It took Charles King and his family just a couple hours to leave their house in New Orleans on Aug. 27, 2005, but they have been struggling for five years since then to find home again.
It was two days before Hurricane Katrina struck the city, and King, 48, his wife Rosalind, 47, and their 14-year-old son managed to flee New Orleans amid bumper to bumper traffic, heading north to Baton Rouge. The family took shelter there, initially staying with relatives and starting what would become a burdensome routine of jumping from one temporary residence to the next.
Two weeks later, the family moved on to Houston, along with tens of thousands of others displaced from the Gulf Coast. During the first few weeks, they spent their days in the Astrodome scrounging for supplies and their nights cramming into a relative’s apartment. They soon found an apartment of their own for two months, after which they moved again to the other side of the city to a building where the rent was covered by a voucher from the federal government.
“It was definitely a struggle. I found a couple of little odd jobs driving trucks, but not much,” King says. “I just wanted to get back home.”
Hurricane Katrina struck land on Aug. 29, 2005, and over the course of 15 hours, caused a massive surge of water from surrounding canals to burst through the levee system and flood the low-lying city. Investigations afterwards found that the levees were not properly designed to protect against such a strong storm, and some were not even completely built when Katrina hit. On top of that, the soil underneath the levees proved to be more unstable than expected and started to sink during the storm, which helped the incoming water push past the levees.
A few weeks later, Hurricane Rita hit, causing even more damage. At the very end of September, a small segment of the city re-opened to businesses and residents, but many of the displaced had to wait months and sometimes even years to gather the resources - and the willpower - to come back.
The year after the storm hit, the population of New Orleans dropped by more than half from 455,188 to a little more than 200,000. Though the city has gradually seen many old residents return along with some newcomers, the population today is still about 100,000 fewer than it was before Katrina.