Hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster that some have described as biblical in scale and unprecedented as a human tragedy.
“The Storm,” as the locals call it, was the most destructive natural disaster in American history, laying waste to 90,000 square miles of land, an area the size of the United Kingdom.
Before The Storm
As the sheer size of Hurricane Katrina became clear, the National Weather Service’s New Orleans/Baton Rouge office issued an ominously worded emergency alert predicting that many areas throughout the Gulf Coast would be “uninhabitable for weeks” after “devastating damage” caused by Katrina.
Contraflow lane reversal, voluntary, and mandatory evacuations were issued for coastal Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Approximately 1.2 million residents of the Gulf Coast heeded the evacuation orders, after hearing the following cryptic message, and fled their homes.
During The Storm
After making a brief initial landfall over Southeastern Louisiana, Hurricane Katrina made its final landfall near Louisiana/Mississippi state line, passing over the cities of Bay St. Louis and Waveland, Mississippi.
The Storm featured winds in excess of 120 mph and churned up a powerful 27-foot storm surge, which penetrated 6 miles inland, and in some areas up to 12 miles, along bays and rivers; killing close to 300 people and causing billions of dollars in damage to bridges, barges, boats, piers, houses and cars. Thousands were left homeless, destitute, and entombed in mud.
Extreme weather photographers Mike Tice and Jim Reed captured harrowing video footage as the storm surge slammed in Gulfport, Mississippi and ripped through their hotel.
After The Storm
While the coastal Mississippi communities of Bay St. Louis, Biloxi, D’Iberville, Gulfport, Pass Christian, and Waveland Mississippi where completely washed off the map because of the massive storm surge, New Orleans was overwhelmed by flooding.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff described the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as “probably the worst catastrophe, or set of catastrophes,” in the country’s history, referring to the hurricane itself plus the flooding of New Orleans.
Katrina’s storm surge caused 53 different levee breaches in greater New Orleans, submerging eighty percent of the city. The levee breaches and the subsequent flooding were responsible for killing over 700 people.
Survivors and evacuees reported seeing dead bodies lying in city streets and floating in flooded sections of the city well into October. The advanced state of decomposition of many corpses hindered efforts by coroners to identify many of the dead.
In the days following Katrina, residents in New Orleans who “rode out the storm,” resorted to looting stores in search of food, water, and medical supplies. While others took advantage of the situation to loot non-essential items like televisions and tennis shoes.
All told, more than 1,833 people died. The results were tragic loss of life and human suffering on a massive scale, and an undermining of confidence in our governments’ ability to plan, prepare for, and respond to national catastrophes.