Revisiting New Orleans

Rebuilding still lags in areas devastated by Katrina

Photos by Judy Wharton, Alabaster, Ala.

Last week, Christina Lewellen, senior editor of Window & Door magazine, took a first-hand look at the continued devastation from Hurricane Katrina. Many areas look untouched, like the sidewalk of a strip mall above, littered with shattered glass lites almost two years after the storm. See more images from Lewellen's trip in the next issue of e-glass weekly, and read her full report in the August issue of Window & Door.

Twenty months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, New Orleans is still recovering, with many areas seemingly untouched since the storm.

“The east side looks like no one has done anything,” says Larry Boucon, owner of Pro-Door Glass & Mirror of Mooringsport, La. “Places like Home Depot and Wal-Mart didn’t rebuild. There are boats still in the streets since the storm. Blue tarps are all over everybody’s roofs. It’s sad.”

The April 2007 Katrina Index released May 17 showed mixed results for nonresidential building in the New Orleans metro. The index relies on about 40 economic and construction indicators, and is compiled by the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center of New Orleans, and the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program in Washington, D.C.

According to the index, 92 percent of hotels in the city are open, and 64 percent of health care facilities are operational. However, no state-licensed hospitals have reopened since October 2006; only 58 of 128 public schools in Orleans parish have opened; and 15 of 46 pre-Katrina public libraries in the metro area remain closed.

While no general data is available for commercial projects, growth in the retail segment has visibly started, says Allison Plyer, manager of strategic products for the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center.

“Almost entirely what has driven construction is private investment,” Plyer says. “Since businesses depend very little on government subsidies, they have been able to come back quicker than many civic institutions. There are retail establishments popping up. … There’s plenty of market for glass.”

Warren Basco, vice president and manager for Glass Systems Inc. in Port Barre, La. has already tapped into the storefront market in the reviving area.

“Initially, they were just trying to get the infrastructure back—the utilities,” Basco says. “Then, they went to work on the residents. For retail, we’re just getting into the rebuilding business now.”

Since the storm, building code changes require storm protection on glazing units, either with impact-resistant glass or shutters, Basco says. The beefed up codes demonstrate quite a change in mentality and awareness since before Katrina, he says.

“Before Katrina, we were using non-impact plate glass for everything—regular storefront, even in the Galleria [glass-clad office tower],” Basco says.

The burgeoning demand for impact glass has created increased lead times for the product. Basco estimates he waits seven to eight weeks for storm glass, versus just a week for plate glass.

Those lead times could grow even more as rebuilding grows. In efforts to further boost development of the city, New Orleans officials announced in March a $1.1 billion recovery plan that focuses on rebuilding commercial sectors.

Learn about what fabricators are doing to serve the hurricane market here.

Read about the role of glaziers in the rebuild in the next issue of e-glass weekly.