Geographer Online (2017) shows that in August 2005, Hurricane Katrina was the sixth most powerful Atlantic hurricane and the third most powerful storm to make landfall in the U.S. The storm was a big and deadly Category 5 Atlantic hurricane that resulted in mass destruction of buildings, loss of lives of the residents and inflicted $81 billion in damage, primarily in New Orleans and along a 200-kilometer stretch of coastline in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama (Geographer Online, 2017). This paper aims to discuss the situation of New Orleans before the disaster, and the effects of the hurricane.
Effects of the Hurricane/What Happened
New Orleans city, below sea level, had canals and levees with concrete floodwalls constructed to withstand a category three storm. Despite the precautions taken, the hurricane category four that struck, which caused the storm surge to swell over normal due to low pressure and powerful winds that was too much to withstand. The storm that would later become Hurricane Katrina erupted a day before the hurricane, with high tides caused by the storm’s outer band enveloping low-lying wetlands and communities beyond the levee system. Rising waters in the industrial canal flooded the surrounding areas through broken gates. The weather system gained power the next day, receiving the name Tropical Storm Katrina as it pounded levees before making landfall in Buras. The surge then builds intercoastal waterways and leaves protecting eastern and New Orleans became overtopped, eventually reaching the industrial canal. According to Geographer Online (2017), 80% of the city were inundated for weeks, with the city’s protective levees breached. The Mississippi delta levees were broken too, leading to the flooding around New Orleans city-destroying most of New Orleans’s infrastructure, with stranded populations.
The situation became particularly tense in the Superdome in the New Orleans area, where the refugees’ despair and resentment contributed to a developing climate of lawlessness. As the once-proud city sank further into disorder in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, large flames reportedly broke out in numerous neighborhoods, prompting the deployment of National Guard troops to New Orleans. Gunfire and looting erupted in several parts of the city as those who stuck behind to weather the storm became increasingly desperate. People were pushed to breaking point by acute shortages of essential goods like food and drinking water.
Later, a series of massive explosions, allegedly at a chemical facility near the French Quarter, shook the city, causing more damage and forcing the evacuation of almost 80% of those seeking shelter (Greenberg, 2020). The situation worsened, prompting the city’s then-mayor to criticize the US government, led by President George W. Bush, for allegedly abandoning storm victims and many detainees believed to have been left in their cells during the storm as the guards sought cover. Greenberg (2020) shows that the hurricane was one of the costliest tropical cyclones on record, killing about 1700 people. Repairs to the breach and levees, the construction of a steel dam, and the pumping out of floodwater into the lake began shortly after. A year later, the levees had been repaired to standards comparable to the initial state, but they were still criticized. Corruption was also evident due to the minimal return of the afflicted individuals to their city, where about 1 billion dollars in relief funds intended for Hurricane Katrina victims were lost due to fraud.
The magnitude of the disaster in New Orleans impacted most of the city’s poor areas, prompting significant national and international response efforts that saw approximately 7000 troops deployed to assist in the eviction and relief operations of the victims. Most people, however, took refuge in the city’s Superdome the weeks that followed, federal, local, and private rescue missions removed displaced people from the city. The effects of the hurricane were hard felt, also causing major disruptions.
Geographer Online. (2017, April 29). Hurricane Katrina 2005 – Geography Case Study & overview of the events. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wI6CiXHZsQ&ab_channel=GeographerOnline
Greenberg, M. (2020). Hurricane Katrina: A signature cascading risk event and a warning. American Journal of Public Health, 110(10), 1493-1494. https://doi.org/10.2105/ajph.2020.305871