The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season was a bad time to be living along the Gulf Coast in Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana or Texas – for that was the year when Hurricane Katrina came calling. She would do more damage than any hurricane before, cost the USA some $80 billion to put right, was the sixth-strongest ever recorded and the fifth-deadliest life-taker.
At her peak, Katrina’s wind speed reached a frightening 280kph (175 mph). The storm formed near the Bahamas on August 23 and crossed southern Florida as a relatively innocuous Category One hurricane, though causing flooding and a few deaths after a state of emergency was declared. Once over the Gulf of Mexico, the beast gathered strength and returned to make landfall in southeast Louisiana as a Category Three monster on August 29, creating a violent storm surge. After crossing the Breton Sound, Katrina made a third landfall in Mississippi before moving inland and finally being demoted to a tropical storm over Tennessee the following day. It was over, but not before a terrible price had been paid in devastation and lives lost.
Damage was widespread. The most severe devastation took place in New Orleans. This was a result of the failure of the levee (floodbank) system that protected the low-lying city. Levees were overwhelmed by rising water and many collapsed some hours after the hurricane had passed. Around 80 per cent of the city was flooded in consequence, but the catastrophe could have been much worse. Thanks to accurate advance warnings as to the storms destructive potential, sensible precautions were taken in Katrina’s projected path. These included a mandatory life-saving evacuation of New Orleans. Even so, many residents were unable to leave the city, and a large number perished in the subsequent terrible floods.
When: August 23-30 2005
Where: Southeastern USA
Death toll: 1,836 confirmed fatalities, with another 705 missing
You should know: The official reaction to the Katrina disaster was totally inadequate, with confusion evident between local, state and federal governments as to who should do what across the devastated areas. Relief efforts were hampered by chronic mismanagement and indecisive leadership at all levels – a botched response that was quickly labelled ‘Katrinagate’.