Tales of ruin, rebuilding in museum's Katrina exhibit

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The Steinway baby grand piano that belonged to Fats DominoThe artifacts, photographs and videos of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast in 2005 continue to generate a wave of interest from both New Orleans visitors and locals.

Now many of those objects and accompanying images, personal histories and videos have been packaged together in a riveting $7.5 million, 6,700-square-foot permanent multimedia installation titled "Living With Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond," in the Louisiana State Museum's historical Presbytere building in the French Quarter's Jackson Square.

"'Living With Hurricanes' documents the human struggle in the face of a natural disaster, incorporating everything from survivors' personal mementos to their thoughts and feelings," museum director Sam Rykels said at the Oct. 26 opening.

"The exhibit illustrates how the recovery has brought about innovations, turning the region into a laboratory of new ideas," he said. "People will encounter a compelling narrative as they walk through the galleries."

Museum officials began planning for a Katrina exhibit just days after the 2005 floods, according to Rykels.

The museum spent years salvaging and collecting more than 2,000 artifacts that detail the Gulf Coast's devastation in Katrina's chaotic aftermath, knowing that the storm would become a landmark in the city's and nation's history.

Among the artifacts spread throughout the exhibit:

The clarinet that belonged to Pete FountainThe ruined Steinway baby grand piano that belonged to the legendary Antoine "Fats" Domino, located in the Presbytere's entrance foyer as the symbolic centerpiece of the exhibit. The piano is propped on its side, positioned exactly as it was found in the musician's flooded Lower Ninth Ward home.

A small hatchet bought by a woman the day before the storm and later used to hack through the attic roof so she and her daughter could escape the rising floodwaters.

The ruby-encrusted clarinet of jazz legend Pete Fountain, which was swept from his home in Bay St. Louis, Miss., as Katrina's storm surge devastated the coastal community. The musical instrument was found more than a mile from his house and was identified by Fountain's signature monogram carved into its base.

A wooden pirogue -- a small, flat-bottom boat -- standing upright inside the exhibit. It was used by resident Stephen Ford to pick up stranded residents from their Lower Ninth Ward roofs.

The Mabry Wall, a storm diary written in black marker by Thomas Elton Mabry on the walls of an apartment in an abandoned public housing project. Mabry's entries began on Aug. 28, 2005, the day before Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, and continued through October of that year.

A row of seats salvaged from the Louisiana Superdome, where an estimated 30,000 New Orleanians sought shelter from Katrina and the ensuing flood. Flooding and damage to the roof forced the stadium to close until September 2006 while it underwent a $185 million renovation.

A video presentation by filmmaker Glen Pitre that relates personal stories from New Orleanians about their Hurricane Katrina experiences and speaks of their love of home and their city. "This video tells visitors why New Orleans is important to America," Rykels said.

Hurricane Katrina experiences"It enables visitors to understand Katrina's impact on Louisiana, the Gulf Coast and the nation."

Visitors walk through the Evacuation Corridor in Gallery One, overhearing residents' voices as they weigh their options as Katrina approaches.

The Storm Theater shows Katrina's full fury with dramatic footage of the hurricane's onslaught.

Gallery Two takes visitors past a leaking floodwall and into an attic and onto a roof where they view the flooded city surrounding them.

The forensics of Katrina unfolds in Gallery Three. Interactive maps show the paths of hurricanes Katrina and Rita (four weeks after Katrina) and the sequence of floods that inundated the region.

Displays depict how the levees failed, the realities of eroding wetlands, disaster management, engineering and the science of predicting and tracking hurricanes.

Gallery Four showcases the ingenuity displayed by storm survivors in rebuilding lives and communities.

The gallery will be updated regularly to reflect advances in flood protection and coastal restoration.

Science of the storm

Bill Read, director of the National Hurricane Center, who attended the official opening of the exhibit, said, "'Katrina and Beyond' details both the science -- how the storm happened -- and how people rebuilt."

The Presbytere building of the Louisiana State MuseumRead described the exhibit as a "fascinating, moving experience. It's worth a visit to New Orleans to see."

Historian Douglas Brinkley agreed.

"Hurricane Katrina was a watershed in American history," said Brinkley, a Tulane University professor in 2005 who authored the book "The Great Deluge," which told the story of Katrina through the words of those who lived through it.

"Never before did we watch the total devastation of a major American city as it happened. ... The story of what happened five years ago must be remembered."

Exhibit hours are 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. Admission is $6 for adults, free for children ages 12 and younger. Visit www.katrinaandbeyond.com.

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