The effect of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans has been one of the most (if not the most) damaging natural disasters in U.S. history. By August 30, 2005, one day after the Category 4 storm made landfall, 80 percent of the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, was flooded, with some parts of the city under 20 feet (6 m) of water. The flood was caused by several levee breaches due to a combination of a powerful storm surge, strong winds and excess water in the bodies of water surrounding the city.
The event continues to have major implications for a large segment of the population as well as for the economy of and politics in the entire United States.
The primary causes of the Hurricane Katrina disaster on New Orleans were the subsidence of the land of southern Louisiana, which can be attributed to the leveeing of the Mississippi River, the failure to address the environmental impact of development on the Mississippi Delta and the failure to maintain and/or upgrade the levee and flood wall system despite many studies which warned of impending disaster.
Hurricane Katrina: Who's to Blame?
New Orleans, much of which sits below sea level, is surrounded by the Mississippi River to the south, Lake Pontchartrain to the north, and the Gulf of Mexico to the east. Construction of the levees between the city, the river and lake began in 1879. The earthen barriers were originally errected to prevent damage caused by seasonal flooding, and allow the city to expand beyond the natural levees on which it had been initially constructed. This interfered with the normal process of the river depositing sediment and building up the land of the delta marshlands during the periodic floods. Interruping this process, which had created the land of the Mississippi Delta over the course of thousands of years, caused the land to dry out. In turn, the swampy lands of the region shrank like a sponge, the land began to sink, entire barrier islands disappeared, as the land of the vast delta slowly settled into the sea.
Indeed, the land of New Orleans and the surrounding communities was not below sea level when the communities were originally built. Only after the area was "modernized" (with the current levee system erected in the 1940s and 1950s, and the shipping canal flood walls completed in the mid 1960s) did the area begin to sink precipitiously.
Shea Penland, a geologist at the University of New Orleans and contractor for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which maintains the levees, attributes one third of the land subsidence to the large number of canals through the delta. Barge traffic and tides erode the earth around the edge of the canals, and salty Gulf water seeps in along them, slowly salinating the ground and killing the vegetation that helps hold the land together.
Drowning New Orleans
In fact, it was not the earthen levees which failed, but the flood walls lining the shipping canals which gave way and flooded the city and surrounding areas with the water of Lake Ponchartrain. These flood walls, little more than two feet thick, were engineered in the 1960s to withstand only category three hurricanes. (Separate treatment will be given in this article to the failure of the United States government to adequately fund maintenance and upgrades to the levee and flood wall system.) Additionally, destruction of Cypress trees and other vegetation that previously thrived in the brackish waters where the mouth of the Mississippi met the Gulf of Mexico crippled the natural salt water filtration system. This escalated the process of erosion and removed the natural storm protection system that historically helped weaken storms before they struck heavily populated inland areas.
The final trigger to the catastrophe was hurricane damage to these flood walls that contained the water of the shipping canals which traverse the city. Three flood walls were breached: those along the Industrial Canal, the 17th Street Canal, and the London Avenue Canal. The pumping stations which were designed to remove flood waters from the city were overwhelmed and failed.
could be considered miraculous that the flood walls held at all
during the category four (or arguably category five) storm and for a
short time after, ultimately they were no match for the secondary
storm surge from Lake Ponchartrain. This failure of the flood walls
which protected the city along the shipping canals was the immediate
cause of the major flood which inundated the city and surrounding
parishes. By August 31, the water level in the city equalized with
that of Lake Pontchartrain, with close to 90% of New Orleans under water.
Despite dire warnings, no large-scale corrective measures had been implemented by the time Katrina made landfall.
"The design of the original levees, which dates to the 1960s, was based on rudimentary storm modeling that, it is now realized, might underestimate the threat of a potential hurricane. Even if the modeling was adequate, however, the levees were designed to withstand only forces associated with a fast-moving hurricane that, according to the National Weather Service's Saffir-Simpson scale, would be placed in category 3. If a lingering category 3 storm - or a stronger storm, say, category 4 or 5 - were to hit the city, much of New Orleans could find itself under more than 20 ft (6 m) of water" (The Creeping Storm, June 2003 Issue of Civil Engineering Magazine).
The eye was forecast to pass to the east of the city. In that event, the wind would back into the north as the storm passed, forcing large volumes of water from Lake Pontchartrain against the levees and possibly into the city. It was further expected that the storm surge in Lake Pontchartrain would reach 14 to 18 feet (4 to 5 m), with waves reaching seven feet (2 m) above the storm surge.
On August 28, 10 a.m. CDT, the National Weather Service (NWS) field office in New Orleans issued a bulletin predicting catastrophic damage to the city. Anticipated effects included at least partial destruction of half of the well-constructed houses in the city, damage to most industrial buildings rendering them inoperable, the "total destruction" of all wood-framed low-rise apartment buildings, all windows blowing out in high-rise office buildings, and the creation of a huge debris field of trees, telephone poles, cars, and collapsed buildings. Lack of clean water was predicted to "make human suffering incredible by modern standards".
Further predictions were that the standing water caused by huge storm surges would render most of the city uninhabitable for weeks, while the destruction of oil and petrochemical refineries in the surrounding area would spill waste into the flooding, converting the city into a toxic marsh until water could be drained. Some experts said that it could take six months or longer to pump all the water out of the city. Even after the area had been drained, all buildings would need to undergo inspection to determine structural soundness, as all buildings in the city would likely be at least partly submerged. In a cruel twist of fate, many of the predictions from a FEMA simulated hurricane response exercise held in 2004. National Geographic published FEMA's predictions for the city and the country following such a disaster in October 2004:
anticipation of destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans
mayor Ray Nagin ordered a citywide mandatory evacuation on August 28,
the first such order in the city's history; neighboring areas and
parishes followed suit. In a live news conference, Nagin predicted
that "the storm surge most likely will topple our levee
system," and warned that oil production in the Gulf of Mexico
would be shut down. President George W. Bush made a televised appeal
for residents to heed the evacuation orders, warning,
Pre-disaster scenarios estimated that 100,000 or more residents would not have the transportation means to escape the city. In the interest of protecting these residents several "refuges of last resort" had been designated in advance, including the Superdome and the New Orleans Convention Center. Beginning at noon on August 28th and running for several hours, all city buses were redeployed to shuttle local residents to the refuges. By the time Katrina came ashore early the next morning the Superdome was housing over 9,000 residents along with 550 National Guard troops. The elevation of the Superdome is about three feet (1 m) above sea level, and the forecasted storm surge was predicted to cause flooding on that site. The Superdome had been used as a shelter in the past, such as during 1998's Hurricane Georges, and because it was estimated to be able to withstand winds of up to 200 mph (320 km/h) and water levels of 35 feet (10 m), it was considered one of the best options available at the time.
The mayor of New Orleans announced,
The storm surge most likely could topple the city's levee system, which protect it from surrounding waters of Lake Pontchartrain, the Mississippi River and marshes, the mayor said. The bowl-shaped city must pump water out during normal times, and the hurricane threatened pump power.
Previous hurricanes evacuations in New Orleans were always voluntary, because so many people don't have the means of getting out. Some are too poor and there is always a French Quarter full of tourists who get caught.
is a once in a lifetime event."
He told those who had to move to the Superdome to come with enough food for several days and with blankets. He said it will be a very uncomfortable place and encouraged everybody who could to get out.
entire region was declared a disaster area before Katrina even hit
land and FEMA prepositioned 18 disaster medical teams, medical
supplies and equipment, urban search and rescue teams along with
millions of MREs (Meals, ready-to-eat), liters of water, tarpaulins,
and truckloads of ice.
Shortly before midnight on August 28, local television stations WAPT and WWL-TV reported the first deaths in Louisiana related to Katrina: three nursing home patients who died, probably of dehydration, during an evacuation to Baton Rouge.
On Monday August 29, area affiliates of local television station WDSU reported New Orleans was experiencing widespread flooding, was without power, and that there were several instances of catastrophic damage in residential as well as business areas. All metropolitan New Orleans television news services had evacuated their studios in the city and were broadcasting from remote locations. As of 2 p.m., the east side of New Orleans was under 5 to 6 feet (1.5 to 1.8 m) of water. Entire neighborhoods on the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain were flooded.
At 11 p.m. on August 29, Mayor Ray Nagin conducted an interview with WWL discussing the damage to New Orleans. He described the loss of life as "significant" with reports of bodies floating on the water throughout the city, though primarily in the eastern portions. There was no clean water or electricity in the city, and some hotels and hospitals reported diesel fuel shortages. The estimate of restoration of power was at least four to six weeks for the city. A breach in the levee at the 17th Street Canal was causing further trouble; the pumps designed to pump water out of the city redirected into Lake Pontchartrain, which then circulated back through the breach. The I-10 pumps overheated, causing valve damage, also negating their effectiveness during the flooding. A representative from St. Bernard Parish reported "total devastation" with 40,000 homes flooded. The National Guard began setting up temporary morgues in select locations. He also said houses have been picked up and moved. In summary, he described the devastation as a "nightmare".
of New Orleans Ray Nagin told ABC's "Good Morning America"
that residents of New Orleans should not expect to return to their
homes for "twelve to sixteen weeks". Nagin also told
reporters on August 31 that the hurricane may have killed thousands
of people in the city. Allen Breed of the Associated Press reports
that New Orleans "descended into anarchy Thursday, as corpses
lay abandoned in street medians, fights and fires broke out and storm
survivors battled for seats on the buses that would carry them away
from the chaos. The tired and hungry seethed, saying they had been forsaken"
As of mid-day Monday, August 29, indications were that the eye of the storm had swept northeast and spared New Orleans the brunt of the storm. The city seemed to have escaped most of the catastrophic wind damage that was predicted.
However, at 11 a.m. the National Weather Service reported that a levee broke on the Industrial Canal, a 5.5 mile (9 km) waterway that connects the Mississippi River to the Intracoastal Waterway, near the St. Bernard-Orleans Parish line (Tennessee St.) and 3 to 10 feet (1 to 3 m) of flooding was possible. This area, also known as the 9th Ward area of the city, reported 3 pump failures.
On August 30 at 1:30 a.m. CDT, CNN (via the vice president of Tulane University Medical Center) reported that a levee on the 17th Street Canal, which connects into Lake Pontchartrain, suffered a two city-block wide breach.
John Hall, spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers, later said that the floodwall on top of the canal levee had been overtopped by the storm surge. The water cascading over the wall eventually undermined the wall base, causing it to collapse outwards. Repairs were complicated by the presence of the low Hammond Highway bridge and a hurricane barrier on the lake side of the breach, which impeded access by barges and heavy equipment.
The 17th St Canal Levee is on the border of Metairie and New Orleans proper and when it collapsed it flooded most of the city under as much as 25 feet (8 m) of water. This breach allowed the water of Lake Pontchartrain, which at the time was some six feet (2 m) above sea level, to flow downward into northern New Orleans proper, which lies between two and ten feet (1 to 3 m) below sea level. A 200-foot breach was confirmed by New Orleans Fire Department officials to CNN at 3:16 a.m. CDT on August 30.
At 6:30 p.m. WWL-TV announced that the effort to sandbag (ongoing since 2 p.m.) the breach in 17th St. canal levee at the Hammond Highway bridge had failed, and it was expected that the pumping station at that location would fail.
At 10 p.m. CDT on August 30, Mayor Ray Nagin reported on WDSU that the planned sandbagging of the 17th Street levee breach did not happen due to a lack of expected Blackhawk helicopters which the National Guard diverted to save some people in a church, and another 9 feet (3 m) of water was expected to fill the entire city. This means that even the French Quarter would flood within about 12 hours, up to the level of Lake Pontchartrain, three feet (1 m) above sea level. The failure to sandbag would add at least an additional four weeks to drain the city. He estimated that it would take about four months before the city would be habitable.
At some time on August 30, the London Avenue Canal floodwall was breached at 6100 Pratt Drive, according to the Army News Service.
satellite imagery released on August 30 indicated that Lakes
Pontchartrain and Maurepas had substantially overflowed their shores,
nearly blending into a single body of water separated only by a
narrow strip of land.
As of Friday, September 2, it was estimated that ad hoc levee repairs would be complete by Sunday, September 4, and, once the city's system of pumps can be repaired and supplied with power, that unwatering the city would then take a minimum of 35 days (mid October) and up to 80 days (end of November) for some areas.
By Saturday, September 3, it had been discovered that the pumps used to drain New Orleans were no longer manufactured, so that the damaged pumps would have to be repaired instead of replaced as had been hoped. It was estimated that at least a week would be required to dry out the pumps before repair could be attempted. Any residential structure submerged for two weeks will likely require demolition.
September 4, Brigadier General Robert Crear of the US Army Corps of
Engineers said that they had succeeded in closing off the 17th Street
canal. He added that it would take between 36 and 80 days to complete
the task of emptying New Orleans of flood water.
Damage to buildings and roads
On August 29, 7:40 a.m. CDT, it was reported that most of the windows on the north side of the Hyatt Regency New Orleans had been blown out, and many other high rise buildings had extensive window damage. The Hyatt was the most severely damaged hotel in the city, with beds reported to be flying out of the windows. Insulation tubes were exposed as the hotel's glass exterior was completely sheared off.
A number of brick façades collapsed into the street. At least three fires were reported in the New Orleans area, destroying several buildings. By September 2, fires had become a more widespread problem with some reports of arson.
The St. Bernard Parish Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP) said that on August 29 that the parish's two shelters at Chalmette High and St. Bernard High were suffering much damage with flooding. He said Chalmette High shelter was losing its roof, and St. Bernard High had many broken windows. There were estimates of 300-plus evacuees at the two sites. "We cannot see the tops of the levees!" exclaimed OEP Director Larry Ingargiola.
At 11 p.m. of August 29, Mayor Ray Nagin conducted an interview with WWL-TV discussing the damage to New Orleans. He described New Orleans as "totally dark" with no clear way in or out, eighty percent of the city flooded, with some areas having water depths of 20 feet (6 m). Both airports were underwater, "three huge boats" had run aground, along with an oil tanker which was leaking oil. The yacht club was destroyed by a fire, and gas leaks were reported throughout the city. The Pontchartrain Expressway (Interstate 10 in Downtown, not the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway) was "full of water" and the "Twin Spans" (the bridge over the east end of Lake Pontchartrain) were "totally destroyed".
As of 11:30 p.m. CDT, WDSU-TV reported at least part of the I-10 Twin Span had completely collapsed. On WWL-TV, Mayor Nagin stated that, according to a FEMA official, the entire length of the Twin Span had been destroyed.
Coordination of rescue efforts August 29 and August 30 were frustrated by inability to communicate. Many telephones, including most cell phones, were not working due to line breaks, destruction of base stations, or power failures, even though some base stations had their own back-up generators. In a number of cases, reporters were asked to brief public officials on the conditions in areas where information was not reaching them any other way.
Amateur radio has been providing tactical and emergency communications as well as health-and-welfare enquiries.
All local television stations were disrupted, but the news crews moved quickly to sister locations in nearby cities. Local newspapers moved out of the affected area. Broadcasting and publishing on the Internet became an important means of distributing information to evacuees and the rest of the world.
Due to the extensive flooding caused by levee breaches, a number of residents were stranded long after Hurricane Katrina had passed, unable to leave their homes. Stranded survivors dotted the tops of houses citywide; according to the Miami Herald, the flooded 9th Ward sent 116 residents onto rooftops seeking aid. Many others were trapped inside attics, unable to escape; some reportedly chopped their way onto their roofs with hatchets and sledge hammers. Due to a mains break, clean water was unavailable, and power outages were expected to last for weeks. Around 10 p.m. CDT, August 29, search and rescue were begun with boats in Plaquemines, St. Bernard and N.O. East.
instances, stranded residents were able to communicate their location
through cellular phones, requesting help. In one such instance, MSNBC
quoted resident Chris Robinson, in a phone call from his home east of downtown,
With the attention of law enforcement personnel focused on rescue efforts, the security situation in New Orleans degraded quickly. By August 30, looting had spread throughout the city, often in broad daylight and in the presence of police officers. "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." Looters reportedly included gangs of armed gunmen, and gunfire was heard in various parts of the city. Along with violent, armed burglary, there were also reports of residents simply gathering food from unstaffed grocery stores for a lack of other sources of food. Incapacitated by the breakdown of transportation and communication and overwhelmed in terms of numbers, police officers could do little to stop crime, and shopkeepers who remained behind were left to defend their property alone. Compounding the lack of a police presence was the absence of 3,000 members of the Louisiana National Guard, who were on a tour of duty in Iraq.
Civil disturbances often hampered rescue efforts throughout New Orleans. In an interview on WDSU, Tulane University Medical Center spokeswoman Karen Troyer Caraway said efforts to evacuate the hospital were hampered due to looters. Caraway reported that looters in boats with guns had attempted to break into the hospital but were repelled by hospital staff. "If we don't have the federal presence in New Orleans tonight at dark, it will no longer be safe to be there, hospital or no hospital," Acadian Ambulance Services C.E.O. Richard Zuschlag told CNN. Several news sources reported instances of fighting, theft, rape, and even murder in the Superdome and other refuge centers.
On August 31, New Orleans's 1,500-member police force was ordered to abandon search and rescue missions and turn their attention toward controlling the widespread looting and a curfew was placed in effect. Mayor Ray Nagin called for increased federal assistance in a "desperate S.O.S." following the city's inability to control looting and was often misquoted as declaring martial law in the city, despite there being no such term in Louisiana state law (a declaration of a state of emergency was instead made). On the same day, Governor Kathleen Blanco announced the arrival of a military presence, stating that they "[knew] how to shoot and kill and [expected that] they [would]." Despite the increased law enforcement presence, crime continued to be problematic. Several armed attacks on relief helicopters, bus convoys, and police officers were reported, and fires erupted around the city at stores and a chemical storage facility. By September 1, 6,500 National Guard troops had arrived in New Orleans, and on September 2, Blanco requested a total of 40,000 for assistance in evacuation and security efforts in Louisiana.
to New Orleans Deputy Police Chief W. J. Riley, on September 4 police
shot and killed five or six people walking on the Danziger Bridge.
Initial reports said that the victims were Army Corps of Engineers
contractors on their way to launch barges involved in the 17th Street
Canal repair. Shortly afterwards, the initial report was retracted,
and it was reported that the men shot by police were gunmen who had
opened fire on the contractors. The Army Corps of Engineers also
confirmed that its contractors were not killed by police, but gunmen
who fired at them were killed.
largest center of refuge, rescued residents were brought to the
Superdome to await further evacuation. Many others made their way to
the Superdome on their own, hoping to find food, water, shelter, or a
ride out of town. Despite increasingly squalid conditions, the
population inside continued to grow, according to Ray Bias, a nurse
with the American Ambulance Association. The situation inside the
building was described as chaotic; reports of fights, rape, and
filthy living conditions were widespread. As many as 100 were
reported to have died in the Superdome, with most deaths resulting
from heat exhaustion, but other reported incidents included an
accused rapist who was beaten to death by a crowd and an apparent suicide.
evening of August 30, Maj. Gen. Bennett C. Landreneau, adjutant
general for the Louisiana National Guard, said that the number of
people taking shelter in the Superdome had risen to around 15,000 to
20,000 as search and rescue teams brought more people to the
Superdome from areas hard-hit by the flooding. As conditions worsened
and flood waters continued to rise, on August 31, Governor Blanco
ordered that all of New Orleans, including the Superdome, be
evacuated. The area outside the Superdome was flooded to a depth of
three feet (1 m), with a possibility of seven feet (2.3 m) if the
area equalized with Lake Pontchartrain. It was decided that FEMA - in
conjunction with Greyhound, the National Guard, and Houston Metro -
would immediately relocate the by-then 22,000-25,000 Superdome
evacuees across state lines to the Reliant Astrodome in Houston.
Roughly 475 vehicles assembled to ferry evacuees with the entire
evacuation expected to take two days.
The New Orleans Convention Center
Orleans Convention Center was also opened up to evacuees, but by
Thursday, September 1, the facility, like the Superdome, was
overwhelmed and declared unsafe and unsanitary. 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 police as a possible refuge. However, even
though there were thousands of evacuees at the center, FEMA claimed
to have no "factual" knowledge of the use of the Convention
Center as a shelter until the afternoon of September 1. Unruliness
among some evacuees also contributed to the difficulty of relieving
conditions at the center; in one case, a supply helicopter was unable
to land due to crowding. Eventually, soldiers managed to toss
supplies to the crowd from 10 feet (3 m) off the ground. By Friday,
September 2, military support at the convention center had
established a steady supply of water and emergency rations as
evacuation efforts were in progress.
evacuation orders were given on August 31, relief organizations
scrambled to locate suitable areas for relocating refugees on a large
scale. Among early candidates was the Reliant Astrodome in Houston,
Texas, which was announced as the primary relocation area for
Superdome refugees. Officially, the Astrodome shelter was to be
reserved for Superdome evacuees only; however, on September 1,
National Public Radio (NPR) reported that the first busload to arrive
at the Astrodome was actually a "renegade" bus. The bus was
driven by a private citizen, Jabbar Gibson, who commandeered one of
many abandoned school buses, picked up stranded citizens, and drove
them to Houston.
Victims of Hurricane Katrina continue to be evacuated out of the city of New Orleans by bus well into the night of August 31.
Authorities in Houston decided to admit them, and eventually admitted other evacuees as well. Houston agreed to shelter an additional 25,000 evacuees beyond those admitted to the Astrodome. San Antonio, Texas also agreed to house 25,000 refugees, beginning relocation efforts in vacant office buldings on the grounds of KellyUSA, a former air force base. Reunion Arena in Dallas, Texas was also mobilized to house incoming refugees, and smaller shelters were established in towns across Texas and Oklahoma. Housing efforts were not limited to those sponsored by state and federal government; shelter was provided by hundreds of individuals and organizations. Arkansas is also expected to take in up to 100,000 evacuees in various shelters and state parks throughout the state.
Expected to last only two days, the evacuation of remaining refugees proved more difficult than rescue organizations anticipated as transportation convoys struggled with damaged infrastructure and a growing number of evacuees. On the afternoon of September 1, Governor Kathleen Blanco reported that the number of evacuees in the Superdome was down to 2,500; however, the AP reported that by evening, eleven hours after evacuation efforts began, the Superdome held 10,000 more people than it did at dawn. Evacuees from across the city swelled the crowd to about 30,000, believing the arena was the best place to get a ride out of town.
Overwhelmed by incoming refugees, by the evening of September 1, CNN reported that the Reliant Astrodome in Houston was ruled full and could not accept any more people. At the time it sheltered just over 11,000, less than half the number that New Orleans had been told to send. The adjacent Reliant Center and Reliant Arena was soon opened as an additional shelter on September 2, as well as the enormous George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston.
Lawlessness delayed evacuation efforts. Lt. Kevin Cowan, spokesperson for the Louisiana National Guard points to difficulties in the second evacuation, "There are still a lot of people out there to be rescued. Unfortunately with these common thugs and criminals out in the streets that are taking pot shots at the rescuers and the helicopters, it is only delaying that. Unfortunately people may be dying from this nonsense."
Evacuation efforts were hastened on September 2 by the wider dispersal of evacuees among newly-opened shelters. Louis Armstrong International Airport, which had recently reopened to allow flights related to relief efforts, began to load evacuees onto planes as well. At one point, the evacuation was interrupted when priority was given to remove 700 guests and staff from the Hyatt located near the Superdome in order to provide housing to relief and security personnel. By the end of the day, 94,308 refugees were housed in 308 shelters in the region.
On September 3, some 42,000 refugees were evacuated from New Orleans, including those remaining in the Superdome and Convention Center. Efforts turned to the hundreds of people still trapped in area hotels, hospitals, schools and private homes.
Sunday, September 4, it was reported that US officials had asked the
European Union for help with the relief effort. According to EU
officials, US government representatives have asked for first aid
kits, blankets, water trucks and 500,000 prepared meals.
There is growing concern that the prolonged flooding will lead to an outbreak of health problems for those who remain. In addition to dehydration and food poisoning, there is also potential for the spread of hepatitis A, cholera and typhoid fever, all related to the growing contamination of food and drinking water supplies in the city compounded by the city's characteristic heat and stifling humidity. Survivors may also face longer-term health risks due to prolonged exposure to the petrochemical tainted flood waters and mosquito-borne diseases such as yellow fever, malaria and West Nile Virus.
As of September 2, an emergency triage center has been set up at Armstrong airport. A steady stream of helicopters and ambulances are bringing in the weak, elderly, sick and injured. Baggage equipment are being used as guerneys to transport persons from the flight line to the hospital set up in the terminal. The captain in charge described the site as "organized chaos" but the emergency medical staff assembled from around the country is keeping pace. Equipped to handle anything from bruises to critical cases requiring ventilators, the site is triaging survivors and then sending them on to medical centers in the surrounding states.
By Saturday, the situation at Armstrong airport started to stabilize. Up to 5000 people had been triaged in the past two days and fewer than 200 remained at the medical unit.
evacuations continued into Saturday. Reports from the Methodist
Hospital highlighted the suffering in the city with people dying of
dehydration and exhaustion while the staff worked unendingly in
horrendous conditions. The first floor of the hospital flooded and
the dead were stacked in a second floor operating room. Patients
requiring ventilators were kept alive with hand powered resuscitation bags.
Loss of life
There are no reliable figures from New Orleans proper as of September 4. Many hundreds, possibly thousands of residents may not have survived the storm and its immediate aftermath. On September 4th, Mayor Nagin informed CNN reporter Nic Robertson that the death toll could rise in the thousands after the clean-up is completed. Some survivors and evacuees reported seeing dead bodies lying in city streets and floating in still-flooded sections, especially in the east of the city.
Bodies at refugee centers, such as an old woman in a wheel chair who had been covered with a cloth, or a man dead on the interstate, were being shown on news stations like CNN and Fox News on Thursday September 1 and possibly earlier. These people died waiting for relief, food, water, or medicine, rather than as a direct result of the storm or flood. An unknown number of suicides related to immense stress have also occured.
not directly caused by the storm, there also have been at least five
gunmen or snipers killed by police. Several police casualties have
also been reported, mainly from running gunbattles with criminals,
and at least two suicides.
the effects of Hurricane Katrina, the vast majority of schools in the
city of New Orleans as well as southeast Louisiana and southern
Mississippi were shut down until further notice. Many of these
schools suffered extensive structural damage, and schooling on all
levels was put on hold. School districts in many areas housing
evacuees allowed children taking refuge to attend classes
temporarily, as they were classified as "homeless". This
was even true for out-of-state students evacuated in several states
as far away as Michigan and California. In addition, many colleges
offered reduced or free tuition to displaced students.
Professional and college sports
Orleans' two major professional sports teams, the National Basketball
Association's New Orleans Hornets and the National Football League's
New Orleans Saints, as well as the Tulane University sports teams,
were displaced. The Saints temporarily moved their operations to San
Antonio, Texas, and their home opener against the New York Giants was
moved to the Meadowlands.
New Orleans tourism
hurricane struck just days before Southern Decadence, a festival
known as the Gay Mardi Gras, which is the second-largest money-maker
for New Orleans businesses after Mardi Gras itself. It was predicted
that outside of the obvious costs of the direct effect of the storm,
the city would lose millions of dollars in tourist monies because of
the cancellation of this festival and presumably others in following
months, in particular the 2006 Mardi Gras. New Orleans was also a top
business convention destination, and due to the long planning cycles
for such events, the hospitality industry worried that many
conventions would avoid New Orleans for several years.
Many branches of the armed forces were involved with the relief effort, including the Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard, and the Marine Corps.
Individuals around the world donated to a variety of NGOs helping relieve the affected areas. The Red Cross is the largest such organization, and both Yahoo, Google and later Amazon set up donation pages for the Red Cross; there are many more.
On August 31, 40 members of the Vancouver Urban Search & Rescue Team were flown to Lafayette by a WestJet Airlines aircraft, along with several thousand pounds of rescue gear, to assist with the rescue and recovery effort in the state.
On September 1, three Republic of Singapore Air Force CH-47SD Chinooks with 38 crewmen arrived in Fort Polk, Louisiana to assist the Texas Army National Guard in their relief operations. The Chinooks are from a Singaporean overseas detachment military base in Fort Prairie, Texas, where the RSAF conducts training for its crewmen.
On September 2, the Canadian government announced that it was deploying three warships-HMCS Athabaskan, HMCS Toronto and HMCS Ville de Québec- and Coast Guard vessel Sir William Alexander to the Gulf of Mexico to assist in relief efforts. Several H-3 Sea King Helicopters will accompany the Canadian ships. Canadian aircraft will also be deployed as part of a NAFTA military assistance pact.
A German Army Airbus plane landed in Florida on Saturday with 10 tonnes of food rations to be transported to the disaster area. Offered help includes German air force hospital planes and pumping services.
Hugo Chavez of Venezuela ordered a million barrels of gasoline as
well as 5 million dollars in aid to the United States.
Criticism of relief effort
of the relief effort have said that the government - at all levels -
had not done enough to minimize casualties before the storm, as well
as provide relief to victims.
Criticisms of federal response
New Orleans' top emergency management official called the effort a "national disgrace" and questioned when reinforcements would actually reach the increasingly desperate city. New Orleans' emergency operations chief Terry Ebbert blamed the inadequate response on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). "This is not a FEMA operation. I haven't seen a single FEMA guy", he said. "FEMA has been here three days, yet there is no command and control. We can send massive amounts of aid to tsunami victims, but we can't bail out the city of New Orleans." At the time, the main staging area was only 6 miles away along the adjoining I-10 at the Causeway intersection, and FEMA had apparently been at the Superdome three days earlier.
Nagin, mayor of New Orleans, in an interview broadcast on WWL (AM) on
the early morning of 2 September, expressed his frustration at what
he judged to be insufficient reinforcements provided by the President
and federal authorities. The interview was picked up by the news
media such as CNN later that morning.
Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin's radio commentary
Additionally, many police, fire and EMS organizations from outside the affected areas have reportedly been stymied in their efforts to send help and assistance to the area. Offical requests for help through the proper chains of command have not been forthcoming. Local police and other EMS workers are apparently traumatized themselves. At least two officers have apparently committed suicide, and many have apparently deserted and turned in their badges.
Aaron Broussard, the President of Jefferson Parish, which neighbors New Orleans, criticized the governments response on the September 4, 2005 edition of NBC's Meet the Press. Broussard described how FEMA blocked water deliveries from Wal-Mart, blocked the shipment of fuel to his area, cut emergency communication lines and described how the local sheriff posted armed guards to protect the lines after they were reconnected.
"We had Wal-Mart deliver three trucks of water, trailer trucks of water. FEMA turned them back. They said we didn't need them. This was a week ago. FEMA--we had 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel on a Coast Guard vessel docked in my parish. The Coast Guard said, 'Come get the fuel right away.' When we got there with our trucks, they got a word. 'FEMA says don't give you the fuel.' Yesterday--yesterday--FEMA comes in and cuts all of our emergency communication lines. They cut them without notice".
Broussard broke down and sobbed uncontrollably on live television while telling the story of one of his employees who kept getting cell phone calls from his mother who was trapped by flood waters in a nursing home;
"And I want to give you one last story and I'll shut up and let you tell me whatever you want to tell me. The guy who runs this building I'm in, emergency management, he's responsible for everything. His mother was trapped in St. Bernard nursing home and every day she called him and said, "Are you coming, son? Is somebody coming?" And he said, "Yeah, Mama, somebody's coming to get you. Somebody's coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Thursday. Somebody's coming to get you on Friday." And she drowned Friday night. She drowned Friday night."
"Nobody's coming to get us. Nobody's coming to get us. The secretary has promised. Everybody's promised. They've had press conferences. I'm sick of the press conferences. For God sakes, shut up and send us somebody."
Criticisms of city and local response
Controversy over whether New Orleans Mayor failed to follow hurricane plan
Many have also criticised the local and state governments, who have primary responsibility for local disasters. Mayor Nagin has come under criticism for allegedly failing to execute the New Orleans disaster plan, which called for the use of the city's school buses in evacuating residents unable to leave on their own. Having chosen the Superdome as the refuge of last resort, some have alleged that the Mayor did not preposition food and water. However, if the Superdome had not been opened up to the public, as requested by the Mayor, the casualties would have almost certainly have been far greater but had he actually used the plan the city developed, the people would have been bused out of New Orleans and the catastrophe wouldn't have taken place.
Governor Blanco issued a voluntary evacuation order and acknowledged that she received a call from the President on August 27, 2005, urging her to make it mandatory in order to get as many people as possible out of the path of the storm. According to a Washington Post report on Sunday, September 4, "Shortly before midnight Friday [September 2], the Bush administration sent her a proposed legal memorandum asking her to request a federal takeover of the evacuation of New Orleans." The Bush administration's offer to have the federal government aid in the evacuation was rejected because local officials were concerned the move would be "comparable to a federal declaration of martial law".
have also leveled criticism at Governor Blanco for not having
activated Louisiana National Guard sooner. Past disasters have relied
on some federal assistance but with the state and local governments
taking the lead. These critics claim that there was inadequate
preparation at the state and local levels in the case of Hurricane
Katrina and as a result FEMAs role was handicapped. An ABC News Poll
with 501 respondents, conducted on September 2, shows slightly more
blame is being directed at state and local governments (75 percent)
than at the Federal government (67 percent), with 44 percent blaming
President Bush's leadership directly. A CNNUSATODAYGALLUP POLL with
609 participants taken September 5-6 show that 13% hold President
Bush as most responsible, 18% said "federal agencies"; 25%
said "state and local officials"; 38% said "no one is
to blame"; 6% had no opinion.
Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times on September 2: "Thousands of Americans are dead or dying, not because they refused to evacuate, but because they were too poor or too sick to get out without help - and help wasn't provided." He points out: "Yesterday Mr. Bush made an utterly fantastic claim: that nobody expected the breach of the levees. In fact, there had been repeated warnings about exactly that risk." In the same article, the former FEMA chief James Lee Witt is cited as saying at a Congressional hearing: "I am extremely concerned that the ability of our nation to prepare for and respond to disasters has been sharply eroded. I hear from emergency managers, local and state leaders, and first responders nearly every day that the FEMA they knew and worked well with has now disappeared."
The New Orleans Times-Picayune published only its third issue since Hurricane Katrina struck, and included a sharp editorial demanding the firing of many of those possibly derelict in their responsibilities during the diaster, such as FEMA director Michael Brown.
including former U.S. President Bill Clinton and Democratic Louisiana
Senator Mary Landrieu, have urged people and media to delay criticism
of the government's response until those stranded in New Orleans can
be rescued and relocated. Laura Bush gave a press conference in
Lafayette, Louisiana, on September 3, 2005, in which she noted that
"bad things are not happening here" and urged the news
media to convey the message of how communities are working to help
people. She refused to criticize the federal response to the crisis
The Bush administration has come under serious criticism from some in the international community, as the time it took for US troops to respond was by most accounts, three to four days. Much of the international news media has questioned the availability of American troops due to the US-led invasion of Iraq and the subsequent occupation. By many reports, the self-sustained combat brigades in Iraq have the equipment to produce the temporary infrastructure required to assuage the terror in New Orleans. These troop units carry significant expertise and equipment to deal with communications, transportation, and health issues. There is also a lack of basic evacuation equipment, such as helicopters and naval resources for marine rescue. Currently over 150,000 troops are in Iraq, without considering the major presence of US Special Forces in the area.
Several foreign leaders has expressed frustration that they couldn't get a go-ahead from the Bush Administration to administer help. President Bush said on the ABC News program "Good Morning America" that the United States could fend for itself; "I do expect a lot of sympathy and perhaps some will send cash dollars," Bush said of foreign governments.
The immediate response from many nations was to ask to be allowed to send in self sufficient SAR teams to assist in evacuating those stranded. France has a range of aircrafts and two naval ships standing ready in the Caribbean. Russia offered four jets with rescuers, equipment, food and medicine, but their help was declined. Germany has offered airlifting, vaccination, water purification, medical supplies including German air force hospital planes, emergency electrical power and pumping services, their offer is noted and they are waiting for a formal request. Similarly, Sweden has been waiting for a formal request for days to send a military cargo plane with three complete GSM systems, water sanitation equipment, and experts.
Criticisms by celebrities
On NBC's Hurricane Relief Telethon, broadcast live to the east coast of the United States, rapper Kanye West slammed the Bush administration for failing to do more for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Following a monologue delivered from a prepared script by comedian Mike Myers, West nervously made the following statement:
"I hate the way they portray us in the media. You see a black family, it says, 'They're looting.' You see a white family, it says, 'They're looking for food.' And, you know, it's been five days [waiting for federal help] because most of the people are black. And even for me to complain about it, I would be a hypocrite because I've tried to turn away from the TV because it's too hard to watch. I've even been shopping before even giving a donation, so now I'm calling my business manager right now to see what is the biggest amount I can give, and just to imagine if I was down there, and those are my people down there. So anybody out there that wants to do anything that we can help - with the way America is set up to help the poor, the black people, the less well-off, as slow as possible. I mean, the Red Cross is doing everything they can. We already realize a lot of people that could help are at war right now, fighting another way - and they've given them permission to go down and shoot us."
The first part of West's criticism was most likely aimed at Yahoo!, which had photos of hurricane victims posted on its website. An Associated Press photograph of two African-American women was captioned, "Looters carry bags of groceries through floodwaters after taking the merchandise away from a wind damaged convenience store in New Orleans on Monday, Aug. 29, 2005."
AP photograph of an African-American man was captioned, "A young
man walks through chest deep flood water after looting a grocery
store in New Orleans on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2005..."
photo, of a white couple, was labelled as follows: "Two
residents wade through chest-deep water after finding bread and soda
from a local grocery store in New Orleans..."
Many individuals picked out the differences between white people "finding" and black people "looting", and these observations erupted into controversy. After controversy on these photos erupted on sites such as Flickr and Salon, Yahoo released a press statement regarding the issue. AFP later requested that their picture be removed from major client databases, and Yahoo's link to the photo has since disappeared.
An article at Snopes explains that the photographer taking the picture of the African-American women actually witnessed the looting, while the photographer taking the picture of the white couple did not see them actually loot the bags, and in his words "I looked for the best picture. there were a million items floating in the water - we were right near a grocery store that had 5+ feet of water in it. it had no doors. The water was moving, and the stuff was floating away. These people were not ducking into a store and busting down windows to get electronics. They picked up bread and cokes that were floating in the water. They would have floated away anyhow." He posted this at SportsShooter (to find his post search for "Chris Graythen").
After West's impromtu speech, Myers resumed hosting duties of the segment, reading once again from the prepared speech. After he handed back the floor to Kanye West, West said: "George Bush doesn't care about black people." NBC then cut the feed.
The special was edited for West Coast audiences, and West's remarks about George W. Bush were removed.