Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Retro Article Of The Week: Hurricane Katrina And Nonprofits

Hurricane Irene caused havoc up and down the East coast over the weekend.  It caused major flooding, power outages, and some loss of life, but we should consider ourselves lucky we didn't have another Katrina on our hands.  That fateful storm struck 6 years ago, and we all know the damage and chaos it caused.  The storm hit during what was supposed to be the Community Action Partnership's (CAP) annual convention, which was being held in New Orleans that year.  In our October 1st, 2005 issue, we wrote about the impact Katrina had on conferences in New Orleans:

As Category 4 winds battered New Orleans approximately 300 people huddled in the confines of The New Orleans Marriott hotel just steps from the historic French Quarter. The accommodations were modest -- cots set up on the facility’s ballroom floor became a safe haven from the danger of flying glass shards from broken windows.

The tenor was a far cry from the buzzing activity of what was intended to be the Community Action Partnership’s (CAP) annual convention. Three of the CAP staff, one member of its board and some of its delegates were among those waiting out the storm.

“We were getting updates from the hotel staff and some people had the small, transistor-like radios,” recounted Brian Peterkin-Vertanesian, J.D., vice president for programs, and grants management, one of CAPs staff holed up at the Marriott.

“Things were mostly calm, although people did get a little more worried when we heard what was going on with the problems at the Superdome. You could tell that people were a little nervous but most were resigned to being there for a couple of days.”

New Orleans was a top convention city, with numerous charities and associations having to cancel or move their biggest revenue generator of the year.

Located near the Mississippi River, the area immediate to the Marriott was spared the deep flood water resulting from the broken levees on the 17th Street Canal in the western part of the city and the Industrial Canal on the east side.

Once the brunt of the storm had passed, Marriott allowed its guests to use the one functioning elevator to retrieve personal items from their rooms. When Peterkin-Vertanesian was able to look outside to assess the damage, he reported seeing blown out windows and flood water that had halted approximately a block away from the hotel.

During his time in the Marriott ballroom Peterkin-Vertanesian befriended a woman and her son, who worked at the Marriott. It was through that relationship that he was able to hop a 1 a.m. ride out of town after the storm had passed. Other than a strong police presence blocking off impassable roadways, Peterkin-Vertanesian described the departing trip as “not much of a problem.”

The magnitude of the disaster didn’t fully hit him until he arrived back in Washington, D.C. “I usually don’t tend to watch a tremendous amount of television coverage of these events -- with the tsunami and 9/11, I wasn’t tuned in 24/7 like a lot of people,” he explained. “But I took a few days off and watched it with my wife. I’ve been to New Orleans many times, I love jazz, and this was just totally devastating.”

You can read the rest of this article over on our website.

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