- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 8, 2005

As it ripped through Mississippi’s coast and submerged New Orleans in a toxic stew, Hurricane Katrina laid waste to some of the region’s cultural institutions but spared others with slight or moderate damage.

From Mobile, Ala., where the retired World War II battleship USS Alabama was listing 8 degrees at its pier and its memorial park closed indefinitely, to Baton Rouge, La., where the zoo lost some of its trees but none of its animals, the storm wreaked capricious damage on historical sites, science centers, art museums and botanical gardens.

“We’re learning now that the destruction was greater than we thought,” Ed Able, president of the American Association of Museums in Washington, said Wednesday. “What we need most now is skeleton staffs to protect these collections, not just in New Orleans but all along the Gulf Coast.”

He said state officials were to meet in Baton Rouge to discuss museum security. “We can’t just lock the doors of the museums and walk away,” Mr. Able said. The region includes 126 historical and cultural sites, “literally from A to Z — aquariums to zoos.”

New Orleans especially is noted for its gardens and more than 40 museums. But with most telephones out of service, it has been difficult to contact many of them for damage reports, Mr. Able said. At most institutions, phones and e-mails were not answered.

At the New Orleans Museum of Art, which has one of the country’s largest glass collections, a 45-foot metal sculpture, “Virlane Tower,” by Kenneth Snelson and valued at $500,000, was “reduced to a twisted mess in the lagoon,” the museum association reported.

Relying on press reports and information from Web sites and other sources, the association has posted a list of storm-impacted sites extending as far north as Jackson, Miss., where the Old Capitol Museum of Mississippi History lost part of its roof and art and natural science museums suffered damage from leaks.

Some institutions, especially aquariums and gardens, could suffer further from a lack of power or diesel fuel for generators to maintain life-support systems.

Most of the saltwater and freshwater fish were lost at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas at the foot of Canal Street in New Orleans, while sea otters, penguins, raptors and a white alligator were saved, officials said.

Among demolished attractions were the Marine Life Oceanarium in Gulfport, Miss., and the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum in Biloxi, Miss. The Maritime museum featured an exhibit on Hurricane Camille, which devastated the same area in 1969.

Beauvoir, the Biloxi home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, was heavily damaged, but Davis’ papers survived, said its Web site (www.beauvoir.org).

The hurricane also pushed a multistory casino barge in Biloxi a quarter of a mile inland, where it crushed part of the unfinished Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art, a $30 million project designed by architect Frank Gehry. Scheduled to open in 2006, it will showcase the cultural legacy of Southern artists.

Some of New Orleans’ major cultural institutions, in the Warehouse District and the French Quarter, suffered “moderate to severe” wind damage but were on ground high enough to avoid flooding when the levees broke. These included 12 historic French Quarter properties owned by the Louisiana State Museum, among them the Presbytere, the Cabildo and the Old U.S. Mint, which contains historical archives. Preservation Hall, the Quarter’s historic jazz center and a tourist destination, was not seriously damaged but will be closed indefinitely, said its Web site (www.preservationhall.com).

The National D-Day Museum escaped the flooding. Confederate Memorial Hall, across the street, also remained dry and its staff safe, said curator Pat Ricci, quoted on the American Association of Museums Web site (www.aam-us.org).

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