NEW ORLEANS - When the water finally went down, what was left inside thousands of houses was surreal.
Hurricane Katrina evacuees came back to find that when the levees breached, a home's furniture might float up to the ceiling in the rising water and then drift down again, coming to rest in bizarre arrangements as the flood receded.
Some belongings miraculously survived but most did not. And what the water didn't destroy, the mold would finish off.
Now, nearly 14 years after the storm, the environmental group "Levees.org" wants to make sure the surreal scene is preserved-- in a fascinating recreation.
Below the slope of the eastern side of the London Avenue Canal, just yards from where the Canal breached, is the new "Flooded House Museum."
The brick home had flooded from the floor to the rafters. A former owner got as far as gutting it-- before Levees.org bought it in 2016.
Levees.org enlisted the help of its supporters and neighbors to donate real furniture, and then two artists "distressed" the furniture-- turning two rooms of the house into a life-sized, post-flood "diorama".
You can watch Aaron Angelo, a mixed-media artist, and Ken Conner, a theatrical set designer, on the Levees.org website, as they work together to ruin the furniture, and put "mold" on the walls.
"Mold isn't really black," says Conner, "if you look really closely, you'll see that it's got several colors-- black and grey and green."
But the overall color scheme inside the house is a familiar, sickening grey.
Conner and Angelo applied latex paint on the furniture and fixtures, using sponges, rags, and rollers for large areas, and hand-painted detail work for small items. The result, says Angelo, is a "grey patina"--mimicking the dust and dirt that gave real flooded houses, unoccupied for months, a grey pallor.
The result is startling.
Gray Line Tours brings tourists to see the house daily, and the open-air visitor center uses photographs and maps to show the neighborhood before and after the flood. Tour guide Peggy Blader puts the blame for the disaster squarely on the Army Corps of Engineers, explaining the difference between "I-walls" and "T-walls." But she also points to the neglect of state and local officials that led to the disaster. Tourists listen intently, and come away informed and saddened.
If you're a local who survived Katrina, you might feel a pang of heartbreak when you look in the windows, remembering how belongings and lives were turned upside down.
The "Flooded House Museum" is at 4918 Warrington Drive, off of Mirabeau Avenue in Gentilly. There's no fee, and the museum is open from dawn until dusk.