This Just In

Hurricane Katrina Devastates Gulf Coast


New Orleans — The images of the devastation rendered by Hurricane Katrina tell the story of cities underwater, with buildings, roads and bridges destroyed. The category 4 storm  first hit landfall Monday, August 29, with winds up to 140 mph. The hurricane traveled through the Gulf Coast region, with Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama suffering the most severe damage.

Estimates of Hurricane Katrina’s staggering toll are imprecise, but costs are expected  to exceed $200 billion and some even say $300 billion — more than the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The destruction includes not only structures, but also infrastructure — some roads are impassable and New Orleans airports are closed.

Biloxi (MS), Mobile (AL) and New Orleans have experienced flooding. According to news reports, roughly 80% of New Orleans is underwater, with the depth reaching 20 ft in places. As efforts are made to fill the breaks in the levee that protected the city from Lake Pontchartrain, water continues to flood the city. Evacuation and search and rescue efforts are underway.

The Louisiana Superdome, located in New Orleans, has been used as a shelter for up to 25,000 people and is  suffering damage that includes plumbing problems and a roof missing portions blown off during the storm.

Other area convention centers with unknown damage include the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, Cajundome/Convention Center (Lafayette, LA), Mississippi Coast Coliseum & Convention Center in Biloxi, Arthur R. Outlaw Mobile Convention Center and the Baton Rouge River Center (formerly Riverside Centroplex).

Recovery Time Unknown

It’s still too early to determine how long it will take to recover from the storm. The New York Times states that New Orleans city officials estimate it may take one to two weeks to pump the water out, two to four weeks for residents to return and two months for schools to open. It’s also uncertain when power will be restored to the area.

Show organizers are already developing contingency plans. Derrick Span, National President of Community Action Partnership, says the organization has voted to reschedule its annual convention, which was scheduled to take place in the Superdome this week, August 30 to September 2.

Pending availability, the organization aims to bring the event to New Orleans in January. “The weather will be more auspicious, even though cooler, and we did not want the city to lose our business because of circumstances that are not its fault,” he says.

Span estimates revenue for the convention and exhibition to be $851,000. The event was insured. “Our insurance covered acts of God, which this clearly was, and the claims have already been filed,” says Span, who notes paperwork will need to be produced.

But first, his concern lay with those affected by the storm. Three staff members were in the area and unsure when or how they would be able to leave. “Our thoughts and prayers go out,” says Span. He expects the organization to be involved in relief efforts, filling in gaps left by the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA).

Help Is Offered

The Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau also has the region in its thoughts. Area hotels have offered reduced rates to storm evacuees, and the convention center has offered to switch dates with New Orleans. Phillip Jones, the CVB’s President and CEO served as Louisiana’s Secretary of Tourism from 1995–2003. “I understand how important tourism is to the area, and this is the right thing to do,” he says.

The CVB has already received inquiries from about six groups looking for dates. Those with future dates scheduled in Dallas may be able to switch them, holding their event in Dallas now, assuming availability, and holding the future event in New Orleans.

Houston’s Reliant Astrodome has confirmed that it will help recovery efforts. Those remaining in New Orleans will take shelter in the facility that is part of the Reliant Park Complex. No other details were available, but it’s estimated that 25,000 will take full shelter. The site’s web site suggests no event conflicts for the near future.

Reach Phillip Jones, President and CEO, Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau, (214) 571-1011 or; Derrick Span, National President, Community Action Partners, (202) 265-7546 or

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