This month’s post is the first of a four-part series examining ArtEgg’s Katrina experience. This post’s title, Katrina Takes Aim, acted as the headline of the Times-Picayune Sunday edition, August 28, 2005.
In 2005, Dr. Esther Dyer had been the proud owner of ArtEgg for about four years, having purchased the property from Invest Rich, LLC in 2001. Dyer had been a part-time resident of the city since 1991, when she purchased a historic residential property on Spain Street, in the Marigny. A resident of The National Arts Club, Dyer wanted to invest in a New Orleans property that could provide a similar supportive environment for artists. Over a four year period, from 2001-2005, Dyer increased tenancy from twelve renters to nearly 100% occupancy on the eve of hurricane Katrina.
Upon acquisition of the building, Dyer hired a building manager, realizing she would be unable to activate and deactivate the alarm system as needed due to her travels. After two unsuccessful attempts at hiring a manager, Dyer decided to hire a young man, Matt Lottinger, who had been working in the building on a telemedicine project, and was recommended by one of her tenants. Lottinger, a West Bank resident, would spend upwards of twenty hours a day onsite, and would trek to and from work using public transit. It was decided to build a security apartment at ArtEgg for Lottinger’s use. During this time, the area was largely uninhabited at night. Lottinger adopted a dog, Arty, for additional security.
On August 28, 2005, Dyer left all her spare cash with Lottinger before leaving on the last flight out of the city. As well, Dyer left Lottinger her pistol after demonstrating for Lottinger how to use it. Lottinger, armed with fifty pounds of dog food and a barbeque, sat out the storm with another tenant, a wood worker named Dale.
On Monday, August 25, 2005 at 6:10 am (CST), hurricane Katrina made its second landfall at Buras, LA about 60 miles southwest of New Orleans, with a third landfall near the mouth of the Pearl River at 9:45 am (CST). The storm, a category three, sustained winds of 125 mph and caused a storm surge of twelve to fifteen feet. This surge caused multiple levee failures in New Orleans, flooding 80% of the city. Over the course of the day, the area around ArtEgg flooded between four to six feet, though this flooding didn’t actually enter ArtEgg because of the large pilings the building is founded on. As well as flooding, the city also experienced eight to ten inches of rainfall.
The building experienced major damage to all five roofs, including the peeling back of the back roof. Though unbreeched by flood waters, the building took on enough rain water to flood the interior to the height of one cinder block. Though the rain water pooled on the first floor, the second floor suffered more damage from direct exposure to the elements. Looters started moving through the area.
After receiving a call from a friend who worked as an EMS attendant that was stationed at the Convention Center, Lottinger decided to leave ArtEgg to assist at the Convention Center. After telling Arty to protect the building and laying out the fifty pounds of dog food, Lottinger attempted to leave using a boat owned by another tenant that had been stored in the back lot. Unfortunately, Lottinger didn’t properly prepare the boat, causing it to sink, leaving Lottinger to swim out. In the end, Dale also swam to the Broad Street overpass and was safely evacuated by first responders.