Heritage Recovery in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

Statement from the US/ICOMOS Board of Trustees

US/ICOMOS, the United States of America’s Committee of ICOMOS, the international organization that acts as protector of the world heritage, expresses its deep sorrow and distress about the humanitarian catastrophe that Hurricane Katrina, and later Hurricane Rita, have wrought upon the Gulf Coast region of the United States, and the destruction of the cultural and historic buildings and sites in the affected areas.

US ICOMOS is especially concerned that a cohesive program of survey, damage recordation, and assessment, and emergency stabilization has yet to emerge for our historic resources in the region, especially those of New Orleans and its surrounding parishes, and for the coastal areas of the States of Mississippi and Louisiana. Further, US ICOMOS is particularly apprehensive about the traditional urban neighborhoods and rural vernacular buildings and sites in these areas that may be overlooked and unnecessarily lost as a result of the storm and its aftermath.

US ICOMOS stands prepared to offer its services to the various state and local groups organizing damage response, including private and public organizations, and to act as a facilitator of the services of experts from other ICOMOS national committees around the world to the affected areas and their historic and cultural resources. ICOMOS urges the world’s cultural and conservation community to assist in this effort, especially those in National Committees with recent experience in heritage recovery from catastrophic events.

US/ICOMOS also thanks the many messages of solidarity and offers to help that have been received from all corners of the world, and that are a clear manifestation of the true ICOMOS spirit of international cooperation.

Message from Gustavo Araoz, Executive Director, US/ICOMOS

As with all our nation AND THE WORLD, US/ICOMOS has been watching in detail the unfolding devastation brought about by Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama; and along with other heritage organziations, we have been trying to figure out how we can help. We have had generous expressions of solidarity and offers to volunteer from many National Commitees and individual members, both in the United States and overseas (see messages below from Michael Petzet, President of ICOMOS, and Dinu Bumbaru, Secretary General of ICOMOS).


The damage is so vast and the confusion so spread that it is unclear how all these human resources can be put to best use. As of now, the focus remains on providing humanitarian relief to the victims and survivors. In the meantime, US/ICOMOS continues to work with our sister organizations and to participate in federal, state and local planning initiatives to figure out the best courses of action. Other activites can be summarized as follows:

ICOMOS (international Council on Monuments and Sites), ICOM (International Council of Museums), IFLA (Int’l Federation of Library Associations) and ICA (International Council on Archives), who are the participants in the UNESCO Blue Shield advisory group, have been meeting in Paris to address the cultural aspects of the crisis brought about by Katrina. The ICOMOS international component has been in constant contact with US/ICOMOS to gather information on the magnitude and nature of needs, with an eye to provide international assistance, if desired. To keep them informed, US/ICOMOS has been transmitting to our ICOMOS Secretariat in Paris all the information generated by sources in Mississippi and Louisiana, messages about the well-being of our members in these states, as well as referencing the websites of organizations that are dealing with the crisis. We are happy to report that Patty Gay, Donald Del Cid and Eugene Cizek, all US/ICOMOS members from New Orleans, are well, although all have had to evacuate. US/ICOMOS Member Kenneth P’pool, the Misssissippi Historic Preservation Officer, is keeping us abreast of the desperate situations in the castal areas of his state.

I have cc’d the US Mission to UNESCO, on much of our correspondence, so that, if appropriate, we may work with them to coordinate or mobilize whatever UNESCO resources may be available for relief and recovery operations. UNESCO has a long history of such assistance, beginning early in the 60s with the recovery of the Abu Simbel Monuments in Nubia, and more recently in sending expert teams in the aftermath of the Gujarat, India and Bam, Iran, earthquakes, and also after the Indian Ocean tsunami. UNESCO has also brokered considerable assistance for cultural resources in Iraq in the more recent past

US/ICOMOS has received numerous offers for help, from many National Committees and individuals in both the US and overseas, who are highly qualified heritage professionals, and who would be willing to help. So far, we can only thank each of you, since it is still unclear where, how and when your services can be used.

With the understanding that heritage relief and recovery work will be proceeding at different paces in Mississippi, parts of Louisiana and in New Orleans proper, and that the needs in each of these areas will begin to emerge gradually, US/ICOMOS reiteirates its willingness and readiness to assist within the contexts expressed above, in whichever way we can, and according to the needs expressed by those who will be coordinating what is sure to become a massive effort.

Through this webpage, US/ICOMOS will try to keep the world informed of news as they develop. You may also want to visit additional websites of our affinity organizations, who are also involved in the heritage recovery efforts:

American Assocation of Museums www.aam-us.org

American Institute fof Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works:http://aic.stanford.edu/

Federal Emergency Managment Agency:http://www.fema.gov/press/2005/resources_katrina.shtm

Heritage Preservation: www.heritagepreservation.org

Louisiana Division of Historic Preservation:http://www.crt.state.la.us/crt/ocd/hp/ocdhp.htm

Mississippi Department of Archives and History:http://www.mdah.state.ms.us/hpres/hprestxt.html

National Center for Preservation Technology and Training: www.ncptt.nps.gov

National Trust for Historic Preservation: www.nthp.org

Message from Gustavo Araoz, Executive Director of US/ICOMOS, to our colleagues in the Gulf Coast region

Dear friends in Louisiana and Mississippi,

As you can see from the messages below, there is worldwide sharing in your plight, and also a number of offers for assistance from our colleagues abroad. In addition, a number of US/ICOMOS members have written to volunteer their time to help in the recovery as it pertains to heritage sites. When the time comes to begin to do that, which we hope will be soon, please contact us in US/ICOMOS so that together we may figure out how to make use of all these generous offers. It would be an particularly dignifying homage to those who have lost everything, especially their lives, to have teams of international and American preservationists working together on the recovery of the rich heritage of your states.


Gustavo Araoz
Executive Director, US/ICOMOS

Washington, DC
Message from Michael Petzet, ICOMOS President, ICOMOS Germany

The daily news and pictures we have received about the effects of the hurricane on the southern states of the USA are so upsetting that on behalf of ICOMOS International I wish to express our heartfelt concern and sympathy for those directly affected. This is truly a human tragedy of yet unknown dimensions. Of course, in the present situation we must first of all think of the people who were killed, injured or who lost their homes and belongings. We sincerely hope that no ICOMOS colleagues have been directly affected.

As a professional organisation of conservationists we should also try to find ways and means to assist our colleagues in the devastated area as soon as there is an overview of the damage to cultural heritage, especially to the French Quarter in New Orleans, but most likely also to other sites. Therefore, we ask US ICOMOS to inform us as soon as possible about endangered heritage places and to let us know how our organisation can help.

Our thoughts are with the victims of this disaster. My best regards to you and all members of US ICOMOS

Michael Petzet
President of ICOMOS

Message from Dinu Bumbaru, ICOMOS Secretary General, ICOMOS Canada

As I extract myself from meetings here, I get shocking reports about the impact of hurricane Katrina on the Southern States, their communities and their historic places and heritage. The place has a special resonance here. Not only do I mean the fond memory of the successful US/ICOMOS meeting in Natchitoches with its Declaration on heritage landscapes, but there are also strong historical ties. The Plan of New Orleans was drawn by Jean de Bienville, a Montrealer whose name is borne by a street in the Plateau. Also, many of those places carry names of French origins or are associated with the historical tragedy of the Grand Dérangement or deportation of the Acadians, 250 years ago this year.

As the tail of the hurricane is bound to hit Ontario and Quebec in a mostly annoying way with not much risk, I don’t quite know what we can do to help but if there is a way, let me know. Of course, we are all very conscious of the capacity of institutions and endurance of colleagues and communities in the United States but that’s no excuse to prevent solidarity, if only on a human and collegial level.

There will be a meeting of the International Committee of the Blue Shield on September 6 in Paris. I’ve raised the issue with the chair Joan Van Albada of the International Council of Archives to at least put it on the agenda. Our Director Gaia Jungeblodt will also attend and be able to forward information. Also, we may find it of interest to ICOMOS members to hold a session in Xi’an about heritage recovery (individual sites as well as historic towns or heritage landscapes) after natural disasters like the Indian Ocean tsunamis, the floods in Europe and hurricane Katrina. I’d welcome suggestions to that effect.

In the meantime, please communicate our concerns and thoughts to our ICOMOS colleagues and friends from the affected areas. I think I can say in the name of the organisation that we are deeply saddened by the loss of life and of livelihood as well as the devastation of places that sustained the memory of past people.

All the best

Dinu Bumbaru
Secretary General of ICOMOS

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