Four propositions drawn from 60 years of natural hazard and reconstruction research provide a comparative and historical perspective on the reconstruction of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Decisions taken over its 288-year history that have made New Orleans so vulnerable to Katrina reflect a long-term pattern of societal response to hazard events-reducing consequences to relatively frequent events, and increasing vulnerability to very large and rare events. Thus Katrina's consequences for New Orleans were truly catastrophic-accounting for most of the estimated 1,570 deaths of Louisiana residents and 40-50 billion in monetary losses. A comparative sequence and timing of recovery provides a calendar of historical experience against which to gauge progress in reconstruction. Using this calendar, the emergency postdisaster period appears to be longer in duration than that of any other studied disaster. The restoration period, the time taken to restore urban services for the smaller population, is in keeping with or ahead of historical experience. The effort to reconstruct the physical environment and urban infrastructure is likely to take 8-11 years. Conflicting policy goals for reconstruction of rapid recovery, safety, betterment, and equity are already evident. Actions taken demonstrate the rush to rebuild the familiar in contrast to planning efforts that emphasize betterment. Because disasters tend to accelerate existing economic, social, and political trends, the large losses in housing, population, and employment after Katrina are likely to persist and, at best, only partly recover. However, the possibility of breaking free of this gloomy trajectory is feasible and has some historical precedent.