Hurricane Katrina remains the single most catastrophic natural disaster in United States history. And the tragic event began nine years ago today. Almost 2,000 people died. 2 in Alabama, 14 in Florida, 2 in Georgia, and 238 in Mississippi. 1,577 is the final death count from the state of Louisiana. According to the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, 40% of the deaths in Louisiana were caused by drowning. 25% were caused by injury and trauma. 11% were caused by heart conditions. Sadly, nearly half of the dead were over 74 years old.
In the days before the storm, Mayor Ray Nagin issued the city’s first mandatory evacuation. But many New Orleanians resisted the evacuation, believing the city was hurricane-resistent. With the city being below sea level, a common hurricane preparedness tool was an axe. In a worse-case scenario, as people sought higher shelter in their attics, an axe would ensure an escape. But the flooding was so extensive, rescue attempts were few. Many people were forced to remain on their roofs in blistering sunshine with no water for days.
Damage estimates for Katrina are around $108 billion. The federal government spent $75 billion on emergency relief operations. Corruption ran rampant in the months and years after Katrina. According to the Government Accountability Office, at least $1 billion in disaster relief payments made by FEMA were improper and potentially fraudulent.
Within the city of New Orleans, 80% of the land was flooded after levees failed in the days after the storm. Most of the city became uninhabitable for months. Before the storm, the population of “The Big Easy” was 485,000. But within a year, the population was just 230,200; half of its residents electing not to return. Today, the population is still lower than it was before the storm.
According to CNN, more than one million people in the Gulf Coast region were displaced by Katrina. In the days following, there were as many as a quarter of a million people in relief shelters.
Katrina leads the way as the most significant hurricane with respect to costs in property and loss of life, followed by Andrew, Hugo, Sandy, Camille, the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane (Florida Keys), and the Galveston (Texas) hurricane that killed more than 20,000 people.
The video clip below is an automated forecast from The Weather Channel in the hours before landfall. Note the computer voice forecasts winds of 140 mph.