In light of the landfall of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, Little Rock Mayor Jim Dailey and City Manager Bruce Moore sprung into action to marshal resources to welcome visitors who found themselves in Little Rock. From greeting buses and aircraft that arrived with evacuees, to coordinating with churches and non-profits to distribute supplies, to working with area businesses to identify resources, Mayor Dailey, the City Manager and other City leaders worked diligently to offer assistance.
Mayor Dailey noted, “While we welcome these visitors to our City, obviously the timeframe for this stay was not of their own choosing. As they wait out the hurricane and its aftereffects, I wanted to extend this hospitality to them on behalf of all our citizens.”
One of the things the City did was distribute a list of the cultural institutions which had free admission. These museums offered a respite for people who were spending time in hotel rooms or temporary shelters. With economic futures uncertain, spending money on entertainment was not an option for many. The chance to see exhibits for free was a break from the monotony of television coverage and endless waiting.
In addition to providing information on free and low-cost Little Rock attractions, the Convention & Visitors Bureau worked around the clock to identify available hotel rooms and other places where evacuees could stay. Little Rock’s Animal Services division worked to find places to keep animals since some could not stay in hotel rooms.
With the breaking of the levee and the subsequent flooding, it became obvious that what many had expected to be a three-day absence from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, was going to be much longer. The days turned into weeks; subsequently, the City shifted its focus into helping people find housing and jobs.
“I am proud of how Little Rock has responded,” said Mayor Dailey at the time. “From volunteers to utility workers, a number of our citizens are poised to go down there and help restore those basic necessities to the areas hit by Hurricane Katrina. I am also proud to know that our hospitality and attraction industries in Little Rock are working to offer comfort and relief here. Perhaps most importantly, the compassionate smiles and words of encouragement extended by everyday men and women in Little Rock to our newest visitors are so significant.”
“I think we can never underestimate the value of helping our neighbors. When Little Rock has been beset by disaster, it has been the knowledge that other people cared about us that has helped as we worked to return to daily routines. While I am sorry that this situation has occurred, I am grateful that we can repay in some small way, all that others have done for us,” said the Mayor.
Ten years on, much has changed in Little Rock because of Katrina. Some people who came here “temporarily” have stayed. Others who returned have maintained ties with Central Arkansas friends. Little Rock’s culinary and hospitality industry have benefitted from several of the newcomers who were brought here by Katrina. There is perhaps a bit more diversity of beliefs, tastes, and accents because of this storm.
As they did with people stranded in Little Rock after September 11, the City’s cultural institutions opened their doors, their arms and their hearts to the Katrina visitors. It proved again the healing power of not only the arts but also of hospitality.