View of New Orleans from U.S. 47 in Chalmette, Louisiana
Image by Ken Lund
Chalmette is a census-designated place (CDP) in and the parish seat of St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, United States. The population was 32,069 at the 2000 census. It is part of the New Orleans–Metairie–Kenner Metropolitan Statistical Area.
The community was named after plantation owner I. Martin de Lino de Chalmette, whose surname in turn is derived from the French word chalmette — "pasture land, fallow land" (used especially in a mountainous area) — and has been traced to the Proto-Celtic *kalm.
Chalmette was the location of what is often called The Battle of New Orleans, where United States forces under Colonel Andrew Jackson defeated the British in 1815. The battlefield is preserved as a national monument, and the military Chalmette National Cemetery is adjacent.
On 29 August 2005, the enormous 25-foot (7.6 m) storm surge from Hurricane Katrina came up through the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet(also commonly known as MR-GO) – a little-used commercial channel dug by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1960s – and flooded most of the town, with waters as high as 14 to 15 feet (4.9 m) in some places. As a result, in a matter of hours, Chalmette was entirely destroyed. Fortunately the majority of the population evacuated shortly before the storm hit, but there was still some loss of life for many who had not gotten out.
As of 25 October 2005, most of the buildings were judged to be unsavable. Despite findings published by the EPA, the toxic chemicals in the water from local oil refineries have been postulated to be an ongoing health hazard by several civilian ecological groups. Especially notable was the large oil spill originating in Chalmette’s large Murphy Oil facility, where the storm surge knocked over a huge oil tank (see photo).
The parish administrative headquarters served as the site for a FEMA trailer park for numerous civil servants who were laboring in the rebuilding effort. One year after the storm, parish employees were still working shifts around the clock to bring the community back to life.
Another center in the rebuilding effort was centered at Our Lady of Prompt Succor which served the congregations of the seven other Roman Catholic parishes as well as the main office of Catholic Relief Services. It also served as the only place to hold funerals for the first 12 months after Katrina.
Deputies working for the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff stated in early December 2005 that the oil tank floated in the flood. When the water receded, the tank settled on uneven ground. That is when it lost its structural integrity and the oil spill occurred. By late November, the Murphy facility was back up and running, as was a small cluster of businesses around the intersection of Paris Road and St. Bernard Highway, on the least damaged River side of Chalmette. The devastated residential areas further back from the River were only open during daylight hours for residents to attempt to salvage belongings from their home sites; houses often had been knocked off their foundations, if they survived the storm at all. The majority of people staying in Chalmette full-time were living in trailers, that started to be supplied by FEMA or private enterprise on Oct. 12; although many who had been promised FEMA trailer housing were still waiting as late as March 2006.
"Camp Premier", now "Camp Hope", was established as a base camp for the community rebuilding efforts, facilitating the work of relief organizations, the National Guard and private individuals. As of August 2007, the camp is located to P.G.T. Beauregard Middle School and is operated by Habitat for Humanity to provide shelter, hot showers, laundry service, and hot meals to relief volunteers in St. Bernard Parish. Other relief organizations, such as the St. Bernard Project, have also participated in the rebuilding of Chalmette, from distributing supplies, to clearing debris, to preparing damaged houses for homeowners to return.
The Chalmette Battlefield was also partially flooded in low-lying areas, destroying the Visitor’s Center, which was removed for rebuilding, and temporarily replaced with a house trailer to attempt re-opening the park for visitors in 2006.