In the aftermath of the storm, journalists captured New Orleans' descent into chaos. Shots of flooded streets, helicopter rescues, survivors trapped on rooftops and the scenes of human misery at refugee shelters like the Superdome defined New Orleans post-Katrina.
"I've never seen anything in my life like this. I can't put it into words the amount of destruction that is in this city," NBC cameraman Tony Zumbado said.
New Orleans has had ten years to recover from that devastation, and many parts of the city have been radically revamped in that time -- but the city's actual recovery can be hard to gauge. It's largely dependent on where you look.
Rebuilding the city's broken infrastructure gave New Orleans officials an opportunity to experiment with new ideas. The city converted its failing public schools into charter schools, demolished and rebuilt its public housing, and encouraged a wave of entrepreneurship.
Supporters credit these reforms for the city's rapid population growth, wealth of new jobs and startups and improving performance of students on standardized tests -- and several observers have also congratulated New Orleans for the dramatic improvement its made since Katrina.
"I think the best thing to happen to the education system in New Orleans is Hurricane Katrina," education secretary Arne Duncan told Roland Martin.
Some people have taken the praise for New Orleans too far. A Chicago Tribune columnist was immediately pilloried after she wished for a Katrina-like reset for the government in her home city.
Other outlets point out neighborhoods that haven't seen much improvement. New Orleans' bold reforms are often accused of excluding or leaving behind the city's poorest residents, and polling shows black residents have a much bleaker outlook on the future of New Orleans.
PHOTOS: New Orleans recovery through the years
Katrina 10 year: New Orleans recovery through the years (2006-2014)
Mayor of New Orleans: 'We've shown what's possible'
NEW ORLEANS - JANUARY 7: A sign in front of a home destroyed by Hurricane Katrina reads, 'No Bulldozing' even though it is designated as being 'in imminent danger of collapse' by city inspectors on January 7, 2006 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The New Orleans City council has agreed to wait two more weeks before starting to tear down damaged homes as a federal judge decides if he will hear a challenge from local community activists. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS - JANUARY 10: Keith Jackson takes a picture of the rubble surrounding the remains of his aunt's home in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, Louisiana on January 10, 2006. The home was destroyed when the Industrial Canal levee was breeched and floodwaters inundated the neighborhood, during Hurricane Katrina, in August 2005. (Photo by Andy Nelson/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)
A crushed school bus sits under a large barge, Sunday, February 12, 2006, that broke through the damaged levee that flooded the 9th Ward in New Orleans, Louisiana, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT via Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS - MARCH 8: A New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets fan holds up a sign during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers on March 8, 2006 at the New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Lakers defeated the Hornets 113-107 in the Hornets first game in new Orleans since Hurricane Katrina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS - APRIL 20: Election workers prepare in the Voting Machine Warehouse which will serve as a polling location April 20, 2006 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The New Orleans mayoral election will be held April 22, and if none of the 23 candidates receives a majority of the vote, the top two will compete in a runoff scheduled for May 20. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
A home with Hurricane Katrina debris sits empty in St. Bernard, La. Tuesday morning Aug. 29, 2006. One year ago today Hurricane Katrina came ashore and flooded much of the area. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)
NEW ORLEANS - AUGUST 27: Cynthia Hamilton waits for a ride in front of a darkened building after helping clean her mother's damaged house in the Lower 9th Ward August 27, 2006 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The neighborhood is still without electricity in certain areas. The first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is August 29th. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Julie Rico hods the hand of her daughter Mercedes as they walk to a school bus in St. Bernard, La., Tuesday morning Aug. 29, 2006. One year ago today Hurricane Katrina came ashore and flooded much of the area. Hurricane Katrina debris still lines the street where they live. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)
A boat with graffiti that reads " What's the plan Ray" sits on the sidewalk a block away from the Superdome, background, in downtown New Orleans, early Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2006. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Cederick Johnson from New Orleans holds his face in his hands as he sits on the new levee wall in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2006. Johnson lost his grandmother who lived in the Lower Ninth Ward during Hurricane Katrina. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
NEW ORLEANS - SEPTEMBER 25: A fan holds up a sign during the Monday Night Football game against the Atlanta Falcons on September 25, 2006 at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana. Tonight's game marks the first time since Hurricane Katrina struck last August, that the Superdome, which served as a temporary shelter to thousands of stranded victims in the wake of Katrina, has played host to an NFL game. The Saints won the game 23-3. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS - JUNE 10: Palazzola Simmons attempts to hook up a wire for a generator in the doorway of the old motor home he is currently living in with three other people in the Lower Ninth Ward June 10, 2007 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Simmons' home was on the property but was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Most of the people living in the motor home say they cannot afford rent in the city because prices have increased following Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Rev. Dr. Stephen John Thurston, President, National Baptist Convention of America takes part in a Hurricane Katrina memorial service in New Orleans, Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007. This is the second anniversary of the deadly hurricane which flooded the city killing over 1700 people. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)
Search marks remain on the front door of the home of Mai Van Tran, left, and An Van Tran, right, as they watch a ceremony marking the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina near the 17th Street Canal in New Orleans Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007. The Van Trans purchased the home after Katrina last April. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
An excavator works to clear the debris of a hurricane-damaged home in the Lakeview section of New Orleans, Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007, on the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)
A message is spray painted on the new levee wall with the Lower Ninth Ward behind it on the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007.(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
NEW ORLEANS - DECEMBER 15: B.W. Cooper public housing development residents Charlton Porter (C) and Lioneisha Dales walk past a partially demolished building in their complex December 15, 2007 in New Orleans. The demolition has sparked protests and lawsuits as affordable housing stocks have dwindled and homelessness has doubled following Hurricane Katrina. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Work continues on the Hurricane Katrina memorial in New Orleans, Thursday, Aug. 21, 2008. The land was vacant just five weeks ago and workers are rushing to complete the memorial by the third anniversary of the hurricane, which is Friday. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)
The casket bearing the body of one of the unclaimed victims of Hurricane Katrina is carried into the cemetery during a Hurricane Katrina memorial service in New Orleans, Friday, Aug. 29, 2008. More than 80 people will be buried at the memorial. It has been three years since the deadly storm struck the city. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)
Retired Army Gen. Russel Honore, right, listens to New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin make remarks at the graveside of a Hurricane Katrina victim at a memorial service in New Orleans, Friday, Aug. 29, 2008. Honore led his Army troops in the early days after Hurricane Katrina flooded the city. It has been three years since the deadly storm struck the city and unclaimed victims are just being buried. Joining Nagin and Honore is City Council woman Shelley Midura. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)
Fans celebrate while Jamie Foxx performs during his "Blame It'' tour in New Orleans, just two days before the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, Friday, August 28, 2009. (AP Photo/Cheryl Gerber)
An empty slab is shown in the foreground where a house damaged by Hurricane Katrina was demolished in the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans, Saturday, Aug. 29, 2009. The home in the background of the photograph was rebuilt after the storm and the new flood wall can be seen behind the house. This is the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which flooded most of the city. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)
Singer Charmaine Neville, background left, and actress Shauna Rappold, center, playing the role of a grieving woman, participate in a symbolic jazz funeral to honor Hurricane Katrina victims, ahead of the fifth anniversary of the storm, in downtown New Orleans, Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
** COMMERCIAL IMAGE ** In this photograph taken by AP Images for Rebuilding Together, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, a native New Orleanian, visits a rebuilt home in her neighborhood where volunteers from around the country came to work with Rebuilding Together's Fifty for Five, a national non-profit which rebuilt 50 homes in five days in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans, Saturday, August 28, 2010. Rebuilding Together created Fifty for Five to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and has rebuilt more than 750 homes in the Gulf Coast since 2005. (Cheryl Gerber/AP Images for Rebuilding Together)
The Hurricane Katrina Memorial for St. Bernard Parish is seen as rain falls in Shell Beach, La., one day before the fifth anniversary of the storm, which took over 1,000 lives and devastated the region, Saturday,Aug. 28, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Ehren Alcindor of New Orleans cries as he leans against the Industrial Canal flood wall during a public commemoration by the New Orleans Katrina Commemoration Foundation, the Hip Hop Caucus, and the National Wildlife Federation on the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in the Lower Ninth Ward of Sunday, Aug. 29, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
A wreath of flowers is seen floating in the Industrial Canal after it was thrown in the waters from the Claiborne Ave. Bridge, seen in foreground, which leads to the Lower Ninth Ward, during a ceremony to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Sunday, Aug. 29, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
The remains of a store stand in a strip mall in Chalmette, La., Sunday, Aug. 29, 2010. All but two buildings were flooded in St. Bernard Parish after Katrina, and five years later, many neighborhoods contain scores of empty slabs. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
A woman walks past empty lots where Hurricane Katrina-damaged apartment buildings once stood in Chalmette, La., Sunday, Aug. 29, 2010. All but two buildings were flooded in St. Bernard Parish after Katrina, and five years later, many neighborhoods contain scores of empty slabs. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, Sunday, Aug. 29, 2010, on the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Lower 9th Ward resident Robert Green, who lost his mother and niece in Hurricane Katrina, replaces a wreath from last year with a new one, at the spot his home landed after the flooding, commemorating the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Monday, Aug. 29, 2011. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Bradli Noel, 9, right, and Johnb Gibson, 4, walk in the street in the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013. Thursday is the 8th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
The closed entrance of the former Six Flags Amusement Park is seen in New Orleans, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013. The park closed for Hurricane Katrina and never reopened. Thursday is the eighth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Debra Reed pours water, known as pouring a libation for ancestors, as people call out the names of loved ones who died in Hurricane Katrina, during a ceremony commemorating the eighth anniversary of the storm. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
A man rides down a mostly deserted street in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, which was heavily damaged by floodwaters from Hurricane Katrina, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013. Thursday marks the eighth anniversary of the storm. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, right, bows his head with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro during a ceremony at the Hurricane Katrina Memorial, on the ninth anniversary of the storm, in New Orleans, Friday, Aug. 29, 2014. Behind is an unmarked mausoleum, which contains unidentified bodies of people who died in the storm. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Young Sino and his daughter Demarri Warren participate in a remembrance event along the Industrial Canal flood wall, seen in background, in the Lower 9th Ward section of New Orleans, on the ninth Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Friday, Aug. 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
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"So what we're seeing is growing income inequality as many of our white households are doing much better but black households are not ... It's interesting down here, if you talk to folks, it's almost like a tale of two cities," demographer Allison Plyer told WBUR.
While there's still a lot of recovery work left to do, New Orleans officials are using the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina to reflect on the progress they've made so far.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu told The National Press Club, "We've shown what's possible. That from the worst disaster there can be rebirth. Out of despair, there can be hope; out of darkness, light; out of destruction, beauty."