Recalling Katrina

by Lawrence Aylward
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Hurricane Katrina and subsequent floods in the days to follow resulted in more than 1,800 deaths and more than $100 billion in property damage throughout the Southeast.
Hurricane Katrina and subsequent floods in the days to follow resulted in more than 1,800 deaths and more than $100 billion in property damage throughout the Southeast.

Editor’s note: In July, MEAT+POULTRY’s Lawrence Aylward spent two days in New Orleans interviewing several processors about the impact Hurricane Katrina had on their businesses and why Aug. 29, 2005, will always be a date that none of them will forget. In the first of this two-part series, Aylward reports on the challenges processors endured to keep their businesses going after the storm nearly wiped them out. To be published in the October issue, part two of the series will report on the processors’ businesses today and how they have rebounded in the last 10 years.

It was 3 a.m. when Jerry Hanford arrived at Crescent City Meat Co., only hours after the storm of the century, Hurricane Katrina, had passed over New Orleans. Hanford, weary and distraught, had driven from his home an hour away and was anxious to see if the building that housed Crescent City Meat, the company he founded 20 years before, had survived the hurricane’s fierce 130 mph winds, torrential rain and unprecedented storm surge.

With power outages throughout the city and tens of thousands of people evacuated, New Orleans was as dark and quiet as Hanford had ever seen it. He parked his pickup truck outside the building, grabbed his flashlight and made his way to the entrance door. But when Hanford unlocked the door to go inside, it would not budge.

Hanford yanked and tugged on the door until it finally opened. But when it did, it flew open abruptly, unleashing a wave of water that was waist high, knocking Hanford back and soaking him. While Hanford was startled, he was also perplexed – for the area had not been flooded, leaving Hanford wondering where the water in the building had come from.

When the water finished pouring out of the three-story building, Hanford walked inside. When he looked up and saw the moon and stars, he felt his heart sink. Only then did Hanford realize how the 14,000-sq.-ft. building had flooded – its entire roof had been ripped off and ravaged by the hurricane, allowing heavy rain to fill up the building as if it were a massive cup of water.

“That was the beginning of the frightening experience I would go through,” Hanford recalled recently.

It has been 10 years since Hurricane Katrina, the costliest and one of the most deadly natural disasters in US history, hammered the Gulf Coast the morning of Aug. 29, 2005. The hurricane and subsequent floods in the days to follow resulted in more than 1,800 deaths, including nearly 1,600 in Louisiana. Katrina caused more than $100 billion in property damage throughout the Southeast.

New Orleans and its surrounding areas were devastated by floods after more than 50 levees and flood walls were breached, allowing tens of billions of gallons of water to spill in from damaged canals. More than 100,000 homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed. At one point, 80 percent of New Orleans was submerged in water, more than 20 feet in some areas.

New Orleans’ world-famous food industry, including a number of meat and poultry establishments from small markets to large and small processors, was not spared. Some suffered irreparable damage and closed. Others endured extensive damage, including tens of thousands of pounds of spoiled products, and had to remodel or relocate and reinvent the way they do business.

While a decade may seem like a long time to those who did not endure Hurricane Katrina, the storm is still fresh in the minds of the New Orleans processors who lived through it. They will never forget the frightening sights, smells and sounds wrought by the hurricane, which will be forever etched in their memories.

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