Understanding The Katrina “X”

Seven years after Hurricane Katrina, Ninth Ward home still dons spray-painted tags from rescue teams. Photo by Robert Giglio


It would be impossible to study the Ninth Ward without visiting the community and understanding some of the destruction left by Hurricane Katrina; for example, abandoned buildings, overgrown shrubbery and, most notably, the spray painted “X” markings on homes.  With the seventh anniversary of Katrina at the end of the month, it is important to acknowledge the meaning behind these reminders.

These X’s are not unique to the Ninth Ward.  In fact, many homes throughout the city are still tagged — both abandoned and rebuilt alike.

I asked Augusta Elmwood, who grew up in the Ninth Ward but lived her adult life in the St. Roch community of New Orleans, why she left the X on her repaired St. Roch home.

“Another Katrina may be just around the corner,” Elmwood said. “Also, on a grander scale, it should be a reminder to all, that man and all his things are fragile in the face of raw nature, and that our lives are fragile and can be changed or taken from us in an instant.”

Notations were left by various rescue teams after an interior was searched and each quadrant reports findings. So, how do you read the X and surrounding symbols?

Let’s think of the X like map, coordinates: north, south, west and east. When comparing it to a compass rose, the northern sector denotes the date; the southern gives the number of victims found dead, the western identifies the rescue team and the eastern depicts the current hazards in the home.

“Our X was made on September 11 (9-11) by a unit from Texas (TXO). They did not enter the house (NE), and we are fortunate that the lower quadrant is empty,” Elmwood said describing the markings.

She added that her family is considering having a metal image of the graffiti made and attaching directly over the aging X.

“Even if the paint falls off, the reminder will endure.”


Changing Planet


Caroline Gerdes recently graduated from Louisiana State University where she studied journalism and history (her major and minor, respectively). As a native of the Greater New Orleans Area, she decided to explore her own backyard with help from a Young Explorers Grant. Caroline is currently conducting an oral history project about the New Orleans Ninth Ward. She seeks to record the community’s full history — its immigrant beginnings, the development of jazz, the depression and prohibition, desegregation and hurricanes. Caroline’s exploration is also a personal quest as her father and paternal grandparents grew up in the Ninth Ward. Her blogs reflect an inside look at New Orleans life and culture, especially the edible aspects.