Remembering Hurricane Katrina: The Robert Olshansky Collection

Ten years ago, on August 29th, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made its landfall as a Category 3 hurricane in southeastern Louisiana. The aftermath saw far-reaching consequences beyond the mass destruction caused by the hurricane–$108 billion dollars in property damage and over 1000 deaths. Issues surrounding governmental responsibility, race, class, and disaster response preparedness (or lack thereof) were hotly discussed in the national media, as those affected by the storm attempted to rebuild their lives in the weeks, months and even years following the disaster.

View of Destruction, Post Hurricane Katrina, Robert Olshansky 2005.

Throughout the aftermath, Dr. Robert Olshansky, Professor and Head of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, meticulously recorded the long-term recovery of the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina. Dr. Olshansky, whose research focuses on post-disaster recovery planning, has chronicled such efforts in many areas affected by severe natural disasters. His photos are available through one of UIUC’s institutional collections in the ARTstor digital library, “Urban and Regional Planning from the Robert Olshansky Collection.” The collection of over 2000 images features numerous photographs of aftermath and recovery in cities around the world, including the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province, China; the 2010 earthquake in Haiti; and the 2011 tsunami and earthquake in northern Japan.

“Dog Rescued” on Garage Door, Post Hurricane Katrina, Robert Olshansky, 2005.

Interior of House, Post Hurricane Katrina, Robert Olshansky, 2005

The collection is made up of diverse shots: close ups, aerial views, as well as digital and physical reconstruction plans. Dr. Olshansky’s close up photos offer an intimate view of diverse cultures visually united in a common struggle to rebuild in the wake of disastrous natural phenomena. The photos are as raw as the scenes they depict; they are unedited, unretouched, photojournalistic accounts of loss on a very human scale. The immediacy of Olshanky’s close ups conveys an immersive, sensory experience of the chaos, as though you could walk into the scene and stand among the dilapidated buildings and twisted debris.


Man Watching Approaching Car, Post Earthquake Haiti, Robert Olshansky, 2010

Interior of a Destroyed Laundry Mat following the March 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, Robert Olshansky, 2011

The aerial views offer another perspective altogether. The cities stand in much the same way as before disaster struck, a testament to the triumph of architecture, engineering, and urban planning.

Osaka, Gifu-ken, Chūbu, Japan from Afar, Post Chūetsu Earthquake, Robert Olshansky, 2004-2005.

Aerial View of New Orleans, Two Years after Hurricane Katrina, Robert Olshansky, 2007

Aerial View of New Orleans, Two Years after Hurricane Katrina, Robert Olshansky, 2007

If you’re interested in learning more about Dr. Olshansky’s work, check out the collection on Artstor. You can also learn more about Hurricane Katrina and the future of disaster preparedness by reading Dr. Olshansky’s co-authored book Clear as Mud: Planning for the Rebuilding of New Orleans, and be sure to listen to his recent interview with Scott Beatty for the News-Gazette.


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