Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 was one of the strongest and most devastating storms to impact the coast of the United States during the last 1 years. With sustained winds during landfall of 125 mph (110 kts) (a strong category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale) and minimum central pressure the third lowest on record at landfall (920 mb), Katrina caused widespread devastation along the central Gulf Coast states of the U.S., with the cities of New Orleans, Louisiana, Mobile, Alabama, and Gulfport, Mississippi bearing the brunt of Katrina's force, which caused $81.2 billion in damage.
The tropical storm
Tropical Storm Katrina developed initially as a tropical depression (TD #12 of the season) in the southeastern Bahamas on August 23rd. This tropical depression strengthened into Tropical Storm Katrina the next day. It then moved slowly along a northwesterly then westerly track through the Bahamas, increasing in strength during this time. A few hours before landfall in south Florida at around 6.30 EDT on August 25th, Katrina strengthened to become a category 1 (wind speeds of 75mph or greater) tropical storm. Landfall occurred between Hallandale Beach and North Miami Beach, Florida, with wind speeds of approximately 80 mph (70 kts). Gusts of above 90 mph (78 kts) were measured as Katrina came ashore. As the storm moved southwest across the tip of the Florida peninsula, Katrina's winds decreased slightly before regaining hurricane strength in the Gulf of Mexico. Given that Katrina spent only seven hours over land, its strength was not significantly diminished and it quickly re-intensified shortly after moving over the warm waters of the Gulf.
Katrina moved almost due westward after entering the Gulf of Mexico. A mid-level ridge centered over Texas weakened and moved westward allowing Katrina to gradually turn to the northwest and then north into the weakness in the ridging over the days that followed. Atmospheric and sea-surface conditions (an upper level anticyclone over the Gulf and warm SSTs) were conducive to cyclone's rapid intensification, which lead to Katrina attaining 'major hurricane' status on the afternoon of the 26th.
Continuing to strengthen and move northwards during the next 48 hours, Katrina reached maximum wind speeds on the morning of Sunday August 28th of over 170 mph (150 kts, category 5), and its minimum central pressure dropped that afternoon to 902 mb - the 4th lowest on record for an Atlantic storm. Although Katrina, at its peak strength was comparable to Camille's intensity, it was a significantly larger storm and impacted a broader area of the Gulf coast.
Although tropical cyclones of category 5 strength are rarely sustained for long durations (due to internal dynamics), Katrina remained a strong category 4 strength hurricane despite the entrainment of dryer air and an opening of the eyewall to the south and southwest before landfall on the morning of the 29th. Landfalling wind speeds at Grand Isle, Louisiana were approximately 125 mph (110 kts) (strong category 3 intensity) with a central pressure of 920mb - the 3rd lowest on record for a landfalling Atlantic storm in the US. Rainfall amounts for Louisiana and along the Gulf are described below along with other impacts of the storms.
Rain, wind, and storm surge
During its initial landfall in southern Florida, Katrina generated over 5 inches of rainfall across a large area of southeastern Florida. An analysis by NOAA's Climate Prediction Center shows that parts of the region received heavy rainfall, over 15 inches in some locations, which caused localized flooding.
Winds at landfall north of Miami were 80 mph (category 1 strength), leading to some damage and extensive power outages.
Rainfall from Katrina's outer bands began affecting the Gulf coast well before landfall. As Katrina came ashore on August 29th, rainfall exceeded rates of 1 inch/hour across a large area of the coast. NOAA's Climate Reference Network Station in Newton, MS (60 miles east of Jackson, Mississippi) measured rainfall rates of over an inch an hour for 3 consecutive hours, with rates of over 0.5 in/hr for 5 hours during August 29th. Precipitation analysis from NOAA's Climate Prediction Center show that rainfall accumulations exceeded 8-10 inches along much of the hurricane's path and to the east of the track.
Wind speeds over 140 mph were recorded at landfall in southeastern Louisiana while winds gusted to over 100 mph in New Orleans, just west of the eye. As the hurricane made its second landfall on the Mississippi/Louisiana border, wind speeds were approximately 110 kts (125 mph). Gusts of over 80mph were recorded in Mobile and 90 mph in Biloxi, Mississippi.
The central pressure at landfall was 920 mb, which ranked 3rd lowest on record for U.S.-landfalling storms behind Camille (August 17, 1969, 909 mb) and the Labor Day hurricane that struck the Florida Keys on September 2, 1935 (892 mb). Hurricane Andrew in 1992 dropped to fourth, as its central pressure was 922 mb at landfall. Katrina also reached a minimum central pressure of 902 mb at its peak, ranking 4th lowest on record for all Atlantic basin hurricanes.
As the storm moved inland and weakened to a tropical storm on the 29th, rainfall became the primary impact. Rainfall amounts exceeded 2-4 inches across a large area from the Gulf coast to the Ohio Valley. As a result, flood watches and warnings were common across these regions. Rain bands from Katrina also produced tornadoes causing further damage in areas such as Georgia.
Loss of Life
From the Gulf states (principally Louisiana and Mississippi), the loss of life is estimated to be 1,836 people. It is clearly one of the most devastating natural disasters in recent US history. From Katrina's first landfall in Florida, while it was at category one strength, initial estimates suggest 11 deaths resulted.
The loss of life and property damage was worsened by breaks in the levees that separate New Orleans from surrounding lakes. At least 80% of New Orleans was under flood water on August 31st, largely as a result of levee failures from Lake Pontchartrain. The combination of strong winds, heavy rainfall and storm surge led to breaks in the earthen levee after the storm passed, leaving some parts of New Orleans under 20 feet of water. Storm surge from Mobile Bay led to inundation of Mobile, Alabama causing imposition of a dusk-to-dawn curfew for the City. Large portions of Biloxi and Gulfport, Mississippi were underwater as a result of a 20 to 30+ foot storm surge which flooded the cities.
A major economic impact for the nation was the disruption to the oil industry from Katrina. Preliminary estimates from the Mineral Management Service suggest that oil production in the Gulf of Mexico was reduced by 1.4 million barrels per day (or 95 % of the daily Gulf of Mexico production) as a result of the hurricane. Gasoline had reached a record high price-per-gallon as of Monday August 30th with concerns over refinery capacity apparently driving the increase.
In addition, the hurricane caused 44 oil spills in Southeast Louisiana, totaling approximately 7 million gallons. The vast majority of oil spilled was from on-shore industrial plants and above ground storage depots plus other facilities. Damage to pipelines and oil platforms was very significant. 45 oil platforms were destroyed and 54 pipelines were damaged (10" or larger).  70 oil spills (one barrel or larger) totaling over 11,000 gallons of crude oil and other refined products were reported. 211 minor pollution incidents were also reported. Minor pollution incidents are categorized as incidents involving less than 500 barrels of oil that do not reach the coast line. No significant spills from any offshore wells were reported. 
Over 1.7 million people lost power as a result of the storm in the Gulf states, with power companies estimating that it would take more than several weeks to restore power to some locations. Drinking water was also unavailable in New Orleans due to a broken water main that serves the city. Power was lost to 1.3 million customers in southeastern Florida from the initial landfall on August 24th.
Both of New Orleans' airports were flooded and closed on August 30th and bridges of Interstate 10 leading east out of the city were destroyed. Most of the coastal highways along the Gulf were impassable in places and most minor roads near the shore were still underwater or covered in debris as of August 30th. Katrina also disrupted travel as it headed inland, with more than 2 inches of rain falling across a large area from the coast to parts of Ohio during the 48 hours after Katrina made landfall.
An August 2008 report by Oxfam America showed that while progress has taken place, it is behind expectations, and that much work remains to be done:
- More than 35,000 individuals are still living in FEMA trailers in the Gulf Coast
- Only 12 percent of African-American evacuees who returned to New Orleans after the hurricanes were able to find work, compared with 45 percent of white evacuees
- In Louisiana 82,000 apartments were damaged or destroyed by Katrina and Rita, but the highest official estimate proposes to replace only about 25,000 affordable units
- In Mississippi, federal money that was mandated for use in rebuilding low-income housing was, instead, diverted to improving the shipyards in Biloxi
- Compliance with federal labor laws has been ignored, with frequent occurrences of safety and health violations, wage theft and exploitative treatment of immigrant workers.
The disaster fueled partisan criticism of the response of federal officials, causing significant political damage to the administration of President George W. Bush. In particular, deaths of 1,836 people were rather pointedly blamed on President Bush and his appointees, on the grounds that their response was "too little, late."
Independent sociological studies have shown that nearly all the deaths were due to people waiting too long to obey the evacuation orders. Also, the Democratic governor and Democratic mayor refused (for as long as it was politically viable) to accept federal help. Internally, resources such as school buses were simply abandoned instead of being used to shuttle out the economically disadvantaged residents of New Orleans lower 9th ward.
Integrating these two versions above and below:
Katrina, refers to both the Hurricane that hit the Gulf Coast region of the United States during the end of August 2005 and the aftermath existed in the months following the storm.
Hurricane Katrina was one of the worst natural disasters that hit the United States. However it did not just impact the US as it also hit the Bahamas and Cuba.
Dates and events
- August 23, 2005 Katrina forms in the Atlantic west of the Bahamas as Tropical Depression 10
- August 24, 2005 Tropical Depression 10 becomes a named storm as it is upgraded to Tropical Storm Katrina
- August 25, 2005 Hurricane Katrina (category 1) makes landfall for the first time on Florida, it has already claimed lives in the Bahamas and caused flooding in Nassau. It kills 14 in Florida.
- August 26, 2005 After losing some intensity over Florida Katrina again reaches hurricane strength as it enters the Gulf of Mexico. Katrina causes flooding in Cuba causing 8,000 people to flee flooded homes and puts the city of Surgidero de Batabano 90% under water.
- August 27, 2005 After reaching category 3 Katrina stalls briefly allowing it to double in size over the warm Gulf waters. Warnings by the director of the National Hurricane Center go to both President Bush and Mayor Ray Nagin in New Orleans.
- August 28, 2005 First issuing only a voluntary evacuation then switching to a mandatory evacuation later allows one million residents of New Orleans and surrounding parishes to flee before the hurricane. However an estimated 100,000 remain trapped in the city, many in crowded shelters like the Superdome and Convention Center.
- August 29, 2005 Hurricane Katrina diminishes to category 3 as it makes landfall for second time at Baras-Triumph, Louisiana. The storm surge stresses a poorly designed levee and canal system causing upward of fifty failures. Much of the French Quarter and the poor Ninth Ward of New Orleans are flooded. Katrina crosses Louisiana and heads back to sea crossing the Breton Sound before making landfall at the Lousiana/Mississipi state line still a category 3 storm. It remains a powerful hurricane for 150 miles inland as it devastates Mississippi and Alabama.
- August 30, 2005 Katrina still punishes the US as it causes flooding in Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio before it is downgraded again to a Tropical Depression while over Clarksville, Tennessee. Meanwhile civil unrest is hampering search and rescue efforts in Louisiana, particularly in New Orleans. Police join in the looting of stores, 1/3rd of New Orleans police have abandoned their posts, some taking their squad cars as they fled.
- August 31, 2005 Katrina is absorbed by frontal boundary becoming an extratropical storm that damages New York and eastern Canada. In flooded areas FEMA response is slow and communcations between levels of government strained. New Orleans Mayor Nagin orders the police to abandon search and rescue efforts and turn full time to restoring order. Curfews are imposed and a state of emergency declared basically imposing martial law type regulations. Police begin to go door to door not to help residents but to confiscate guns.
- September 1, 2005 About 6,500 Louisiana National Guard troops arrive to assist in restoring order but much of their equipment was damaged or lost due to the hurricane.
- September 2, 2005 Mayor Nagin requests 40,000 more troops, more than the State of Louisiana has. Police and troops, both National Guard and federal, respond despite legal limitations on their authority to act. Police are deputized under mutual aid commitments but outside troops are not authorized under the Posse Commitatus Act to bear arms and allegedly only offer disaster relief but they are seen on patrols of city streets, some armed. Stories circulate of gunfights between troops and looters. A triage center is set up at the airport to transport patients from the hospitals.
- September 3, 2005 Evacuation efforts at the major shelters is still underway though 42,000 are evacuated from the city.
- September 4, 2005 The Superdome and Convention Center shelters are finally completely evacuated though many people remain trapped in hotels, private shelters and homes.
- September 6, 2005 Mayor Nagin, citing continued unrest and health concerns from the polluted flood waters orders a forced evacuation of the city. It is ignored by many of the homeowners who are protecting their property.
- September 9, 2005 The National Guard troops now go house to house evicting remaining residents by force.
- Mid-September 2005 City residents were allowed to return to non-flooded areas as services are slowly restored.
- Three countries were hit by Hurricane Katrina, the United States, the Bahamas and Cuba
- Deaths were reported in the Bahamas and Florida due to Katrina from the first landfall
- Total deaths in the US are reported as 1,836 with 705 still reported as missing and feared dead
- 900,000 square miles was declared a disaster area in the US due to Katrina, an area almost as large as the United Kingdom
- Damages in the US are estimated at $81.2 billion making Katrina the costliest natural disaster in US history
- During the evacuation patients in a private nursing home were abandoned by the staff, all drowned.
- Insufficient security was assigned to public shelters and hospitals.
- The American Society of Civil Engineers call the 53 canal and levee breaches the worst engineering disaster in history.
- FEMA chief Michael Brown was forced to resign due to the poor response to the disaster by his agency.
- Louisiana Governor Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Nagin are both criticized for their handling of the disaster, both point fingers at each other and at federal authorities. Mayor Nagin is found to have overstepped his authority by ordering a blanket confiscation of citizens' guns. Laws are passed to prevent future gun confiscations in Louisiana.
- New Orleans Police are heavily criticized for abandoning their jobs. One third fled during the evacuations, many with police cars and these are charged with auto theft. Some were videotaped by media looting a Wal-Mart store. Others refused to help survivors, one stranded tourist was told, "Go to Hell, it's every man for himself."
- LEOs from other jurisdictions also came under criticism for their refusal to assist survivors. Officers from the Greta P.D., Crescent City Connections Police and Jefferson Parish Sheriffs deputies set up a roadblock turning back evacuees from New Orleans by gunpoint on the pretense of preventing looting from spilling over into their jurisdictions.
- National Guard are federal troops when not operating as state militia in their home state. This was alleged to be a violation of the Posse Comitatus Act which has been severely eroded in recent years. No enforcement of the Act or legal opinions were made by the Bush Administration over this and the presence of federal troops though the latter were allegedly unarmed and only in a rescue and relief capacity according to authorities.
Lessons for Survivors
- Always keep at least 1/4th of a tank of fuel in your bug-out vehicle and store extra fuel and cash if possible. At least enough to get you out of the danger zone. Gas stations were overwhelmed by people wanting to top up. Profiteers jacked prices up as demand soared. Some cars were abandoned by the side of the freeway as people ran out of gas while stalled in congested traffic.
- Keep an evacuation plan in case you have to bug out. Do not wait until the government comes and drags you out of your home at bayonet point.
- Avoid large public shelters as they likely will prohibit weapons and lack security. Numerous assaults were reported at the Superdome and Convention Center, two confirmed rapes occurred at the former and one confirmed murder occurred at the latter shelter.
- Avoid hospitals unless you are seriously hurt. They will be surged by people wanting help and unless you are in need of serious help they will give you a low priority. They are also the target of thugs who may want drugs or just to commit crimes. Tulane University Hospital was attacked by gunmen in boats armed with automatic weapons. Fortunately they were repelled by security and hospital staff.
- Never rely solely on government to come rescue you. Plan on self-rescue and mutual assistance from your neighbors. Start planning with them now. Join or form a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and get trained.
- Use alternative energy sources such as solar lawn lights and battery powered work lights to keep your street lit at night to show that you are there and watching out for the neighborhood. Avoid standing in the light to avoid becoming a target yourself.
- Streets that set up their own armed neighborhood watches were pretty much left alone. Some included elderly grandmothers with ancient revolvers sitting on their porches but this was enough to deter most bad guys. At least until the government came and confiscated their guns. If that happens, bug-out rather than fight the police or National Guard as they will win.
- One armed man with an "assault rifle" clone stood off four armed punks with lesser weapons. They decided they were outgunned and fled for easier pickings.
- 44 oil spills found in southeast Louisiana
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