Five years on, the images of the disaster remain seared in photographer Mario Tama's mind. Now 39, Tama was a war photographer who had seen human suffering in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the horrors he witnessed in New Orleans were unlike anything he had ever experienced.
"When you witness something like this happening to citizens in your own country, your own back yard, it's much more shocking than when you get on a plane and know you are heading to a war zone," said Tama.
Tama arrived in New Orleans two days before the storm came ashore, riding out the flooding, wind and rain with residents. He spent weeks there after the hurricane, documenting the aftermath. Even when he eventually left, Tama promised himself that he would come back once the flood waters receded. And he did, returning to the city to watch the recovery unfold. The first months were the toughest.
"It was probably, almost more sad than after Katrina. I thought I was coming back to Thanksgiving, and it would be a happy, hopeful time," said Tama. "To see New Orleans, on such a beautiful occasion be so dead and empty was quite shocking."
Tama has now been to New Orleans 15 times since Katrina struck, and he's there again this week to mark the fifth anniversary, and the progress the people of New Orleans have made.
"The great thing about New Orleaneans is their spirit and their vibrancy. Even in the midst of the worst tragedy they still have this incredible energy and spirit that shines no matter what, and it is something that has been incredibly inspirational to me."
He's put together a new photography book documenting the progress of the last five years, titled "Coming Back: New Orleans Resurgent," with all proceeds going to the New Schools for New Orleans charity.