Henry Landry and Ken Demoulin

Into the Breach


The nation heaved a collective sigh of relief, thinking New Orleans had “dodging the bullet.” The hurricane’s eye, fixed on the city for days, had blinked, jogged east, and come ashore 60 miles down the Gulf Coast. But as the storm surged on, New Orleans’ fragile levee system gave way, unleashing the rage of Lake Pontchartrain and Mississippi River. Soon, 80 percent of the basin-set city became a reservoir. Merciless currents enveloped highways, streets, houses, schools. More than 100,000 citizens — the majority of them African-American, and most without the means to heed calls to evacuate – were left with little access to food or water, consigned to fend for themselves against the swirling waters and sweltering heat. At this spot, where on the barriers suffered a clean break, a survey crew on contract to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers monitors the slowly descending water level, which at one stage has climbed some 20 feet above normal.

Vanity Fair, November 2005


Photographed at the 17th Street Canal levee breach on September 8, 2005