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Ian Jones, MSN UK News editor, 27/08/2010 13:45

Hurricane Katrina, five years on: What the web is saying

How the fifth anniversary of the costliest disaster in American history is being reported online.

News websites and blogs are marking this grim occasion with features that are both bold and poignant.

Not surprisingly, the most in-depth coverage comes from the United States.

Vanity Fair reproduces some of its award-winning coverage of the disaster, including an article by comic actor and writer Harry Shearer (most famous to us for Spinal Tap and The Simpsons) on five myths about New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina.

USA Today uses a melodramatic mixture of audio and video to retell the story of five years ago, deploying images and sound clips to compress the scale of the tragedy into a series of short films.

MSNBC has put together an interactive graphic containing all the main events of the last five years, including key steps in the recovery effort and the various inquiries into who and what was to blame for the disaster.

Pictures rather than words

Many sites choose to tell the story through photographs.

The Sacramento Bee has compiled a powerful portfolio of 48 images contrasting the Gulf Coast then and now.

A photo essay on the Encyclopedia Britannica blog recalls vividly how “[T]ens of thousands of residents could not or would not leave. They either remained in their homes or sought shelter at locations such as the New Orleans Convention Center or the Louisiana Superdome.”

It also notes how the scale of human dislocation caused by the storm is “mind boggling: at the 2000 census, New Orleans had a population of 484,674; according to the mid-year U.S. census survey of 2006, 11 months after Katrina, New Orleans had a population of estimated at 223,388.”

The Washington Post provides another photo essay and has compiled a special report about the anniversary.

National Geographic reports that Louisiana’s population of “invasive, wetland-munching rodents” has bounced back after being virtually wiped out, and also has a fine photo gallery contrasting images from then and now – as does Nine MSN in Australia.

Positive developments

There is some coverage that emphasises positive developments.

The Daily Telegraph reports how their hometown football team’s victory in the Super Bowl a week ago has combined with the annual Mardi Gras festival to result in “collective lifting of public spirits to heights not seen since Katrina’s floodwaters nearly destroyed the city.”

ABC News chooses to concentrate on New Orleans’ reputation as a holiday destination and notes that, “while the city is in some senses still rebuilding, for tourists it is stronger than ever.”

BBC News carries a video report by Andy Gallacher from New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, the area hit hardest by flooding caused by Katrina. He finds that while recovery has been painfully slow, “there are some people determined to rescue the Lower Ninth from the ravages of nature and make it home again”.

Reuters carries an article from the organisation Direct Relief International, recounting the charity’s role in supplying material aid and cash grants to communities affected by the disaster.

“Within one month… Direct Relief had made 95 emergency shipments to 65 clinics and other health facilities. The emergency revealed a vast unmet need for medical aid in the Gulf States and to date, Direct Relief has provided over $85 million in ongoing support to the region.”

Other perspectives

A different take is provided by Kirstie Hettinga who revisits the meteorological background to Hurricane Katrina. Her article notes that “one of the things” most striking about the storm was the fact it had already made landfall in Florida before travelling on to New Orleans, but had never lost its intensity.

An official perspective can be found on the official White House blog, where Chris Lu explains what the current administration is doing to continue to support the recovery of the Gulf Coast, and how the anniversary is being marked by President Barack Obama.

Michael Kunzelman writes for the Huffington Post on how there has been a “mixed recovery” to the disaster.

“The debris from tens of thousands of shattered homes that littered the highway for months is long gone… [But] ‘For Sale’ signs on weed-choked vacant lots, boarded-up strip malls and concrete slabs where homes once stood [are] all reminders that a full restoration from Katrina is years away.”

Lastly, the National Public Radio website reviews the coverage of the anniversary on American television, mentioning various arresting scenes and first-hand testimonies.

“The point of all these TV specials is clear,” it concludes. “We shouldn’t forget what happened five years ago. And TV, more than any other medium, brings it back the most vividly the way we first experienced it.”

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