium at Hynes School in the Lakeview neighborhood of New Orleans as seen on Aug. 22 — almost two years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city.
A clock hangs upside down inside the heavily damaged Lawless High School on Aug. 28, 2007.
Aug. 22, 2007: A classroom at Hynes School in the Lakeview neighborhood of New Orleans is left abandoned almost two years after Hurricane Katrina.
Students from John McDonogh Senior High School’s first graduating class since Hurricane Katrina celebrate and pose for photos after their commencement on June 8, 2007, in New Orleans. The struggling inner-city school was damaged by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, and students were not able to re-enroll in the school until a year after the storm.
Teacher Anya Anderson comforts kindergartner Eriana Hoffman on her first day of school at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School for Science and Technology in the Lower 9th Ward on Aug. 20, 2007.
A kindergartner runs toward a playground for recess on her first day of school at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School for Science and Technology in the Lower 9th Ward on Aug. 20, 2007.



In commemoration of the hurricane’s 10th anniversary, The 74 commissioned a three-part documentary that spanned the first half of 2015. Founder Campbell Brown toured schools across the city, speaking with New Orleans students, educators, school advocates and district leaders about the decade of disruption that followed the storm.

A school bus drops off a student in front of the Claiborne Bridge in New Orleans’s Lower 9th Ward on May 12, 2015.
Students attend class at the Encore Academy charter school in New Orleans on May 13, 2015.


InspireNOLA co-founder and CEO Jamar McKneely checks in with students at Andrew H. Wilson Charter School, which underwent extensive renovation after Hurricane Katrina. (Beth Hawkins / The 74)



February 2020 — Hynes students are engaged in a read-aloud and discussion about Rosa Parks. On Aug. 29, 2005, Hynes School was devastated by Hurricane Katrina floodwaters. Consequently, the school was closed for the remainder of the 2005-06 school year. (Edward Hynes School / Facebook)
Students attend class at the Encore Academy charter school. (Encore Academy / Facebook)
A school in New Orleans, seen on March 20, 2020, that was shuttered due to COVID-19. (Getty Images)
On July 4, 2020, protesters in New Orleans, including many current and former students, protested systemic racism and demanded that the Orleans Parish School Board change the name of the school that honors Robert Mills Lusher, a Confederate figure and former Louisiana schools superintendent who fought desegregation. (Getty Images)
Peter Gaynor, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, tweeted on July 15, “Holy Cross School in New Orleans was relocated after Hurricane Katrina hit. Today, almost 15 years since the storm devastated the community, we joined Congressman @SteveScalise to tour @fema public assistance funding at work.” (Peter Gaynor / Twitter)
Holy Cross students returned to campus for the 2020-21 school year on Aug. 10. (Holy Cross School / Facebook)


Go Deeper: See our latest coverage of New Orleans schools amid the pandemic via our new special hub at The74Million.org/PANDEMIC; get alerts for our latest Louisiana coverage by signing up for The 74 Newsletter.

With Contributions from Meghan Gallagher

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