Hurricane Katrina entered the Gulf of Mexico August 24, 2005. Gulf Coast residents watched as Katrina tracked towards New Orleans, intensifying into a Category 5 hurricane. On August 28, Katrina sat off the mouth of the Mississippi River with 902 millibars of barometric pressure and 150 mile-per-hour winds. It was the storm we all feared.
The morning of August 28, a mandatory evacuation of the city was ordered. We secured the restaurant, inside and out, to the best of our ability. Katrina actually missed New Orleans, turning and crossing the Mississippi River at Buras, Louisiana in the early hours of August 29. It cut a devastating path through lower Plaquemines and St. Bernard Parishes. Its second landfall was near the mouth of the Pearl River, at the Louisiana-Mississippi border. Katrina battered the Mississippi Gulf Coast with winds well over 100 miles-per-hour for up to 12 hours and created a tidal surge that ranged from 22 – 28 feet. Large portions of the Coast were destroyed and extensive damage was suffered as far north as Hattiesburg.
While Katrina spared New Orleans a direct hit, the damage from its enormous tidal surge was tremendous. Levees along the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (the infamous Mr. GO), the Industrial Canal and the Intra coastal Waterway were overtopped and/or breached, causing widespread flooding in New Orleans East, St. Bernard, Plaquemines and St. Tammany Parishes as well as the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. The storm surge entered Lake Pontchartrain causing significant damage to Slidell and other areas of St. Tammany Parish located north of the lake. In addition, canals scattered throughout the city which drain the city’s rainwater into Lake Pontchartrain were filled by the storm surge from the lake; levee walls build the Corps of Engineers failed, flooding 80 percent of the city and portions of Jefferson Parish.
We returned to Mother’s in the middle of September. Damages were not so bad, primarily roof damage caused by the wind and the resultant rain damage inside. Of course we also suffered the inevitable spoiled food due to the lack of electricity. The roof and equipment were easy to repair and replace, but the general cleanup was a more difficult undertaking. We hired a disaster relief company to clean the restaurant to hospital grade. At the same time, we worked to locate our employees, bringing back the people who had been with us from the very early days of our ownership. Many of them had lost their homes to the flooding so nine FEMA trailers were secured and set up in our parking lot. Our Mother’s family, Pat, Shirley, Lydia, Sandra, Roland, James, Betty, Duck and Philip, along with their families, constituted a new little neighborhood next door to the restaurant for the next nine months.
On October 15, 2005, Mother’s reopened. Vice Admiral Thad Allen, the head of the disaster relief effort in New Orleans, was our first customer. Although our menu was limited and our hours were shortened, as locals returned to the city they returned to Mother’s as well. Their comments lifted our spirits: “We’re so glad you’re open”… “It’s great to have New Orleans cooking again” … “It tastes so good, so familiar”… “Thank you for being here again.” The power of food, especially New Orleans cuisine, to comfort the soul and nourish the spirit as well as the body, is amazing but a fact witnessed here in the ensuing months as returning locals and the wonderful disaster personnel who flocked to our city frequented Mother’s in droves. The sacrifices of these brave and generous men and women in helping restore New Orleans will never be forgotten.
Rebuilding New Orleans is proceeding but because of the magnitude of the destruction it is a slow and difficult process. The Central Business District, where Mother’s is located, the Warehouse District, French Quarter and Uptown areas were largely spared severe damage; they seem as they did before the storm. Businesses are once again operating and the Superdome, the New Orleans Arena and the Convention Center have reopened. The Saints, Hornets and Zephyrs are back. In spite of Katrina, the New Orleans spirit continues with an uninterrupted celebration of Mardi Gras, Jazz Festival and French Quarter Festival, while the Essence Festival returned home after only one year away. We are looking forward to future Sugar Bowls and BCS National Championship games. Thankful that our city has survived, we anticipate that Mother’s will be serving New Orleans home cooking for at least the next 70 years.
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