Hurricane Katrina

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This article is about the 2005 hurricane. For other storms with this name, see Hurricane Katrina (disambiguation).
Hurricane Katrina
Hurricane Katrina with winds of 160 mph (255 km/h) on August 29, 2005 at 0045 UTC.

Hurricane Katrina with winds of 160 mph (255 km/h) on August 29, 2005 at 0045 UTC.
Duration August 23 - August 31, 2005
Highest winds 175 mph (280 km/h) sustained
Damages Total damages estimated from $70 to $130 billion [1] (Costliest tropical cyclone of all time)
Fatalities 1,302 (potentially more)
Areas affected Bahamas, South Florida, Louisiana (especially Greater New Orleans), Mississippi, Alabama, Florida Panhandle, most of eastern North America
Part of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season

Hurricane Katrina was the eleventh named tropical storm, fourth hurricane, third major hurricane, and first Category 5 hurricane of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. It was the third most powerful storm of the season, behind Hurricane Wilma and Hurricane Rita, and the sixth-strongest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic basin. It first made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane just north of Miami, Florida on August 25, 2005, then again on August 29 along the Central Gulf Coast near Buras-Triumph, Louisiana as a Category 4 storm. Its storm surge soon breached the levee system that protected New Orleans from Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River. Most of the city was subsequently flooded mainly by water from the lake. This and other major damage to the coastal regions of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama made Katrina the most destructive and costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States.

The official death toll now stands at 1,302 and the damage from $70 to $130 billion, topping Hurricane Andrew as the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history. Over a million people were displaced — a humanitarian crisis on a scale unseen in the U.S. since the Great Depression.

In Louisiana, the hurricane's eye made landfall at 6:10am CDT on Monday, August 29. After 11:00am CDT, several sections of the levee system in New Orleans collapsed. By early September, people were being forcibly evacuated, mostly by bus to neighboring states.

Federal disaster declarations blanketed 90,000 square miles (233,000 km²) of the United States, an area almost as large as the United Kingdom. The hurricane left an estimated five million people without power, and it may take up to two months for all power to be restored. On September 3, 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.

For a timeline of events leading up to Hurricane Katrina through to the aftermath of the hurricane, see Timeline of Hurricane Katrina.


Storm history

Hurricane Katrina encountering the Gulf Loop Current.
Hurricane Katrina encountering the Gulf Loop Current.
Hurricane Katrina

2005 Atlantic hurricane season

The U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) reported on August 23 that Tropical Depression Twelve had formed over the southeastern Bahamas. The numbering of the system was debated, as Tropical Depression Twelve formed partially from the remains of Tropical Depression Ten. The naming and numbering rules at the NHC require a system to keep the same identity if it dies, then regenerates, which would normally have caused this storm to remain numbered Ten. However, the NHC gave this storm a new number because a second disturbance merged with the remains of Tropical Depression Ten on August 20, and there is no way to tell whether the remnants of Tropical Depression Ten should be credited with this storm. (This is different from Hurricane Ivan in the 2004 season, when the NHC ruled that Ivan did indeed reform; the remnant of Ivan that regenerated in the Gulf of Mexico was a distinct system from the moment Ivan originally dissipated to the moment it regained tropical storm strength[2].) The system was upgraded to Tropical Storm Katrina on the morning of August 24. Katrina became the fourth hurricane of the 2005 season on August 25 and made landfall later that day around 6:30 p.m. between Hallandale Beach and Aventura, Florida.

Katrina weakened over land on August 26, becoming a tropical storm. The initial National Hurricane Center forecasts predicted that Katrina would enter the Gulf of Mexico and begin turning northward, eventually hitting the Florida Panhandle. Katrina, however, continued a west track, eventually turning to the west-southwest. When the storm began turning to the northwest, New Orleans was its aim.

On August 27, the storm was upgraded to Category 3 intensity (major hurricane) and at 12:40 a.m. CDT (0540 UTC) on August 28, Katrina was upgraded to Category 4. Later that morning, Katrina went through a period of rapid intensification, becoming a Category Five storm on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. Katrina had maximum sustained winds of 175 mph (280 km/h), gusts of 215 mph (344 km/h) and a central pressure of 26.75 inches, or 906 mbar (hPa), by 1:00 p.m. CDT. It later reached a minimum pressure of 26.64 inches (902 mbar), making it, at the time, the fourth most intense Atlantic Basin hurricane on record (Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Wilma in 2005 would later surpass Katrina). Katrina's rapid intensification was due in part to its movement over the Gulf Loop Current.

Katrina made landfall on August 29 as a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 145 mph (235 km/h) with higher gusts, at 6:10 a.m. CDT near Buras-Triumph, Louisiana. Hurricane force winds extended outward 120 statute miles (190 km); pressure was 918 mbar (27.11 inHg) and forward speed 15 mph (10 km/h). Making its way up the eastern Louisiana coastline, most communities in Plaquemines and St. Bernard Parish, and Slidell in St. Tammany Parish, were severely damaged by storm surge and the strong winds of the eyewall, which also grazed eastern New Orleans. A few hours later, it made landfall for a third time near the Louisiana/Mississippi border with 125 mph (200 km/h) Category 3 sustained winds. However, because the storm was so large, extreme damaging eyewall winds and the strong northeastern quadrant of the storm, pushing record storm surges onshore, smashed the entire Mississippi Gulf Coast, including towns in Mississippi such as Waveland, Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Long Beach, Gulfport, Biloxi, Ocean Springs, Gautier and Pascagoula, and, in Alabama, Bayou La Batre. As Katrina moved inland diagonally over Mississippi, high winds cut a swath of damage that affected almost the entire state.

Hurricane Katrina on August 28 at 1:00 pm EDT (1700 UTC).
Hurricane Katrina on August 28 at 1:00 pm EDT (1700 UTC).
Eye of Hurricane Katrina seen from a NOAA Hurricane Hunter aircraft on August 28, 2005, before the storm made landfall.
Eye of Hurricane Katrina seen from a NOAA Hurricane Hunter aircraft on August 28, 2005, before the storm made landfall.

Katrina weakened thereafter, losing hurricane-strength more than 150 miles (160 km) inland, near Jackson, Mississippi. It was downgraded to a tropical depression near Clarksville, Tennessee and continued to race northward.

Katrina continued to affect the central US as it moved north, and was last seen in the eastern Great Lakes region on August 31. Before being absorbed by a frontal boundary, Katrina's last known position was over southeast Quebec and northern New Brunswick. On August 31, Katrina became a powerful extratropical low on province of Quebec that gave 50 to 170 mm (1.97 to 6.69 in) of rain in 12 hours; also numerous wind gusts from 50 to 98 km/h (31 to 61 mph) were reported in southern and eastern Quebec. In the region of Saguenay and Cote-Nord rain caused breakdown and failure in roads. The Cote-Nord region was isolated from rest of Quebec for at least 1 week.

Its lowest minimum pressure at landfall was 27.108 inches (918 mbar) (hPa), making it the third strongest hurricane on record to make landfall on the United States. A 10 to 30 foot (3 to 10 m) storm surge came ashore on over 200 continuous miles of coastline, from southeast Louisiana, including Mississippi and Alabama, through to the Florida panhandle. The 30 foot (10 m) storm surge recorded at Biloxi, Mississippi is the highest ever observed in America. Record storm surges that had not occurred in at least the last 150 years, inundated the entire Mississippi coastline, destroying many historic homes. The storm surge in Mobile, Alabama was the highest in that location since 1917, besting the category 3 Hurricane Frederic which hit the city directly in 1979.

At 11 p.m. EDT on August 31 (0300 UTC, September 1), U.S. government weather officials announced that the center of the remnant low of what was Katrina had been completely absorbed by a frontal boundary in southeastern Canada, with no discernible circulation. The Hydrometeorological Prediction Center's last public advisory on Katrina was at 11 p.m. EDT on August 31 and the Canadian Hurricane Centre's last public advisory on Katrina was at 9 a.m. EDT on August 31.


There were at least 36 confirmed tornadoes associated with Hurricane Katrina, with 11 tornadoes in Mississippi, 4 tornadoes in Alabama, 15 tornadoes in Georgia, 1 tornado in Virginia, and 5 tornadoes in Pennsylvania. Most of the tornadoes were rated F0 or F1, but three tornadoes were rated F2 in Georgia, and 2 were rated F2 in Mississippi. Tornadoes were reported in places including Adams and Cumberland Counties in Pennsylvania, in Fauquier County, Virginia, in Carroll County, Georgia, in Carrollton, Georgia, in White County, Georgia, in Helen, Georgia, and in Fort Valley, Georgia. Several other weak tornadoes were reported by tv stations in and around Mobile, Alabama, and Oktibbeha County, Lowdnes County and Harrison County in Mississippi.

One death was reported from an F2 tornado near Roopville, Georgia in Carroll County, and 500,000 chickens were killed or set free after about 15 poultry houses were damaged. Several injuries were reported with other tornadoes across Georgia. There was major damage in Helen, Georgia by an F2 tornado, which destroyed homes and a hotel. In Fort Valley, Georgia, another tornado ripped through a credit union and destroyed local houses and trees.

Preparations and expectations before landfall

Main article: Hurricane preparedness for New Orleans

Previous short term preparations and expectations

Advance weather forecasts

Many living in the area felt that south Florida had minimal advance warning when Katrina strengthened from a tropical storm to a hurricane in one day, and struck southern Florida later that same day, on August 25. Even so, NHC forecasts showed Katrina strengthening into a hurricane well in advance of landfall, and hurricane watches and warnings were indeed issued nearly 36 and 24 hours, respectively, before hurricane conditions were felt in the area (watches and warnings are supposed to be issued at those time periods)[3],[4].

By August 26 the possibility of "unprecedented cataclysm" was already being considered [5]. Some computer models were putting New Orleans right in the center of their track probabilities, and the chances of a direct hit were forecast at nearly 90%. This scenario was considered a "potential catastrophe" because 80% of the New Orleans metropolitan area is below sea level. The Governor of Louisiana, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco declared a state of emergency for state agencies.[6] On August 27, after Katrina crossed southern Florida and strengthened to Category 3, President George W. Bush declared a state of emergency in Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi two days before the hurricane made landfall[7]. On August 28 the National Weather Service issued a bulletin predicting "devastating" damage rivaling the intensity of Hurricane Camille. At a news conference New Orleans Mayor Nagin ordered a mandatory evacuation of the city with Gov. Blanco standing beside him.

Transportation and infrastructure

Hurricane Katrina depicted on a NASA sea surface temperature (SST) map. SST are for Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, Aug 25-27. Areas in yellow, orange or red represent 82°F or above; these conditions allow hurricanes to strengthen.
Hurricane Katrina depicted on a NASA sea surface temperature (SST) map. SST are for Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, Aug 25-27. Areas in yellow, orange or red represent 82°F or above; these conditions allow hurricanes to strengthen.

On Sunday, August 28, Canadian National Railway (CN) suspended all rail traffic on its lines south of McComb, Mississippi (lines owned by its subsidiary Illinois Central Railroad that extend into New Orleans, Louisiana), in anticipation of damage from the hurricane. To help ease the resumption of services after the storm passes, CN also issued an embargo with the Association of American Railroads against all deliveries to points south of Osyka, Mississippi [8]. CSX Transportation also suspended service south of Montgomery, Alabama until further notice. The CSX (former Louisville and Nashville Railroad) main line from Mobile to New Orleans is believed to have suffered extensive damage, especially in coastal Mississippi, but repair crews were not able to reach most parts of the line as of August 30.

Amtrak, America's rail passenger carrier, announced that the southbound City of New Orleans passenger trains from Chicago, Illinois, on August 29 and through September 3 would terminate in Memphis, Tennessee, rather than their usual destination of New Orleans; the corresponding northbound trains will also originate in Memphis. The southbound Crescent from New York, New York, for the same period terminated in Atlanta, Georgia, with the corresponding northbound trains originating in Atlanta as well. Amtrak's westbound Sunset Limited originated in San Antonio, Texas, rather than its normal origin point of Orlando, Florida. Amtrak announced that no alternate transportation options would be made available into or out of the affected area [9].

Hurricane Katrina wind swath as depicted in a National Weather Service graphic.
Hurricane Katrina wind swath as depicted in a National Weather Service graphic.

The Waterford nuclear power plant was shut down on Sunday, August 28, before Katrina's arrival.

The State Departments of Transportation in the affected area, in conjunction with the Federal Highway Administration, have a huge job to rebuild the critical highways for access to the region. Interstate 10 seems, at first glance, to be the most critical to repair, especially the twin bridges over Lake Pontchartrain, which were destroyed. These are "lifelines" to the east, but assessing the damage, there will be no quick fix. These costs could run into many billions of dollars.

Previous long term preparations and expectations

The risk of devastation from a direct hit was well documented.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper ran a series on the risk in 2002; the series predicted many of the events that happened in 2005, including the breakdown of the levee system. "It's only a matter of time before South Louisiana takes a direct hit from a major hurricane. Billions have been spent to protect us, but we grow more vulnerable every day." New Orleans Times-Picayune June 23 - 27 June 2002 [10]

National Geographic ran a feature in October 2004 [11]. Scientific American covered the topic thoroughly in an October 2001 piece titled "Drowning New Orleans" [12]. Walter Williams did a serious short feature on it called "New Orleans: The Natural History", in which an expert said a direct hit by a hurricane could damage the city for six months [13]. CSO magazine ran an interview with the National Weather Service's Gary Woodall in which he listed six steps that citizens and company executives can take to be prepared for hurricanes such as this. [14]

Evacuation and emergency shelters

"Not since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s or the end of the Civil War in the 1860s have so many Americans been on the move from a single event." [15]

At a news conference 10 a.m. on August 28, shortly after Katrina was upgraded to a Category 5 storm, New Orleans mayor C. Ray Nagin, calling Katrina "a storm that most of us have long feared," ordered the first ever mandatory evacuation of the city. Contraflow lane reversal on Interstate 10 leading west and Interstates 55 and 59 leading north from New Orleans was ended that afternoon.[16]

Two weeks after the storm, over half the States were involved in providing shelter for evacuees. By four weeks after the storm, evacuees had been registered in all 50 states and in almost half the Zip codes of the U.S.[17] Three quarters of evacuees had stayed within 250 miles but tens of thousands had located more than 1000 miles away.

The Louisiana State Evacuation Plan declares "The primary means of hurricane evacuation will be personal vehicles. School and municipal buses, government-owned vehicles and vehicles provided by volunteer agencies may be used to provide transportation for individuals who lack transportation and require assistance in evacuating" in Part 1 Section D. The state evacuation plan also assigns the responsibility of evacuation to each Parish with the language [the parish will] "Conduct and control local evacuation in parishes located in the risk area and manage reception and shelter operations in parishes located in the host area" in Part 1 Section D. The state evacuation plan also assigns the responsibility of evacuation of the sick and those needing assistance to the owners of the facilities with the language: "Hospitals, nursing homes, group homes, etc. will have pre-determined evacuation and/or refuge plans if evacuation becomes necessary. All facilities will have approved Multi-Hazard Emergency Operations Plans as mandated by the State of Louisiana, Dept. of Health and Hospitals (DHH). Before operating permits are given to homes/hospitals, emergency precautions are to be taken, such as the placement of emergency supplies and equipment (i.e., generators and potable water) on upper floors.." in Part 1 Section D. As many of these facilities relied on the same bus companies and ambulance services for evacuation, several were unable to evacuate before the storm hit, resulting in the deaths of their occupants.

Roughly 150,000 people were not able to evacuate, partially because hundreds of available New Orleans school buses were not used in the evacuation [18]. According to NBC's veteran reporter Lisa Myers, "A draft emergency plan, prepared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and obtained by NBC News, calls for '400 buses to ... evacuate victims.' Yet those 400 buses were left in Katrina's path." Myers reports New Orleans Mayor Nagin refused comment on the matter. [19]

While some have claimed school bus drivers were not available, the very first bus to arrive at the Reliant Astrodome with New Orleans evacuees was a New Orleans school bus driven by an evacuee, 20 year old Jabbar Gibson, who commandeered it.[20] Any licensed driver is suitable in an emergency.

The bus situation was not lost on at least one New Orleans evacuee, Connie London, interviewed by ABC Reporter Dean Reynolds at the Reliant Astrodome. The evacuee cites the bus flooding as her major criticism of the performance of city and state officials in handling Hurricane Katrina.[21] Video (wmv file, 00:54 seconds)

[22] The Governor used her authority to utilize public school buses from other parishes long after the levee broke. [23]

In addition to residents, many tourists were stranded. Fuel and rental cars were in short supply; also, Greyhound bus and Amtrak train service were halted well before the hurricane made landfall [24]. Future analysis of motor vehicle registration, census and Social Security Information, and death certificates may help to provide more clarity. During the Hurricane Ivan evacuation, 600,000 people remained in the city [25].

Mandatory evacuations were also ordered for Assumption, Jefferson (Kenner, Metairie, as well as Grand Isle and other low lying areas), Lafourche (outside the floodgates), Plaquemines, St. Charles and St. James parishes and parts of St. Tammany, Tangipahoa and Terrebonne parishes in Louisiana.

In Alabama, evacuations were ordered for parts of Mobile and Baldwin counties (including Gulf Shores). In Mississippi, evacuations were ordered for parts of Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties.

New Orleans shelters

Louisiana Superdome

Main article: Effect of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans#Superdome refuge
New Orleans after Katrina passed.  Note the flooding and the damage to the roof of the Superdome.
New Orleans after Katrina passed. Note the flooding and the damage to the roof of the Superdome.
A National Guard truck brings relief supplies to the Superdome, Aug 31.
A National Guard truck brings relief supplies to the Superdome, Aug 31.

On August 28, as Hurricane Katrina grew into a Category 5 storm that had yet to make landfall, Nagin established several "refuges of last resort" for citizens who could not leave the city, including the massive Louisiana Superdome. The New Orleans Times - Picayune reported that the Louisiana National Guard delivered three truckloads of water and seven truckloads of MRE's, enough to supply 15,000 people for three days according to Col. Jay Mayeaux, deputy director of the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Emergency Preparedness [26]. The Superdome housed over 9,000 people along with 550 National Guard troops when Katrina came ashore [27]. On August 29, Katrina passed over New Orleans with such force that it ripped two holes in the Superdome roof. A National Guard official said on Thursday, September 1, that as many as 60,000 people had gathered at the Superdome for evacuation, having remained there in increasingly difficult circumstances [28], [29], [30]. Air conditioning, electricity, and running water all failed, making for very unsanitary and uncomfortable conditions. There have been widespread reports of murders, rapes, beatings, robberies, and general mayhem in the Superdome[31], though most reports appear in the foreign press, as mainstream U.S. media have omitted the more serious reports. [32] Most of these reports were determined to be based on unverified rumors and myths [33][34]. On August 31, it was announced that evacuees would be moved to the Astrodome in Houston, Texas. By September 6, the Superdome was completely evacuated. Officials say that the flood damage, debris, human waste and bodily fluids in the Superdome is a "potential biohazard," and that it is too early to tell what the final fate of the structure will be, although demolition has been cited as a possible outcome.

New Orleans Convention Center

Main article: Effect of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans#The New Orleans Convention Center

The New Orleans Convention Center was broken into by August 30th, and by September 1, the facility, like the Superdome, was overwhelmed and declared unsafe and unsanitary. Reports of violence, beatings, and rape among those gathered in the convention center were widespread. Several people died while sheltered within. Reports indicated that up to 20,000 people had gathered at the Convention Center, many dropped off after rescue from flooded areas of the city. Others were directed to the center by the police, headed by Eddie Compass, as a possible refuge. However, even though there were thousands of evacuees at the center, along with network newscasters, pleading desperately for help on CNN, FOX, and other broadcast outlets, FEMA head Michael Brown and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff both claimed to have no knowledge of the use of the Convention Center as a shelter until the afternoon of September 1 (CNN Video), although later Brown said he misspoke and had learned of them 24 hours earlier.[35] For two days, still, the evacuees' pleas were ignored. Those able to walk the distance could have left the Convention Center, and the city, via the Crescent City Connection Bridge, but were prevented from doing so at gunpoint by Gretna, LA sheriffs [36]. The Convention Center was completely evacuated by September 3. By September 8 there were reports that the claims of rape and murder at the Convention Center and the Superdome could be false [37].

Shelters in Texas

Evacuees taking shelter at the Reliant Astrodome.
Evacuees taking shelter at the Reliant Astrodome.
Main article: Effect of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans#Evacuation efforts

On August 31, the Harris County, Texas Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and the State of Louisiana came to an agreement to allow at least 25,000 evacuees from New Orleans, especially those who were sheltered in the Louisiana Superdome, to move to the Astrodome until they could return home. The evacuation began on September 1.

However, as of September 2, officials declared the Reliant Astrodome full and unable to accept additional hurricane refugees from the disaster. The Reliant Astrodome was reopened a few hours later, and it was announced that the Reliant Center would have all events cancelled through December so as to open the building to ~11,000 additional evacuees. The George R. Brown Convention Center was announced as an additional shelter site at the same time, but was not opened for use until September 3.

When the Houston shelters began to reach capacity on September 2, Texas Governor Rick Perry activated an emergency plan that made space for an additional 25,000 in each of San Antonio and the Dallas/ Fort Worth/ Arlington,TX Metroplex and smaller shelters in communities across Texas. Beginning with a convoy of 50 buses (2,700 people) that arrived at the Dallas Reunion Arena at 3:00 a.m. CST September 3, a wave of over 120,000 additional evacuees began pouring into Texas at a rate, such that as of September 5, it was estimated there are roughly 139,000 evacuees in official shelters in the state, adding to the estimated 90,000 already in hotels and homes.

By the afternoon of September 5, with a total estimated number of over 230,000 evacuees in Texas, Governor Perry ordered that buses begin being diverted to other shelters outside the state resulting in 20,000 being sent to Oklahoma and 30,000 being sent to Arkansas. By Labor Day, September 6, Texas had an estimated 250,000 evacuees and Governor Perry was forced to declare a state of emergency in Texas and issued an impassioned plea to other states to begin taking the 40,000-50,000 evacuees that were still in need of shelter.

Local effects and aftermath

Main articles: Hurricane Katrina effects by region, Effect of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans, Levee and flood wall failure in New Orleans (following hurricane Katrina)
Highway 90 Ocean Springs: Biloxi bridge destroyed.
Highway 90 Ocean Springs: Biloxi bridge destroyed.
FEMA map of affected area.
FEMA map of affected area.

Areas affected include southern Florida, Louisiana (especially the Greater New Orleans area), Mississippi, Alabama, the western Florida Panhandle, western and north Georgia (hit by tornadoes), the Tennessee Valley and Ohio Valley regions, the eastern Great Lakes region and the length of the western Appalachians. Over 1,300 deaths have been reported in seven states, a number which is expected to rise as casualty reports come in from areas currently inaccessible. Three levees in New Orleans gave way, and 80% of the city was under water at peak flooding, which in some places was 20 to 25 feet (7 or 8 meters) deep[38]. As of September 6, the flood pool had abated to covering 60% of the city.[39]

Houses partially underwater.
Houses partially underwater.

By September 2, NOAA had published satellite photography[40] of many of the affected regions. The storm surge in Katrina as it was making landfall on August 29 was very high to the east of where the storm center crossed the coast. Storm surge of near 30 feet high was observed, where during the height of the storm at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum scenes like a car floating outside the first floor lobby, and a boat is being swept across the parking lot as the surge comes in with the eyewall winds were not uncommon. The lobby and parking lot are over 20 feet above sea level of the Gulf of Mexico, and 1/4 mile away from the Gulf coastal road Highway 90 in Harrison County between Biloxi and Gulfport.

Looting and violence

Stop! The neutrality of this section is disputed.

Shortly after the hurricane ended on August 30, some residents of New Orleans, including police officers, who remained in the city began looting stores [41]. Many looters were in search of food and water that was not available to them due to the destruction, though many people stole non-essential items as well. Drug, convenience, clothing, and jewelry stores in the French Quarter and on Canal Street were hardest hit. Looting also occurred in other towns throughout the disaster area. "The looting is out of control. The French Quarter has been attacked," Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson said. "We're using exhausted, scarce police to control looting when they should be used for search and rescue while we still have people on rooftops."

Some police officers barricaded their stations to avoid snipers and "resorted to looting for shoes, dry socks and food" [42]. Reports of carjacking, murders, thefts, and rapes flooded the news, however many of the stories were determined to likely be based on rumors, despite being spread by officials such as Mayor Nagin [43]. Thousands of National Guard and federal troops were mobilized and sent to Louisiana along with numbers of local law enforcement agents from across the country who were temporarily deputized by the state. "They have M-16s and are locked and loaded. These troops know how to shoot and kill and I expect they will," Kathleen Blanco said. Congressman Jefferson (D-LA) told ABC News. "There was shooting going on. There was sniping going on. Over the first week of September, law and order was gradually restored to the city." Several shootings occurred between police and New Orleans residents including the fatal incident at Danziger Bridge [44].

A number of arrests were made throughout the affected area including near the New Orleans Convention Center. A temporary jail was constructed of chain link cages in the city train station [45] although controversy arose over at least one inmate [46]. A September 26, 2005 article from The Times Picayune, titled 'Rumors of deaths greatly exaggerated' [47] provides updated information on attempts to corroborate many of the reports of violence. Issues of racial bias in media coverage began to surface as Caucasian flood victims were portrayed in one AP photo as "finding" supplies while African-Americans were described in a separate AP photo as engaged in "looting" [48].

In Texas, with more than 300,000 refugees, local officials have run 20,000 criminal background checks on evacuees, as well as the relief workers helping them and people who have opened up their homes. Most of the checks have found little for police to be concerned about. While Philadelphia police found no criminals at all in those evacuated to their city, the state police in West Virginia said roughly half of the nearly 350 Katrina victims evacuated by the government to that state had criminal records, and 22 percent have a history of committing a violent crime.

Death toll (summary)

State Official
State total
Confirmed deaths Direct deaths Reported missing
Alabama 2


Washington 2 [50] 0
Florida 14


Broward 6 [52] 3
Miami-Dade 5 [53][54] 1
Georgia 2


Carroll 2 [56] 2
Kentucky 0


Christian 1 [58] 1
Louisiana 1,056


Ascension 9 [60] ?
Assumption 3 [61] ?
Caddo 11 [62] 0
East Baton Rouge 72 [63] 2 (?)
Iberia 6 [64] ?
Jefferson 30 [65][66] 22
Lafourche 2 [67]
Livingston 5 [68] 1 (?)
Orleans 700+ [69] 154
Plaquemines 3 [70] 3
St. Bernard 123 [71] 125
St. Charles 8 [72] ?
St. Landry 1 [73] 0
St. Tammany 7 [74] 6
Tangipahoa 26 [75] 0 (?)
Terrebonne 19 [76] 0 (?)
West Baton Rouge 3 [77] 0 (?)
Mississippi 228


Adams 2 [79] 2
Forrest 7 [80] ?
Harrison 91 [81] ? 50 [82]
Hancock 51 [83] ?
Hinds 1 [84] 1
Jackson 12 [85][86] ?
Jones 12 [87] ?
Lauderdale 2 [88] 2
Leake 1 [89] 1
Pearl River 17 [90] 17
Simpson 1 [91] 1
Stone 1 [92] 1
Warren 1 [93] 1
Ohio 0


Jefferson 2 [95] 0
Other 0


Evacuees 57 [97] 0
Totals 1,302 733+ 286+ 2,576+ [98]
Note: Because of differences in the timing of reports from different sources, states' State sub-totals may not match their individual county State sub-totals.


The confirmed death toll stands at 1,302 mainly from Louisiana (1,056) and Mississippi (228).

Direct deaths indicate those caused by the direct effects of the winds, flooding, storm surge or oceanic effects of Katrina. Indirect deaths indicate those caused by hurricane-related accidents (including car accidents), fires or other incidents, as well as clean-up incidents and health issues.

Government officials had estimated fatalities as high as 10,000. Those numbers have not been approached.[99] [100] [101] However, the Times Picayune ran a story in November noting that 5000 missing New Orleans residents are still unaccounted for. Most statisticians say that 10% of this 5000 (500) should be counted toward the death toll.

On September 6 FEMA stopped allowing journalists to accompany rescuers searching for victims, saying they would take up too much space. At the same time, FEMA requested that journalists stop taking pictures of dead bodies. News organizations have filed suit in Federal Court, claiming a violation of the First Amendment's freedom of the press. In face of the lawsuit, FEMA has since countermanded this request[102].

On September 9 FEMA ordered 50,000 body bags in addition to the 25,000 previously ordered. [103]

On September 13, officials announced that negligent homicide charges had been filed against the owners of a New Orleans nursing home, where the bodies of thirty four residents, apparently drowned, were found.[104]

Health concerns

Aside from the lack of water, food, shelter, and sanitation facilities, there was concern that the prolonged flooding might lead to an outbreak of health problems for those who remained in the hurricane-affected areas. In addition to dehydration and food poisoning, there was potential for communicable disease outbreaks of diarrhea and respiratory illness, all related to the growing contamination of food and drinking water supplies in the area.

President Bush declared a emergency for the entire Gulf Coast. Before the hurricane, government health officials prepared to respond, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began sending medical emergency supplies to locations near the worst-hit area within 48 hours after landfall.

Supplies shipped by CDC's Strategic National Stockpile provided pharmaceuticals, technical assistance teams, and treatment capacity for citizens otherwise stranded by the hurricane's catastrophic effect on hospital infrastructure in Louisiana and Mississippi. CDC's supplies served an estimated 30 acute care hospitals south of Interstate Highway 10, and volunteers organized around its "contingency stations" to become temporary stand-ins for hospitals, warehouses, and distribution facilities damaged by the storm. Alongside strong responses from state and local medical teams, CDC support remained crucial until normal infrastructure support began to return a week and a half later.

Within days after landfall, medical authorities established contingency treatment facilities for over 10,000 people, and plans to treat thousands more were developing. Partnerships with commercial medical suppliers, shipping companies, and support services companies insured that evolving medical needs could be met within days or even hours.

There is concern the chemical plants and refineries in the area could have released pollutants into the floodwaters. People who suffer from allergies or lung disorders, such as asthma, may have health complications due to toxic mold and airborne irritants [105], leading to what some health officials have dubbed "Katrina Cough". [106] In Gulfport, Mississippi, several hundred tons of chicken and uncooked shrimp were washed out of their containers at the nearby harbor and could have contaminated the water table. On September 6, 2005 it was reported that Escherichia coli (E. coli) had been detected at unsafe levels in the waters that flooded New Orleans. The CDC reported on September 7 that five people had died of bacterial infection from drinking water contaminated with Vibrio vulnificus, a bacterium from the Gulf of Mexico. Wide outbreaks of severe infectious diseases such as cholera and dysentery are not considered likely because such illnesses are not endemic in the United States [107].

Animal concerns

A stray dog abandoned by its owners approaches a rescue worker in New Orleans.  Many animals were left by their owners who could not take them to the evacuation shelters.
A stray dog abandoned by its owners approaches a rescue worker in New Orleans. Many animals were left by their owners who could not take them to the evacuation shelters.

As with any major disaster, animals are affected as well as human beings. In the case of Katrina no order to support total animal evacuation was given.

Helicopter pilots and rescue boat captains had refused to load pets in order to hold more people. Many families in the affected area refused to evacuate without their pets. Some field hospitals allowed pets to enter with their patients. However those who were evacuated from the Superdome were not allowed to take their pets with them[108] (see also Snowball (Hurricane Katrina dog).)

Rescue teams were set up in the worst hit regions in response to desperate pleas from pet owners. Horses posed a particular problem, as they are easily stranded and cannot stand in water for long periods of time. Rescue agencies set up shelters and tried to find homes to adopt pets lost by their owners.[109] Rescue centers were becoming overwhelmed in the days immediately following the hurricane. Online resources, such as the clearinghouse for Hurricane Katrina animal rescue and relief[110], give rescue groups, individuals, and businesses from around the country a centralized venue to publish their offers and requests for helping the animals displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

Most of the 10,000 fish at New Orleans Aquarium of the Americas died as the backup power ran out after four days. Curators then abandoned the aquarium and the police used it as an emergency base. [111] Most of the marine mammals and a large sea turtle survived. [112] The Audubon Zoo lost only three animals out of a total of 1,400 due to good disaster planning and location on high ground. Zoo curator Dan Maloney was quoted as saying, "The zoo had planned for years for the catastrophic storm that has long been predicted for New Orleans". [113] [114]

The response of the American public was unprecedented. The Humane Society of the United States (The HSUS) had received $15 million in donations within two weeks after the hurricane occurred. The HSUS, in conjunction with the Louisiana SPCA and other groups has hundreds of staff and volunteers working in LA and MS. As of September 20, 2005, 6,031 animals were rescued and 400 were reunited with their owners. [115]

Rescued pets are being listed at

Reports of price gouging

Hundreds of reports were made to Louisiana authorities and elsewhere regarding sharp increases in prices on products like gasoline and bottled water, or of hotels failing to honor reservations in favor of accepting larger offers for rooms by desperate travelers. The three major U.S. TV networks' nightly news programs showed images of a BP gas station selling gasoline for over $6 per US gallon ($1.59/L). Another BP station in Stockbridge, Georgia, south of Atlanta, was selling gas at $5.87 per US gallon ($1.55/L) less than a day after Katrina hit. Gas prices in the U.S. just prior to Katrina were in the range of $2.50 per US gallon ($0.66/L). During this time the average price of gas per US gallon has reached a new all time high. The rapid price increase exacerbated the oil price increases of 2004 and 2005.

(see also Economic effects of Hurricane Katrina—Gasoline prices)

Wage issues

On September 9, 2005 President George W. Bush issued proclamation 7924, "To Suspend Subchapter IV of Chapter 31 of Title 40, United States Code, within a Limited Geographic Area in Response to the National Emergency Caused by Hurricane Katrina", which indefinitely suspended the Davis-Bacon Act.[116] This law mandates that workers on federal construction projects be paid at least the prevailing local wage. There are also rumours of suspension of the McNamara-O'Hara Service Contract Act. [117] Some critics feel that allowing the government to pay less than the prevailing rate will increase the poverty in the area through lower wages.[118] [119]

How the many hundreds of thousands of victims of Katrina who have lost all their possessions will cope with wage reductions is unknown [120]. The economic loss will force many survivors into bankruptcy. Those with jobs will have to pay if their income is $100 over the states' median income. Louisiana and Mississippi have some of the lowest [121] median incomes in the nation requiring Katrina victims to pay creditors whereas in most US states with a similar income person will pay nothing.

On October 26, 2005, President Bush reinstated the Davis-Bacon Act amid political pressure from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

Disaster response

Main article: Hurricane Katrina disaster relief
A Jayhawk helicopter crewman assists in search and rescue efforts.
A Jayhawk helicopter crewman assists in search and rescue efforts.
Planes unload supplies in Mississippi.
Planes unload supplies in Mississippi.
USNS Comfort takes on supplies at Mayport, FL en route to Gulf Coast.
USNS Comfort takes on supplies at Mayport, FL en route to Gulf Coast.
British Sky Broadcasting reports on the initial government response.
British Sky Broadcasting reports on the initial government response.

Some disaster recovery response to Katrina began before the storm, with Federal Emergency Management Agency preparations that ranged from logistical supply deployments to a mortuary team with refrigerated trucks. A network of volunteers have been rendering assistance to local residents and residents emerging from New Orleans and surrounding Parishes.

In accordance with federal law, President George W. Bush directed Secretary Michael Chertoff of the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate the Federal response. Chertoff designated Michael D. Brown, head of the FEMA as the Principal Federal Official to lead the deployment and coordination of all federal response resources and forces in the Gulf Coast region. However, the President and Secretary Chertoff have come under harsh criticism from many Americans, particularly in the media, for their lack of planning and coordination. Eight days later, Michael D. Brown was recalled to Washington and Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad W. Allen replaced him as chief of hurricane relief operations. Three days after the recall, Michael D. Brown resigned as director of FEMA in spite of having received praise from President George W. Bush [122].

USNORTHCOM established Joint Task Force (JTF) Katrina based out of Camp Shelby, Mississippi to act as the military's on-scene command on Sunday, August 28 [123]. Lieutenant General Russel Honoré of the U.S. First Army in Fort Gillem, Georgia, is the commander.

The U.S. Senate approved a bill authorizing $10.5 billion in aid for victims on September 1, 2005. The U.S. House of Representatives voted and approved on the measure Friday, September 2, 2005 without any debate; Bush signed it into law an hour later. On September 7, another $51.8 billion in addition to the original $10.5 billion was proposed by President Bush to fund disaster relief.

In addition to asking for federal funds, President Bush has enlisted the help of former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush to raise additional voluntary contributions, much as they did after the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. On September 3, Gov. Blanco hired James Lee Witt, the former FEMA director during the Clinton Administration, to oversee recovery efforts in Louisiana. [124].

See also Political effects of Hurricane Katrina for more information on criticisms of the disaster relief response

Federal response

Michael Chertoff, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, decided to take over the federal, state, and local operations officially on September 30, 2005 going forward by citing the National Response Plan. The National Response Plan states that, when responding to a catastrophic incident, the federal government should start emergency operations even in the absence of clear assessment of the situation. "A detailed and credible common operating picture may not be achievable for 24 to 48 hours (or longer) after the incident," the NRP's "Catastrophic Annex" states. "As a result, response activities must begin without the benefit of a detailed or complete situation and critical needs assessment."

U.S. states response

Many U.S. states have offered to shelter evacuees displaced by the storm, including places as far away as Oregon, whose offer to take one thousand refugees, according to Portland-area news organizations, was later declined, and California. The majority of the evacuees from this crisis were taken to Texas, with over 230,000 persons being sheltered in Texas by Labor Day, September 5, 2005. As Texas became filled to capacity, it became a waypoint for the other evacuees still leaving the area of crisis. From Texas, thousands of evacuees are being dispersed to other states. Many religious organizations have traveled to Lousiana and Mississippi in an effort to offer relief and to help the people and the particular religious organizations there. An estimate of over 100,000 New Orleans college and university students have been displaced as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Higher institutions from across the U.S. have opened their doors to enroll students displaced as a result of Hurricane Katrina. See list compiled by Wikinews.

Army and Air National Guard troops have been activated from nearly every state in the union.

On 8 September 2005, President George W. Bush issued a proclamation to suspend Subchapter IV of Chapter 31 of Title 40 in the stricken area, effectively suspending the Davis-Bacon Act there.

International response

Main article: International response to Hurricane Katrina
Relief aid from China.
Relief aid from China.
Relief aid from Canada.
Relief aid from Canada.
One of fifteen power pumps from Germany.
One of fifteen power pumps from Germany.

Over seventy countries pledged money or other assistance, including Cuba and Venezuela, despite their differences with Washington; Sri Lanka, which is still recovering from the Indian Ocean Tsunami; Russia, whose initial offer to send at least two jets was declined by the U.S. State Department; France, whose initial offer of concrete help was also declined; Canada, which has contributed supplies as well as three Canadian Forces Maritime Command Warships (HMCS Athabaskan, HMCS Ville de Quebec, and HMCS Toronto) as well as a Canadian Coast Guard Tender. In addition, Canada has sent 1,000 relief personnel including as many as fifty Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers; Mexico, which has contributed two military ships, helicopters, military equipment, hundreds of tons of food, bottled water, medical personnel and hundreds of troops (it is the first time Mexican soldiers have operated on U.S. soil since the Mexican-American War); and Dominica, one of the smallest countries in the world by any measure. German Chancellor Schroeder offered any help required, among other items fifteen power pumps including their crews have been sent to New Orleans. Singapore responded by sending four CH-47 Chinook helicopters to participate in the evacuation and relief effort. [125] Among the world's poorest nations, Bangladesh has promised a million dollars. Other Asian countries to offer support include: India; which says it will provide $5 million and the People's Republic of China; which also pledged five million dollars in aid for victims. [126][127]

Non-governmental charitable response

The American Red Cross, Salvation Army, and many other charitable organizations are trying to provide housing, food, and water to the victims of the storm. These organizations provided an infrastructure for shelters throughout Louisiana and other states that held thousands of evacuees. On September 8, 2005, FOX News reported that the Red Cross was prepositioned to provide water, food and essential supplies to the Superdome and convention center as soon as the storm finished, but was prohibited from entering the city prior to Hurricane Katrina making landfall by the Louisiana State Department of Homeland Security, under the direction of Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco. The safety of Red Cross personnel was among the primary reasons given. Within days of the hurricane Community Wireless Network organizations from across North America self-mobilized to deploy telecommunications infrastructure in evacuee camps throughout the region.

Effects outside the immediate region

Costliest Atlantic hurricanes, 1851-2004
Cost refers to total estimated property damage.
Rank Hurricane Year Cost (2004 USD)
1 Andrew 1992 $43.672 billion
2 Fifi 1974 $20 billion (2005 USD)
3 Charley 2004 $15 billion
4 Ivan 2004 $14.2 billion
5 Hugo 1989 $12.25 billion
Source: NOAA

Economic effects

Main article: Economic effects of Hurricane Katrina

Most experts anticipate that Katrina will be the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. Some early predictions in damages exceeded $100 billion, not accounting for potential catastrophic damage inland due to flooding (which would increase the total even more), or damage to the economy caused by interruption of oil supply (much of the U.S. energy operations are in the Gulf Coast region), and exports of commodities such as grain. Other predictions placed the minimum insured damage at around $12.5 billion (the insured figure is normally doubled to account for uninsured damages in the final cost). There are also effects on ocean shipping, the casino industry and tourism.

International oil prices rose. In the UK pump prices for unleaded petrol (gas) hit £1 per litre ($7 per US gallon) for the first time in a significant number of places (averaging about 95p), a rise of about 3% from pre-Katrina prices. Wholesale prices were up 5% as of 6 September. [128]

See also Peak Oil for more information on the geological reality that Katrina has likely exacerbated.

Space Shuttle program

Damage to the Michoud Assembly Facility.
Damage to the Michoud Assembly Facility.

The hurricane passed over the Michoud Assembly Facility and materially interrupted the production of external tanks for the Space Shuttle, leading to a further interruption of the shuttle flights [129]. Evan McCollum, a Lockheed Martin Space Systems spokesman in Denver has reported that "there is water leakage and potential water damage in the buildings, but there's no way to tell how much at this point" [130].

The Michoud Assembly Facility will remain closed until at least September 26. [131] Plans to ship three tanks -- including the one for NASA's next mission -- back to Michoud for retrofitting are on indefinite hold. The next Shuttle flight, STS-121, could be postponed to May or later during the second half of 2006 [132]. This facility is also used as a temporary staging area and headquarters for the U.S. Marine Corps effort in New Orleans, helping with the evacuation.

The John C. Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, Mississippi was also damaged by Katrina, with structural damage to the main facility causing some water leakage into the interior portions of the research facility and halting any major tests while repairs are being made. In addition, the space center was used as a temporary evacuation center for areas near the Mississippi gulf coast region and for residents of New Orleans.

Ten most intense Atlantic hurricanes

Intensity is measured solely by central pressure

Rank Hurricane Year Minimum pressure
1 Wilma 2005 882 mbar (hPa)
2 Gilbert 1988 888 mbar (hPa)
3 Labor Day 1935 892 mbar (hPa)
4 Rita 2005 897 mbar (hPa)
5 Allen 1980 899 mbar (hPa)
6 Katrina 2005 902 mbar (hPa)
7 Camille 1969 905 mbar (hPa)
8 Mitch 1998 905 mbar (hPa)
9 Ivan 2004 910 mbar (hPa)
10 Janet 1955 914 mbar (hPa)
Source: The Weather Channel


Technology for All [133] set up technology centers for Internet access in the Astrodome. There were also reports that SBC Communications and T-Mobile installed and provided free wifi access in the Astrodome. [134] Cisco, Vonage, and SBC provided similar services at the Dallas Convention Center and Reunion Arena where another 8,000 evacuees were sheltered.

The DirectNIC (Intercosmos Media Group, [135]) data center in downtown New Orleans was able to continue operations uninterrupted, due in part to the efforts of a few determined individuals. They also worked to help procure fuel for telco providers, and provided a router for New Orleans' city hall, apparently so city officials could establish VoIP telephone service during the disaster. According to Netcraft, DirectNIC is the 11th largest domain registrar on the Internet, at 1.1 million domains. They are currently running a very popular blog that is documenting things that are happening around them, including pictures of the New Orleans aftermath, with a link to a webcam showing part of the Central Business District on Poydras St. A LiveJournal community, InterdictorNews [136] has been started for those who have been commenting in this blog. It includes FAQs about the actions of the DirectNIC team in setting up Outpost Crystal.

The effects of the storm disrupted the OC-12 Abilene Network [137] Internet2 link between Houston and Atlanta, as well as some of DirectNIC's many high-speed connections. The staff on site are working to restore more upstream connectivity, as well as Internet access to local municipal organizations.

As of September 1, 2005, Sans Infocon [138] is reporting code green for Internet attacks. Keynote Internet Health Report [139] is reporting code green for select Internet networks. The Internet Traffic Report [140] was reporting code yellow for North America. Earthlink network status [141] reports that DSL is unavailable in New Orleans. Perhaps one of the more interesting sets of status information is Googling New Orleans and checking the reachability of the top 20 websites. On September 1, 25% were unreachable, 20% were impaired, and 55% remained reachable.[142] The NO Visitor's Bureau [143] reports "There is virtually total internet disruption as well, as locally hosted servers and routers have gone down with the loss of primary and backup power. Only those hotels with corporate housed servers in other cities have any internet possibility." established a webpage to collect data on the status of and impact on the Internet from Katrina. [144].

Science research

Important work on heart disease, cancer, AIDS and many other other ailments may be lost to scientists at Tulane and Louisiana State universities' medical schools in New Orleans. Military research was also affected as state police broke into a high-security government lab in New Orleans and destroyed unspecified dangerous pathogens before they could escape or be stolen.

Most intense landfalling U.S. hurricanes

Intensity is measured solely by central pressure

Rank Hurricane Year Landfall pressure
1 Labor Day 1935 892 mbar (hPa)
2 Camille 1969 909 mbar (hPa)
3 Katrina 2005 918 mbar (hPa)
4 Andrew 1992 922 mbar (hPa)
5 Indianola 1886 925 mbar (hPa)
6 Florida Keys 1919 927 mbar (hPa)
7 Okeechobee 1928 929 mbar (hPa)
8 Donna 1960 930 mbar (hPa)
9 New Orleans 1915 931 mbar (hPa)
10 Carla 1961 931 mbar (hPa)
Source: U.S. National Hurricane Center

Political effects

Main article: Political effects of Hurricane Katrina

As high profile news coverage has reported, the American public in general blames all levels of government in different proportions for failures to perform their responsibilities in hurricane preparedness, reaction, and aftermath.

Prevention and evacuation issues

According to the National Response Plan, the Department of Homeland Security "will assume responsibility on March 1st [2005] for ensuring that emergency response professionals are prepared for any situation. This will entail providing a coordinated, comprehensive federal response to any large-scale crisis and mounting a swift and effective recovery effort" [145]. The state evacuation plan (Part 1 Section D7) states [146], evacuation is the responsibility of the local parish. In Orleans Parish that responsibility fell to Mayor Ray Nagin. Many critics have noted that while Mayor Nagin gave a mandatory evacuation order on August 28, before the storm hit, they did not make sufficient prevention and provisions to evacuate the homeless, the poor, the elderly, the infirm, or the car-less households. Hospitals, nursing homes, group homes, were supposed to have pre-determined evacuation and/or refuge plans in place. page II-3 Foreign nationals without transport claimed that the police refused to evacuate them, giving bus places only to American citizens. [147]

Prior to this, on August 27 the White House issued a statement [148], effective August 26, authorizing federal emergency assistance for Louisiana. The statement authorized the DHS and FEMA to coordinate disaster relief and "...required emergency measures, authorized under Title V of the Stafford Act, to save lives, protect property and public health and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in the parishes of Allen, Avoyelles, Beauregard, Bienville, Bossier, Caddo, Caldwell, Claiborne, Catahoula, Concordia, De Soto, East Baton Rouge, East Carroll, East Feliciana, Evangeline, Franklin, Grant, Jackson, LaSalle, Lincoln, Livingston, Madison, Morehouse, Natchitoches, Pointe Coupee, Ouachita, Rapides, Red River, Richland, Sabine, St. Helena, St. Landry, Tensas, Union, Vernon, Webster, West Carroll, West Feliciana, and Winn." This includes all the parishes in the state of Louisiana except the coastal parishes which are inherently exposed to the most destructive forces of a hurricane. The President had not yet authorized FEMA to enter the coastal areas despite the governors request including those parishes. [149] The governor activated the National Guard with her August 26, State of Emergency Declaration page II-4 Red Cross relief in New Orleans remains forbidden by the Governor. [150]

According to the Louisiana Evacuation plan, evacuation was mainly left up to individual citizens to find their own way out of the city. It was known that many residents of New Orleans lacked cars. It is also believed that many citizens, having survived previous hurricanes, did not anticipate the impending catastrophe and chose to ride out the storm. Even so, a 2000 census revealed that 27% of New Orleans households, amounting to approximately 120,000 people, were without privately-owned transportation. Additionally, at 38%, New Orleans has one of the highest poverty rates in the United States. These factors may have prevented many people from being able to evacuate on their own. Consequentially most of those stranded in the city are the poor, the elderly, and the sick.[151][152]

Aerial view of flooded New Orleans school buses.
Aerial view of flooded New Orleans school buses.

State and city evacuation plans ([153] (Part 1 Section C and part II-2) mention use of school buses for evacuation. With the following language: "The primary means of hurricane evacuation will be personal vehicles. School and municipal buses, government-owned vehicles and vehicles provided by volunteer agencies may be used to provide transportation for individuals who lack transportation and require assistance in evacuating" Several hundred school buses were left parked on low ground where they would be easily flooded with storm water and then later by the levee flooding making their use impossible in the emergency evacuation. It is not clear whether these buses were owned by the city or by a private contractor to which the city had outsourced school bus services. The precise number of buses available was been cited anywhere from a couple of hundred to a likely exagerated 2,000 [154].

During non-emergency times, drivers of school buses must own and maintain a class D commercial license or better depending on the exact size and weight of the bus. During an emergency any driver is suitable as long as approved by the Governor. In spite of risks and his lack of formal training or license, 20-year-old Jabbar Gibson commandeered a New Orleans school bus and rescued 70 people from the rising flood waters before making the 13-hour drive to Houston's Reliant Astrodome, arriving on Wednesday evening. [155][156] A day later a commercially licensed driver's bus filled with evacuees flipped, resulting in one death and many injuries after a passenger fought with the driver. [157]

In a phone call to WWL radio made after the idle school and RTA buses were flooded[158], Mayor Nagin called for 500 Greyhound buses to be sent from outside the city to help evacuate. Coordination of transportation from outside the Parish is the responsibility of the Governor according to the State Evacuation Plan (Part 1 Section D).[159] Governor Blanco had yet to exercise this responsibility.

Some evacuees report that the drive from New Orleans to Baton Rouge took anywhere from five hours to nine hours; this drive usually takes up to an hour. Reports from the Associated Press state that 80% of the near 500,000 had evacuated safely from New Orleans prior to the hurricane's landfall. Even if licensed drivers had been available and the available buses had been used to evacuate the remaining approximately 150,000 people, they may not have made it to safety before landfall.

This massive migration is the largest since the Dust Bowl of the 1930's sent about 300,000 people from the Great Plains States to other regions of the US, most notably California.

Race and class issues

The question of demographics has been raised in the media as news video and photographs showed primarily black citizens stranded in New Orleans. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the 2004 New Orleans population to be 20.0% white and 67.9% black.[160] Within the city itself, the poorest tended to live in the lowest parts that are most vulnerable to flooding.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Black Leadership Forum, National Conference of State Legislators, National Urban League and the NAACP held a news conference expressing anger and charging that the response was slow because those most affected are poor.[161] [162] Critics say city, state and federal officials didn't bother to consider citizens who cannot afford private transportation when planning for a natural disaster in New Orleans. Mayor Nagin was criticized for failing to formulate an evacuation plan that provided transportation out of the city for those without private means.

However, the greater amount of criticism was directed at the slow reaction of the Bush administration to the crisis. No meaningful help for thousands of people stranded at the city's Convention Center occurred until the fifth day of the flood. They went without food, water, electricity and toilet facilities. People stranded in the Superdome and on highway overpasses faired only slightly better. Polls revealed that a majority of African-Americans believed that racial bias played a role in the indifference the administration, including FEMA, showed. But, some commentators point out that FEMA's response was inadequate across the board, including its treatment of the predominantly white victims in Mississippi and suburban Louisiana.

Civil rights groups were also very displeased with some of the language used in regard to the predominately black citizens of New Orleans. They were casually referred to as "looters" in print and broadcast reports. Looting usually means large scale theft and pillaging, not the taking of necessities such as water, that some desperate people engaged in. Though some outright looting did occur, the word appears to have been used to exaggerate the degree of wrongdoing of most people who took necessities.

Another concern was the media's choice of terminology for the displaced. In one analysis, [163] it was found that "refugees" appeared 5 times more frequently in the global media than "evacuees", which some people see as more neutral. Most of the major U.S. news outlets in eliminated the usage of "refugees". [164]

The Immigration and Nationality Act defines "refugee" in Sec. 101(a)(42) as: Any person who is outside any country of such person's nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. [165]

According to the conventions of international humanitarian assistance, the correct term for the former residents of the hurricane affected areas would be "internally displaced persons". The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights defines internally displaced persons as: "Persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized State border." [166]

The word 'refugee' was rejected by critics because it implies lack of citizenship or second-class citizenship, a sore point considering the United States' long history of discriminatory and dehumanizing treatment of people of African descent. Perhaps because of the centuries it took them to acquire it, African-Americans highly value their citizenship.

On September 2, while presenting on the NBC Concert for Hurricane Relief, music producer and rapper Kanye West strayed from his script and addressed what he perceived as the racism of both the government and of the media, stating: "George Bush doesn't care about black people", and called for the media to stop labelling African-American families as "looters" while white families were depicted as "looking for food". During these comments NBC cut filming on West and footage resumed with Chris Tucker. (West's comments were heard in the entirety in the eastern U.S., where the telecast was shown live; NBC later removed a portion of the comments on the tape-delayed telecast shown in the west. NBC also issued an apology for the comments.) [167]

Some people perceived racism in a pair of photo captions that were posted at A caption said a white couple as had found items and a different caption said black man as having looted. But the photos and captions were from two news organizations and two photographers. The photographers said they had written what they saw, finding items floating in the water in one case, and taking items from a store in the other case. [168]

The perception that racism played a role in how the victims of Hurricane Katrina are perceived is supported by considerable evidence. Would there have been general acceptance of claims that hundreds of people had been killed in the New Orleans Superdome and Convention Center in the absence of stereotypical views of blacks? (The actual [169] death toll was six people in the Superdome and four in the Convention Center. All but two appear to have died of natural causes.) White supremacy sites on the Internet have used [170] false accounts of violence in New Orleans to attempt to win support for their cause. Some states have conducted criminal background checks on evacuees without their knowledge. The attorney general of Utah claimed that many of the 400-500 evacuees who moved there were violent criminals, including murderers, only to subsequently [171] retract his remarks. Sloppy reporters have also made outrageous claims about the evacuee population and criminality, based on speculation or very small samples of evacuees, such as those remaining in shelters after the passage of a week or more. Citizens in some cities where evacuees moved have [172] purchased guns in reaction to their presence, believing them to be dangerous. There is no reliable evidence that crime levels have increased in places where evacuees relocated. However, some law enforcement personnel believe evacuees are being [173] targeted as victims of crimes because of a perception they have cash or debit cards from FEMA.

African-American leaders including Jesse Jackson and Marc Morial of the National Urban League have called for the creation of a victims' compensation fund modeled after the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.

"Within days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Congress passed and the president signed legislation authorizing a 9/11 victims compensation fund, which eventually provided more than $7 billion in compensation for the victims of 9/11," Morial said in a press release[174]. "As it did then, Congress must take immediate and decisive action to begin compensating American citizens whose lives have been disrupted by this major national tragedy."

The impact of the racial dimension of the tragedy may affect African-Americans most. According to poll data and media accounts, the treatment of victims in New Orleans led to feelings of distrust, alienation and anger among black Americans nationwide.

Environmental issues

Katrina has caused a renewed interest in global warming, though all meteorologists from New Orleans and the National Hurricane Center say that the increase in intensity and number of hurricanes is a part of a natural 20-30 year cycle. They also note that world-wide, there has not been an increase in number of intensity of storms. It seems as though the shift in activity has moved from the Pacific Ocean to the Carribean and Gulf of Mexico. See discussion on Long term trends in cyclone activity for more information.

An environmental factor in the extent of damage caused by Katrina has been the destruction of wetlands in the affected regions, which traditionally have a mitigating effect on hurricane damage acting as a sponge to slow floodwaters.[175][176]

Untreated sewage, decomposing bodies and livestock as well as a complicated mixture of toxic chemicals and oils originating from both domestic, agricultural and industrial sources are still mixing into the floodwaters creating a serious health risk across the whole of the flooded area. The immediate threats include disease contagions being spread from decomposing bodies, both by water and by animal vectors such as mosquitoes. Longer term threats will reveal themselves as the floodwaters recede, including biochemical residue which could severely impact surface and ground water, soil, and urban environments. An immediate challenge exists in safely disposing of vast quantities of polluted water inside New Orleans. Many news reports currently state that the water inside New Orleans will be pumped straight back into Lake Pontchartrain and the Gulf of Mexico. The effects of this action remain extremely unclear and will result in serious contamination of both bodies of water.

Congressional investigation

The Washington Post reported on September 7, 2005, that in an apparent attempt to control the political fallout over the destruction of much of New Orleans, the U.S. Congress would form a rare joint House-Senate investigative commission, but that unlike the bipartisan 9/11 Commission, a majority of the committee would be Republicans, and that Democrats would have no subpoena authority [177].

Demographic Shifts

In surveys since the storm 45-50% of the nearly half a million people evacuated from the affected area into other states have indicated an unwillingness to return. A full 40% of those surveyed among the 250,000 evacuees in Texas indicated that they intended to remain in the state permanently. Another 15% indicated that they would probably relocate to other areas of the country instead of returning to Louisiana. Already, thousands of the evacuees and other citizens from Louisiana have started to migrate not only to the evacuation areas such as Texas, Georgia, and Arkansas, but to other areas including Tennessee, California and the Carolinas.

Mayor Nagin of New Orleans recently admitted that he expected that even after several years of rebuilding, the City of New Orleans would likely only be about half the pre-Katrina size of 560,000.

With this major shift in population will come significant political changes. It is estimated that in the next congressional seat realignment, after the census in 2010, Louisiana could stand to lose several of its seven Congressional seat due to population loss. Surrounding states -- particularly Texas -- will likely pick up these seats as a result. Oklahoma, Arkansas, Georgia and Tennessee could potentially each pick up a seat as well. This could have a profound and long-lasting impact on the electoral map and on national elections beginning in 2010 due to both the migration of seats between states and the change in demographics in existing districts in the affected states.

Within the state of Louisiana, the reduction of the predominantly African-American and Democratic community within New Orleans, combined with a reduction of the relative influence of the New Orleans area in the state legislature, has the potential to shift the balance of political power in favor of the Republican party. Loss of federal funds commensurate with the drop in population is also expected, although some cities, such as Baton Rouge, which have grown in population as a result of evacuees, are seeking re-evaluation of the demographic statistics used to calculate apportionment of funds in the wake of Katrina. [178]

Media involvement

Geraldo Rivera reporting from the New Orleans Convention Center on September 2, 2005
Geraldo Rivera reporting from the New Orleans Convention Center on September 2, 2005

Many representatives of the news media reporting on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina became directly involved in the unfolding events, instead of simply reporting. Due to the loss of most means of communication, such as land-based and cellular telephone systems, field reporters in many cases became conduits for information between victims and authorities.

Several reporters for various news agencies located groups of stranded victims, and reported their location via satellite uplink. Authorities, who monitored the network news broadcasts, would then attempt to coordinate rescue efforts based on the news reports. This was best illustrated when Shepard Smith and Geraldo Rivera of Fox News, among others, reported thousands of evacuees stranded at the New Orleans Convention Center. Rivera tearfully pleaded for authorities to either send help or let the evacuees leave. [179] Geraldo Rivera went so far as to compare the convention center to Willowbrook State School. [180]

The news media, both traditional and Internet, also played a role in helping families locate missing loved ones. Many family members, unable to contact local authorities in the affected areas, discovered the fate of a loved one via an online photo or television video clip. In one instance, a family in Clearwater, Florida discovered their mother was still alive in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi after seeing a photo of her on [181], a regional news site.

Many journalists also contributed to the spread of false rumors of lawlessness among the victims. Many news organizations carried the unsubstantiated accounts that murder and rape were widespread, and in some cases later repeated the claims as fact, without attribution. [182] These rumors often impeded the relief and rescue efforts. [183]

Restrictions on the media

As the US military and rescue services regained control over the city, there were restrictions on the activity of the media.

Gaffer's tape identifies journalists to police and military personnel
Gaffer's tape identifies journalists to police and military personnel

On September 7 a FEMA spokeswoman requested in an email to journalists that they voluntarily refrain from taking photographs of the many corpses still present in the city at that time. ([184],[185],[186]). On September 8, FEMA spokesman Mark Pfeifle confirmed this request. On September 9, Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, the military leader of the relief effort, announced that reporters would have "zero access" to efforts to recover bodies in New Orleans. Critics of the federal government considered this effort to be similar to the controversial post-9/11 policy that corpses under federal custody should be kept shielded from media photographers.

Immediately following the government decision, CNN filed a lawsuit and obtained a temporary restraining order against the federal ban ([187]). The next day (September 10), spokesperson Col. Christian E. deGraff announced that the government would no longer attempt to bar media access to the victim recovery efforts ([188]).

Journalists Brian Williams and Pete Williams ([189]) reported that government personnel on the scene blocked attempts to report on rescue efforts in New Orleans. Brian Williams also reported that in the process of blocking journalists, police even went so far as to threaten reporters with a weapon ([190], [191]). However, at evacuee centers such as the Austin Convention Center and the Houston Astrodome press activity was extensive.

On September 7, a journalist for the Denver Post was denied access to a survivor camp at the Community College of Aurora and reported that the camp was fenced-in and heavily guarded.

On September 7, KATU journalist Brian Barker reported ([192]) that his team was threatened with automatic weapons by US Marshals until they were identified by Brig. Gen. Doug Pritt, commander of the 41st Brigade Combat Team of Oregon that they were embedded with. Subsequently, his team taped the letters "TV" on the side of their vehicles in accordance with standard practice in war zones.

Toronto Star staff photojournalist Lucas Oleniuk was thrown to the ground by police in the Spanish Quarter after taking photographs. He took pictures of a firefight between looters and police and the subsequent beating of a looter by the police. They attempted to take all of his equipment. He convinced them to just take the memory cards. ([193])

Freelance photojournalist Marko Georgiev, shooting for The New York Times, took photos of a body presumably shot and killed by the police. Police then pointed their weapons at the car and ordered the journalists out. They proceded to search the car and stole one of Georgiev's memory cards. ([194])

See also

External links and sources

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Violence & Crime in Katrina's aftermath

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