Chalmette is a census-designated place (CDP) in and the parish seat of St. Bernard Parish, in southeast Louisiana, United States. The 2010 census reported that Chalmette had 16,751 people and is 76 percent white. The 2011 population is listed as 17,119; however, the pre-Katrina population was 32,069 at the 2000 census. The population hence declined by 46 percent between 2000 and 2010. Chalmette is part of the New Orleans–Metairie–Kenner Metropolitan Statistical Area. Chalmette is located east of downtown New Orleans and south of Arabi, Louisiana, towards Lake Borgne.
The community was named after plantation owner I. Martin de Lino de Chalmette, whose surname is, in turn, derived from the French word "chalmette" (meaning "pasture land, fallow land") and has been traced to the Proto-Celtic word "*kalm".
Chalmette was the location of what is often called The Battle of New Orleans, where United States forces under Major General Andrew Jackson defeated the British, led by brevet Lieutenant General Sir Edward Pakenham in January 1815. The battlefield is preserved as a national monument, and the military Chalmette National Cemetery is adjacent.
On 29 August 2005, the storm surge from Hurricane Katrina overflowed through the Mississippi River – Gulf Outlet Canal (also commonly known as MRGO) - a commercial channel dug by the United States 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, Chalmette was extensively swamped and nearly destroyed. A majority of the population evacuated shortly before the storm hit, but there was still significant loss of life.
As of 25 October 2005, most of the buildings were deemed unsaveable. Despite findings published by the U.S. 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 below).
headquarters served as the site for a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailer park for numerous civil servants who were laboring in the rebuilding effort. A year later, 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 the church of 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.
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 2007.
St. Bernard Parish has celebrated Mardi Gras with parades in Chalmette. In February 2006, the krewe of the Knights of Nemesis held a parade, past many buildings still in ruins, along the streets of Chalmette.
As of early 2008, many businesses have returned to the area, schools have reopened, although the population remains significantly below pre-Katrina levels.
Due to Hurricane Katrina, the St. Bernard Parish School Board succeeded in getting a school open despite considerable difficulties, including telling FEMA that it would not wait for the agency. The parish opened the St. Bernard Unified School as a K-12 school in late 2005.
With the opening of the 2006-2007 school year, the Unified school reverted to Chalmette High School and now houses grades 8-12. The former Andrew Jackson High School has been repaired and now houses grades PK3-5. Trist Middle School houses grades 6 through 7.
The Catholic and private school sector was lost to Katrina. The archdiocese of New Orleans has consolidated all local schools into one, on the Our Lady of Prompt Succor campus. It has grades PK-8.