Many people remember seeing the images of the Hurricane Katrina storm surge rage through New Orleans several years ago while watching the TV from the comfort of their homes. This event took place on August 29, 2005, and it is among the most damaging and deadly events of its kind. While many watched the events unfold on TV, many others lived through the event firsthand. As publicized as this event was, many people are not fully aware of the actual facts surrounding the Hurricane Katrina storm surge. By analyzing the facts of the event, you may gain more insight about what actually happened.
Hurricane Katrina Storm Surge Facts
A Mandatory Evacuation Order Was Issued for New Orleans
The day before the Hurricane Katrina storm surge hit New Orleans, the city’s mayor, Ray Nagin, issued a mandatory evacuation order. This was the first mandatory order of its kind. Approximately 80 percent of the city’s population had followed the mayor’s instructions and had evacuated by the evening hours. He also set up the Superdome as a refugee area for those who could not leave the city. With a population of close to 500,000 residents, approximately 112,000 could not gain access to a car. This included the disabled, elderly and impoverished citizens. However, only 10,000 initially sought refuge in the Superdome. Most others decided to remain in their homes despite the mandatory evacuation order.
The Storm Surge Was Intense and Rapid
The hurricane initially hit the coast of Louisiana early in the morning on August 29. You may be aware that the levees that kept storm surges out of the inhabited areas were breached during the Hurricane Katrina storm surge. You may not be aware that by only 9 AM that morning, many of the levees had been breached, and water was rapidly surging into the area.
Many miles from the coastline, the water level was so high that residents who decided to remain in their homes had to climb on top of the roofs of their home. In fact, it is estimated that more than 80 percent of the area was under water by this time. The residents who remained in their homes essentially were trapped and urgently needed help from first responders.
The Storm Weakened before Hitting Louisiana
Hurricane Katrina rolled through the Gulf Coast during a very active hurricane season. The hurricane originally struck Florida on August 26 as it made its way into the Gulf of Mexico. At that time, it was a weak Category 1 hurricane. It caused two deaths in Florida and moderate property damage.
Because of how active the hurricane season was, this hurricane did not initially receive much attention. However, Hurricane Katrina stalled in the Gulf of Mexico. As it churned, it grew to a massive Category 5 hurricane on August 28. On that day, the National Weather Service stated that there would be tremendous damage throughout the Gulf Coast region and that many areas may be uninhabitable for days.
The storm actually weakened to a Category 3 hurricane before it hit New Orleans head on. While the hurricane damage was moderate, the real impact of the storm came from the devastating Hurricane Katrina storm surge that took place because the levees broke.
The Death Toll Could Have Been Much Worse
Hitting the coast as a Category 3 hurricane, the storm weakened quickly. Within six hours, it was downgraded to a tropical storm. However, the aftermath of the storm was chaotic and deadly. Approximately 1,833 people lost their lives because of this hurricane. The storm surge was as high as 28 feet in some areas.
As deadly as this storm was, it is important to note that it could have been much worse. For example, the storm increased in size rather quickly, and the mayor acted rapidly to issue the mandatory evacuation order. The majority of the city’s residents followed the order. If these two factors were not in place, the death toll may have been exponentially higher. Furthermore, if the storm had struck land as a Category 5 hurricane and if it had not weakened so quickly, the devastation may have been much more significant and widespread.
The Controversy Surrounding the Hurricane Continues
While this storm hit ground more than a decade ago, many people still feel its effects and hold resentment over certain aspects of the event. For example, the levees were breached because of incompetence by the Army Corps of Engineers that built them. Furthermore, everyone from the FEMA director to the national, state and local governments were criticized for responding slowly in providing assistance to the victims. There was even an investigation into the matter by the U.S. House of Representatives, and they ultimately determined that there was a failure of initiative in this matter.
While more than 300,000 residents have moved away from New Orleans since the hurricane, the city has improved in many areas. For example, new levees have been built that are now taller; they are implanted as much as 65 feet into the ground for stability. There are also better plans in place to assist with removing the elderly and disabled from the city when an evacuation is issued. Nonetheless, the city continues to be rebuilt, and as long as signs of the devastation remain, the controversy surrounding the storm remains.
When a devastating event such as the Hurricane Katrina storm surge hits, mass casualties often cause people to point fingers. However, it is important to note that there was a huge relief effort that continued on for years to help the victims of this tragedy. This includes an initial response from the American Red Cross, the Coast Guard, FEMA and others. It also includes FEMA housing and relocation assistance for those who needed long-term support after the incident. Some are continuing to rebuild their lives, and the lessons learned from this event may prevent future tragedies from occurring.