Five years after the most devastating Hurricane ever to hit the United States and the massive destruction that followed, an exhibit has opened at the Louisiana State Museum documenting that destruction.

"Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond," a $7.5 million, 6,700 square-foot exhibit on the ground floor of the historic Presbytere in the French Quarter's Jackson Square tells the stories of real people caught in the hurricane's wrath. It documents their rescue, recovery, rebuilding and renewal of New Orleans in a way certain to move both those who survived the storms of 2005 and those who watched the events unfold on TV.

Combining eyewitness accounts, historical context, immersive environments and in-depth scientific exploration, "Katrina and Beyond" enables visitors to understand the 2005 storms, Katrina and Rita, and their impact on Louisiana, the Gulf Coast and the nation. It is a story of how a culture – the rich, varied world of New Orleans and coastal Louisiana – has learned to live with the fragility of its environment and how the storms of 2005 gave rise to a new vision for the region.

When it hit southeastern Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf Coast on the morning of August 29, 2005, the storm caused fearsome destruction. But the disaster wasn't entirely the result of natural causes. Levees and floodwalls – the man-made barriers built to protect New Orleans from the water surrounding it – failed. Their collapse in a dozen or more locations, plus tidal surges from the the low-lying eastern edge of New Orleans, flooded 80 percent of the city. By the time the waters receded and the survivors regrouped, Katrina, and then Hurricane Rita, had claimed more than 1,400 lives and caused billions of dollars worth of property destruction.

Designed by the Boston-based firm ExperienceDesign that worked with the Museum's historians, curators and exhibit designers, "Living with Hurricanes" stretches across four galleries, each telling one aspect of the story using artifacts and rich media – sound, video and computer graphics.

Gallery One illustrates Louisiana's history with water, from the Mississippi River's benefits to the threats of coastal storm surges and floods. Visitors will move through the "Evacuation Corridor," overhearing residents' voices weighing their options as Katrina approaches. A state of the art "Storm Theater" shows Katrina's full fury with moving and dramatic footage of the hurricane's onslaught.

Gallery Two takes visitors past a leaking floodwall and into an attic and onto a roof of a house surrounded by rising floodwaters where they can view the inundated city surrounding them. They'll hear a firsthand account of a St. Bernard Parish family's rescue and view artifacts, histories and photographs.