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The Storm of the Century

Flickr Photo by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Where were you on this date in 2005? If you were in New Orleans, Louisiana you’d be bracing for the worst natural disaster in United States history — Hurricane Katrina. The storm made landfall in Florida on August 25th as a Category 1 hurricane. The warm gulf waters helped increase the storm’s intensity and it brought devastating damage to the city of New Orleans as well as cities and towns along the Mississippi and Alabama coastlines.

New Orleans Evacuation

Although Mayor Ray Nagin ordered a mandatory evacuation of the city two days earlier, 150,000 people decided to stay put and ride out the storm. Katrina briefly reached Category 5 status bringing 145-mile winds that destroyed homes, power lines and tossed cars in the air like toys. The city of New Orleans is six feet below sea level and was protected by levees. But the storm surge overwhelmed the levees and flooded 80 percent of the city up to rooftops of homes and small buildings. The storm created 36 tornadoes that added to the storm damage in Mississippi, Georgia, and Virginia and as far north as Pennsylvania.

Louisiana Superdome and Convention Center

We all remember the horror stories coming out of New Orleans about those seeking refuse in the Superdome and Convention Center. No food or water, toilet facilities backing up from flooded sewer lines, rapes, theft, and heat lead to mounting frustration and considerable negative press toward relief efforts.

It took two days for full-scale relief efforts to begin while stranded citizens suffered from the heat and lack of available medical care. News reports revealed that the vast majority of those affected by the storm were poor blacks who were living in New Orleans 9th Ward.

FEMA

President George W. Bush and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) head Michael Brown were severally criticized for their slow response to the storm. Brown eventually resigned his position with FEMA.

On September 1, four days after the storm, tens of thousands were transported to the Huston Astrodome in Texas. Another mandatory evacuation order was issued for New Orleans and the National Guard was sent in to restore order and stop the crime and looting that was taking place throughout the city.

The Aftermath

On September 6, the three holes in the levees had been repaired by the Army Corps of Engineers and they started pumping the flood waters out of the city.  Police and emergency personnel began the long task of collecting and identifying the dead.

Hurricane Katrina left 1,300 dead and displaced one million people. Only the Great Depression of the 1920’s and 30’s had such a profound affect on so many people.

Four hundred thousand people lost their jobs due to the storm. Over $150 billion dollars in damage to both private property and public infrastructure were claimed. Unfortunately only about $40 billion was covered by insurance. President Bush set aside September 16th as a day of remembrance for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Some Final Thoughts

Private citizens donated over $600 million for the relief efforts. There were also donations from unlikely places like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

It’s often said we are at our best when our backs are against the wall. There was no greater demonstration of that resolve than we saw from the citizens affected by this horrific event. Most of us can’t fathom what it would be like to lose everything and to be forced to start over with no home, job or future prospects. Especially those with limited job skills.

Could things have been better for these victims? Of course. But from every adversity we learn what should have been done and hopefully learn from our mistakes. Hurricane Sandy also had its problems but thanks to the lessons of Katrina people were helped in a shorter period of time. This will not be the last natural disaster we experience. Storms, fires, floods and earthquakes are always going to be with us. We prepare as well as we can. How prepared are you for a natural disaster?

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