Today In History: Hurricane Katrina Hits

Today In History |

August 29, 2005

New Historian

Today in 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the coast of Louisiana. The Category 4 hurricane caused the most devastating natural disaster in American history. It caused extensive damage across New Orleans, as well as other parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

About 150,000 New Orleans residents were either unwilling or unable to follow mayor Ray Nagin's evacuation order. This, coupled with failing infrastructure, set the stage for a large number of casualties. The storm broke through the levees protecting the city from Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River. Roughly 80% of New Orleans was completely flooded.

The relief effort was fraught with difficulty from the start. Many thousands of people fled to the New Orleans Convention Center and the Louisiana Superdome, where a dearth of supplies, food and water led to extremely unsafe conditions for those seeking shelter. It wasn't until two days later that a large-scale relief effort was mounted.

The Advocate

Notably, the federal government's response to the disaster was sluggish, leading to widespread condemnation and accusations of racism, as the majority of the displaced people were black. In the midst of backlash, Michael Brown, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, stepped down.

On September 1, the people sheltering at the Convention Center and the Superdome began transferring to Houston's Astrodome. A mandatory evacuation was ordered for New Orleans, and the following day, the US military and National Guard swept through the city to re-establish the rule of law. On September 8, the Army Corps of Engineers was able to adequately repair the levees to allow water to be pumped out of New Orleans.

Katrina resulted in an estimated 1,300 deaths, and caused around $150 billion in property damage. It displaced over a million people, and 400,000 lost their jobs. The effects are still being felt today. The government's handling of the disaster was considered a major failure of the Bush administration.

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Matt lives in Southern California. He is interested in politics, history, literature and the natural world.