NEW ORLEANS – A New Orleans group is seeking federal recognition for two of the spots where levee breaches during Hurricane Katrina unleashed catastrophic flooding that tossed houses from their foundations and killed hundreds of people.
Levees.org announced its effort to put the locations on the National Register of Historic Places at a news conference Wednesday just inside the flood wall along the Industrial Canal in the Lower 9th Ward, one of the worst-hit neighborhoods where weedy, empty lots still dominate the landscape.
The other location is along the 17th Street Canal, where the Lakeview neighborhood suffered similar flooding in the Aug. 29, 2005, storm.
The register is the federal government's list of properties it considers worthy of preservation and recognition. The process of receiving recognition can be long and difficult, and sites typically must be 50 years old, though exceptions are made.
Levees.org director Sandy Rosenthal said that if the spots are approved for the register, she envisions more than just historic markers. If local residents approve and property is available, parks could be built. The nonprofit group formed to educate the public about Katrina could try getting other places on the registry, too, including some of the other 50 or so places where the levees were breached.
But first comes the arduous task of getting their first two approvals.
"We think that the levee breaks are eligible and deserve to be considered," said Patricia Duncan, the national register coordinator in the state Office of Cultural Development. Levees.org will have to submit drafts of its proposals to the state and meet with a state historic preservation panel, which would then make a recommendation to a state preservation official.
If the official signs off, the proposal would be given to the National Parks Service, which would also have to approve it.
"You've got to really make your case," Duncan said in a telephone interview.
Nearly 1,000 people died in and around New Orleans during Katrina, and a 2008 study published in the journal Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness estimated that 40 percent of those deaths were drownings.
A few blocks away from the news conference, Terrol Wright, 50, was using a lawnmower to knock down tall weeds on the empty lot where he once shared a house with his brother and mother. His mother, he said, hasn't made up her mind whether to rebuild on the block, which is still mostly empty.
"I don't see nothing wrong with it," he said of the proposal, "as long as it's not affecting the residents of the area, where people could move back," he said.
Valerie Schexnayder, who returned to the neighborhood, is skeptical.
"They're worried about parks," she said as she walked on an empty lot across the street from her house. "What about street lights and the necessities people need down here."