Remembering Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina has made the news on August 23-31, 2005 as a Category 5 Atlantic Hurricane that cost a thousand fatalities and damage costing $125 billion. It was tied as the costliest natural disaster in US history.

It was first monitored on August 23, as a tropical depression. Over the next two days, the designation of Hurricane Katrina was detected and it made landfall between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Florida as a Category 1 hurricane. It then rapidly intensified as it passes the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  The next afternoon, Katrina became one of the strongest Atlantic storms on record and made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane on the 29th of August. A storm surge of more than 26 feet high occurred slamming the coastal areas of Gulfport and the Mississippi rivers.

In New Orleans, officials believed they have dodged a bullet for missing Katrina’s direct hit of intense winds. Not long after, the levee system broke due to Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge. By the afternoon of August 29, 20% of the city was underwater. A mandatory evacuation was then ordered by New Orleans’ mayor. As the levee system continued to give way, the remaining residents who were not able to leave their homes dealt with a city that is 80% underwater by August 30, 2005.

There were shortages of food and clean water which caused some lootings in the neighborhoods. It was not until September 2 that military presence was provided to mobilize the distribution of food and water.  As recovery began, donations from other countries were coming in and the levees were rebuilt. The population of New Orleans then fell by 29% between the fall of 2005 and 2011.

A decade after, flaws in the construction of the levees and flood protection system were acknowledged.  Since then, New Orleans allocated $15 billion in federal funds to increase the heights of earthen berms and upgrade the floodwalls and floodgates. The city was successful in making improvements with its defenses as it held the Category 4 Hurricane Ida in August 2021.

by Cheryl Hawkins

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