Saturday, August 29, 2015

Today in American History: Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans 08/29/2005

 Today in American History, August 29th, 2005, Hurricane Katrina officially makes landfall in New Orleans.  This is the 10th Anniversary.  What would follow over the next few days would go down in history as one of the worst natural disasters and one of the most questioned series of events in American history.  Did the government react appropriately?  Was FEMA prepared for a disaster of this magnitude?  Questions such of these will be asked and ruminated over for a very long time.
Hurricane Katrina just before landfall in New Orleans
Katrina originated over the Bahamas on August 23rd and quickly intensified from a tropical depression into a tropical storm.  It made landfall in the east coast of Florida by August 25th and tore a gash into the state, moving quickily into the Gulf of Mexico by August 26th and towards its fate in New Orleans.  Over the next two days, what had been a category 3 hurricane intensified to a category 5 hurricane over the Gulf.  Although it seems ironic to say it, thankfully, Hurricane Katrina weakened back to a category 3 hurricane before it made landfall -- striking the city of New Orleans with the full force of its power on at 7:10am on August 29th, 2005.

Louisiana's hurricane evacuation plan calls for local governments in areas along and near the coast to evacuate in three phases, starting with the immediate coat 50 hours before the start of a tropical storm and then moving inland in 10 hour increments.  When Katrina started making its way across Florida, nothing happened in New Orleans.  Many people criticize the local authorities because the private care facilities relied on private companies to move people -- as did many other areas in the city.  And because the evacuation wasn't signaled on this schedule, it was too late by the time heavy winds and rain hit the city.  As early as August 26th, the city was considering the potential for a major event to hit the city -- but they waited.  It was not until 10AM on August 28th, less than 24 hours before Katrina would hit the city with its full force, did New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin order an evacuation of the city's almost 500,000 people.  When you consider the surrounding area of New Orleans, that number of people to be
Superdome Refuge Center
evacuated in less than 24 hours climbs to 1.3 million.  An impossible task.  The city recognized that there simply was no practical way to evacuate everyone, so in an effort to combat their error a number of refuge sites were set up within the city.  As great as this "best effort" was, the city made little to no effort to help people get to these refugee sites.  As an example, the Superdome is estimated to have sheltered 26,000 people, giving them food and water at the same time.  The Superdome seating capacity in 2005 was just under 70,000 people for a football game.  And since there was no power or water pressure during the storm, there were no working bathroom facilities.  It is also worth mentioning that the Superdome itself sustained substantial damage from Katrina, with sections of the roof pulling off and exposing the field area to the elements -- and 10% of the roof structure was considered unstable.

By 7:40am the Hyatt Regency in New Orleans had every window blown out.  The major issue in New Orleans stemmed from the fact that the city actually sits below sea level.  The federal government had constructed a series of levees that were built to protect the city from storms just like Katrina.  These were built to move water quickly around the city to locations in the surrounding wetlands to absorb water, and reduce the impact of flooding.  However, because of the decimation of the wetlands surrounding New Orleans by the federal government, and the rerouting of the levee system -- the system was woefully inadequate for a storm of this magnitude.  Katrina's storm surge cause 53 levees to breach in the system surrounding New Orleans.  And ultimately, the 40 Arpent Canal
40 Arpent Canal in 2010
levee which led to the flooding in the Saint Bernard Parish and swept through some of the worst devastation in New Orleans.  By the time all was said and done, nearly every levee in the metro New Orleans area was either breached or ultimately failed.  One of the worst was the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet levee system which breached in 20 different places, allowing the water to flow directly from the gulf into the city.  Most of the major roads were quickly not navigable, and seriously damaged including portions of the I-10 heading east completely collapsing.  Within hours only the westbound Crescent City Connection and Huey P Long Bridge were the only ways in and out of New Orleans.  

Deaths began to be reported before landfall, just after midnight on August 28th.  Nursing home patients died during transit in an attempted evacuation to Baton Rouge, most likely from dehydration.  While hundred thousands of others struggled to find safe haven or evacuate, there were large reports of death at the Superdome.  However, officially only six people died at the Superdome -- one of which was confirmed as a drug overdose and another a suicide.  Four other deaths were reported at the Convention Center -- one of which was a homicide.  Among those who are not counted were prisoners in the prison.  There is compelling evidence that prisoners were simply abandoned in their cells as guards ran for safety.  Almost one thousand prisoners are listed as "unaccounted for" -- but not listed as dead.  None of what I've detailed speaks to those who never got out of their homes.  Those who were left to die by the local governments because of their bad decisions, and poor planning.  It is estimated that up to 40% of dog owners refused to leave their canine companions behind when the city said that their pets could not
I don't think I need to caption this...
be evacuated.  However, many more dogs were left by their owners.  It is estimated that thousands of dogs were abandoned and ultimately died.  By 2010, the city was overrun with wild dogs because of the storm.  Here is a great article by Modern Dog Magazine about the Dogs of Katrina.  I could go on about the misery of the residents of the area... this part of the story never ends.  But search the web for it, many others have done a much better job then i could ever do on the subject.

The failure of the New Orleans levee system resulted in over 80% of the land area in the New Orleans Metropolitan area being under water.  Hurricane Katrina left 1,245 people officially dead (not accounting for many others who likely died and were unknown), making it the deadliest hurricane since the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane.  Katrina left an estimated $108 billion dollars in damage, roughly four times that of Hurricane Andrew in 1992.  It is considered the worst civil engineering disaster in American history and prompted a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who designed, built and maintained the system.  The storm that formed on August 23rd, 2005 and ultimately dissipated on August 31st -- lasted 8 days in real time, but impacted the lives of millions forever.

The Devastation of Katrina...

A look at the flooding...
Below this text are links to some sources on Katrina... I highly recommend these three to learn more about the storm, its impact on New Orleans (and Mississippi and Florida) and Dark Water Rising is a compelling documentary on the dogs of Katrina.

Bruce holds a degree in Computer Science from Temple University, a Graduate Certificate in Biblical History from Liberty University and is working towards a Masters Degree in American History at American Public University.  He has worked in educational and technology for over 18 years, specializes in building infrastructures for schools that work to support the mission of technology in education in the classroom.  He also has served as a classroom teacher in Computer Science, History and English classes.  

Bruce is the author of five books: Sands of TimeTowering Pines Volume One:Room 509The Star of ChristmasPhiladelphia Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel and The Insider's Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel -- with a new book, Learn the Basics: Digital Forensics, due soon. 

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