Case Study of Hurricane Katrina

A warning was issued on the 28th of August in 2005 predicting severe damage from the approaching storm to New Orleans and its surrounding areas. Hurricane Katrina has had catastrophic and prolonged effects on New Orleans and its surroundings. On 29 August 2005, the storm's eye passed east of New Orleans. An evacuation order was issued by the mayor of New Orleans on national television as Hurrican Katrina gained strength. It is estimated that about 1 million residents had fled the city and surrounding areas by the time Katrina came ashore with another 25-30,000 left in the city. New Orleans' population plummeted from 484,674 before Katrina to an estimated 230,172 after Katrina a decrease of 254,502 residents and a loss of more than half of the town's population. By August 31, 2005, 80 percent of New Orleans had been submerged with some areas below 15 feet of water.

Hurricane Katrina was a Category 5 hurricane which was extremely destructive and deadly. Fatal deficiencies in the safety of flood engineering resulted in a significant loss of life in New Orleans. The levees, which were designed to cope with storm surges in category 3, had broken and led to catastrophic flooding and life loss. New Orleans city was one of the worst-hit areas. The levees defend the town against the Missippi River and the Ponchartrain Lake. They were unable to cope with the storm surge, however, and the town was flooded with water. The Bush administration had requested $105 billion to restore and rebuild the area. This support did not include possible oil supply disruption, the deterioration of highway infrastructure on the Gulf Coast and commodity exports such as corn.

Even before Hurricane Katrina hit, New Orleans was at a disadvantage, something experts had been warning about for years. The city is situated in a basin, and some of the city is below sea level, which makes it especially vulnerable to flooding. Communities with low incomes tend to be in the lowest-lying areas.

Though an evacuation order was issued, many of the poorest people in New Orleans remained. This was because either they wanted to protect their property or they were not able to afford to leave. The Stadium of the Superdome was established as a center for people who could not escape the storm. Food shortages were present, and conditions were unhygienic. Looting took place throughout the city and tensions were high because people felt insecure. In the floods, 1,200 people died and 1 million were made homeless. Oil facilities were damaged and petrol prices rose in the United Kingdom and the USA as a result. Eighty percent of New Orleans and large surrounding buildings were submerged and the waters remained flooded.

The storm surge caused significant beach erosion, in some cases totally devastating coastal regions. Katrina also caused massive tree losses along the Gulf Coast, particularly in the Pearl River Basin in Louisiana and among hardwood forests in the bottomlands. The storm triggered oil spills all across Southeastern Louisiana from 44 installations, which resulted in the leakage of more than 7 million US gallons of crude. Many spills were just a few hundred gallons, and most were kept on-site, which affected the birds, fish, and surrounding waters. Some oil reached the surrounding habitats and residential areas.

More than one million residents in the Gulf Coast area were affected by the storm. Most people returned home within days but a month later there were still up to 600,000 households displaced. Hurricane evacuee shelters at their peek housed 273,000 people and at least 114,000 households were later housed in FEMA trailers. It was difficult for many New Orleans residents to get home insurance to cover them from hurricane impacts. The people with the lowest incomes found it harder to rebuild their lives. Some communities now have fewer people under the age of 18, as some families have opted to resettle permanently in cities such as Houston, Dallas, and Atlanta. The city is now also more racially diverse, with higher numbers of Latino and Asian residents.

Many of those who chose to stay behind were stuck by the widespread floods, some were trapped on the rooftops of homes, some inside buildings and some were trapped inside attics which could not escape. Most of the major highways were damaged. Initial reports from the incident suggested that the hurricane's loss of life was estimated to be in the thousands, with media reports that bodies could be found floating in flooded streets particularly in the eastern regions. There was no clean water or electricity in the city and the communications infrastructure that regulated telecommunications, cell phones, and the internet were severely affected, all local television stations were interrupted.

Many restaurants and shops were closed in anticipation of the hurricane. The hotels in the area, almost all of them fully booked, struggled to accommodate tourists out of town whose flights had been canceled and who had no other means of leaving town. The hotels also served as a refuge for many residents of New Orleans, who sought safety at an elevation that was unlikely to be flooded.

Katrina was the most destructive and costliest natural disaster in US history. The loss had been estimated to reach $862 billion. The death toll of accidental and related deaths in the United States was more than 1,800 people, with the highest number of deaths in Louisiana.

The broken levees were repaired by engineers and it took several months to drain the floodwater in New Orleans streets. Most deaths in New Orleans were largely caused by the broken levees and consequent flooding. In the wake of the flood, one of the first tasks was to repair the broken levees. Vast quantities of supplies were airlifted in by the army and air force, such as sandbags, and the levees were gradually strengthened and reinforced.

Although the US is one of the world's wealthiest developed countries, it has highlighted that even very developed countries struggle to cope when a disaster is large enough. With the severity of the damages, the US government was heavily criticized for its handling of the disaster. It was a very slow process, with many people being evacuated. The government has provided assistance worth $50 billion. The UK Government has sent food aid during the early stages of the recovery process. The National Guard was deployed in New Orleans to restore law and order. 

24 May 2022
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