When clicking across the digital universe, we like new bells and whistles as much as the next Twitter jockey. But with big multimedia projects, we want to feel the bones of the story undergirding the graphs and demographics. So we’re pleased to select USA Today’s “Five Years Later: Hurricane Katrina” as our latest Notable Narrative.

How do you recap the five years since Katrina hit? By focusing the story and breaking it down. The project sets the scene with a few memories of the storm but moves quickly to what came after: the water, a pulverized cityscape, people seeking refuge in the Superdome. Three sections follow to create a skeletal narrative arc: “Effects,” “Rebuilding” and “Unsettled.” Each section has a handful of parts that weave together still images, video and graphics.

The project minimizes text and uses the wealth of details that pictures provide. Perusing then-and-now images of areas devastated by the storm, stacked for simultaneous viewing — as well as clickable maps that show changes in race, income and education – viewers get beautiful visuals backed with context.

While the bulk of the project addresses the serious challenges created by Katrina (and the oil spill), anyone who has visited New Orleans knows the spirited side of the city. USA Today’s project reflects this in the attention given to music in the aftermath (which we would expect) and a charming bonus – a lagniappe – at the bottom of the main menu.

We meet a lot of characters through short videos that tend to center on topics rather than profile individuals. What emerges is a complex picture of the city: People feel safer but not really safe. Whole neighborhoods rebuild, while elsewhere, empty streets are overtaken by vegetation. The Saints win the Super Bowl, but two months later, an oil spill devastates the Gulf. And if it sometimes feels like a funeral and a party all in one, well, New Orleans knows how to do that, too.

[For more background on the Katrina project, check out our interview with USA Today interactives director Joshua Hatch.]

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