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2005 - Detail
August 29, 2005 - Hurricane Katrina strikes the Gulf Coast, inundating the city of New Orleans with water from Lake Pontchartrain when the levees that maintain the below sea level city break. Over one thousand three hundred people perish from Alabama to Louisiana in one of the worst natural disasters to strike the United States.
It was, in many ways, the largest natural disaster in American history. Today, the toll of destruction counts to $125 billion in damage in 2005 dollars. To put that into context, Hurricane Harvey in 2017 reached the same damage total twelve years later, without accounting for inflation. But, of course, the most devastating damage was to the lives lost, now thought to be more than one thousand eight hundred people, either directly or indirectly caused by the storm, plus the lives devastated of those left behind.
It was a Category Five Hurricane as it churned its path through the Gulf of Mexico. On August 25, the tropical depression strengthened into a hurricane and hit the Florida coast. Landfall weakened the storm, but when it reached the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Katrina intensified, continuously gaining strength until its winds reached one hundred seventy-five miles per hour and its diameter had doubled. Although it had weakened to a Category Three Hurricane by the time it made landfall again in southeast Louisiana and Mississippi on August 29, its size and strength began slamming into the towns and cities within its reach. Gulfport, Mississippi was essentially destroyed. There were fifty breaches in the defense levees that protected New Orleans; Hurricane Katrina devastated it.
Its storm surge created much of the damage, pushing six to twelve miles inland from the beaches in some locations. Hurricane force winds stretched one hundred and twenty-five miles from its center.
Timeline of Hurricane Katrina
August 23, 2005 - Several storms combine near the Bahamas, forming a Tropical Depression that would merge into the Tropical Storm named Katrina the next day.
August 25, 2005 - Katrina strengthens to a Category One Hurricane and makes landfall in Florida at Keating Beach south of Fort Lauderdale. Katrina remains over land for only six hours with sustained winds of 72 mph and gusts to 97 mph.
August 26, 2005 - Katrina loses strength upon reaching the Gulf of Mexico, dropping back to Tropical Storm status for only five hours before its winds gained strength back to hurricane force. Before the day was over, a state of emergency was declared in Louisiana, within the storm's projected path, and federal troops were mobilized. Winds reached Category Two level.
August 27, 2005 - Now a Category Three hurricane, a Federal State of Emergency was declared by President Bush, and evaculations began in some areas of Louisiana.
August 28 2005 - Winds reached one hundred and forty-five miles per hour just after midnight; before morning they reached one hundred and seventy-five miles per hour. It was now a Category Five hurricane, expected to hit the Gulf Coast overnight. President Bush extended his Federal State of Emergency to Alabama and Mississippi. The Superdome was opened to New Orleans residents who could not evacuate; twenty thousand seek refuge there.
August 29, 2005 - Hurricane Katrina makes landfall at 6:10 a.m. CST, now a Category Three hurricane, but has expanded its size with its develping outer eyewall and pushes a storm surge forward. By 9:00 a.m. the lower 9th Ward of New Orleans was under six to eight feet of water. Canal levees were beginning to breach with water rising to ten feet. Over seven thousand National Guard members were deployed to assist in rescue and evacuation. At a buoy sixty miles south of Dauphin Island, the maximum wave height measured was fifty-five feet.
August 30, 2005 - Rescues continue with more residents of New Orleans, an additional fifteen thousand, taking refuge in the Superdome.
August 31, 2005 - While Hurricane Katrina is downgraded to a Tropical Depression, rescue efforts continue, as well as efforts to control looting within the city of New Orleans.
September 1, 2005 - A Federal relief package is passed in Congress, $10.5 billion. Conditions at the Superdome and Convention Center continue to deteriorate. By September 4, there were 273,100 people in various shelters.
By October 5, over one and one half million people have been displaced, with all stranded people in the Superdome relocated. Three million were left without electricity. Three hundred thousand homes were destroyed or significantly damaged. Federal relief efforts, particularly at FEMA, and the handling of the response, have been widely criticized, both at the time and since. While much of the focus centered around the devastation in New Orleans and the surrounding parishes, where there were over fifty breaches of the defensive levee system, significant destruction along the coasts of Mississippi and Alabama would affect those areas as well through the next ten years.
How large was the storm surge? In the area around St. Louis Bay, Mississippi, it is now estimated that the storm surge rose to 24 to 28 feet high, over a twenty mile wide stretch of the coast. The maximum recorded surge was 27.8 feet at Pass Christian. From Gulfport to Pascagoula, the eastern half of the Mississippi Coast, the storm surge rose to 17 to 22 feet. The surge pushed six to twelve miles inland. In western Alabama, the storm surge reached 10 to 15 feet with Mobile Bay experiencing a surge from 8 to 12 feet.
In Louisiana, the storm surge rose 15 to 19 feet in eastern New Orleans, and 10 to 14 feet in western New Orleans. Eighty percent of the city was flooded with up to twenty feet of water. The water would remain in the city for forty-three days, declared removed by the Army Corps of Engineers on October 11, 2005.
In subsequent reviews of the relief efforts of FEMA and other organizations, it was accepted that those efforts were too slow and ineffective, even though personell from FEMA had been present before Hurricane Katrina reached landfall in the Gulf Coast region. In all, FEMA had been unable to effectively manage a disaster of the magnitude of Hurricane Katrina. Thirty-eight recommendations by the Department of Homeland Security were suggested to prevent an similar ineffective handling of a subsequent disaster.
Info source: Report on Hurricane Katrina, National Hurricane Center, December 20, 2005; A Performance Review of FEMA's Disaster Management Activities in Response to Hurricane Katrina, Department of Homeland Security, March 2006; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; National Weather Service; Wikipedia Commons. Photo source above: Image of Hurricane Katrina from Google Earth on August 28, 2005. Courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Below: Damage from Hurricane Katrina in Long Beach, Mississippi, September 6, 2005. Courtesy Federal Emergency Management Agency.
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