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Analytical Essay on Hurricane Katrina As a Catastrophic Event

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Description of Event

One of the deadliest and costliest hurricanes in the history of the United States is Hurricane Katrina. In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in the Gulf Coast of the United States (Brunkard et al., 2013). According to the Saffir-Simpson Scale, the storm was a category 5 hurricane, as it resulted in extensive destruction in New Orleans and the coasts of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Hurricane Katrina brought in strong waves, storm surges, excessive rainfall, and highly intense winds (Labib and Read, 2015). It contributed to high mortality rates and greatly affected the Gulf Coast’s environmental, economic, and social landscape (Zottarelli, 2008).


Hurricanes, also called strong tropical cyclones, form over the ocean, at a water temperature of at least 26C. Relatively close to the equator, tropical cyclones have high winds, storm surges, and heavy rains. A hurricane is made of three essential components: the eye, eye wall, and spiral rain bands. The eye is the centre region of the hurricane and consists of transparent to partly cloudy skies, and light winds. The eye wall is the most devasting component of hurricanes, which contains a ring of intense thunderstorms that rapidly whirl around the skies of the eye. The spiral rain bands are made up of heavy rain and rings of tall clouds throughout the hurricane (Moscicki, 2019).

Hurricanes often begin as a tropical disturbance— a large area of low pressure and unsettled water— where clouds form a group of thunderstorms. As the thunderstorms begin to intensify, an unorganized area containing many thunderstorms, called a tropical depression, is developed (CNN Library, 2019). Once the storms form an organized area at wind speeds between 65-119 km/h, a tropical storm is created, where it takes a circular shape. A hurricane is (1) then formed when the storm continues to intensify in an area of low pressure, where wind speeds are no less than 120km/h. Subsequent to the development of a hurricane, the Saffir-Simpson scale is used to categorize the hurricane from Category 1 to Category 5, based on the height of the storm surge – the most devasting effect of hurricanes— sustained wind speeds, and potential damages to property and infrastructure (CNN Library, 2019).

A tropical wave from Africa, travelling westward across the Atlantic Ocean initiated the formation of Hurricane Katrina (Figure 1). A tropical depression developed on August 23rd, 2005, as a cluster of thunderstorms came together. On August 24th, Katrina formed into a tropical storm, and continued to move through the Bahamas towards Florida (Marshall, 2005). Katrina made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane on August 25th near Miami, Florida (Jonkman et al., 2009). As the hurricane progressed, it was classified as a Category 3 on August 27th and upgraded to Category 4 a day later. On the morning of August 28th, Katrina crossed an area of warm water with low pressure, resulting in a fast escalation in hurricane intensity, allowing it to reach Category 5 classification. Later that day, the west side of the cloud mass started to erode, and the eye’s barometric pressure began to increase, because the dry air from Texas and

Louisiana entered the storm’s west side (Jonkman et al., 2009). This indicated that the storm had then weakened to a Category 4, prior to its second landfall in Louisiana on August 29th. Katrina continued to travel north, and the eye passed east of downtown New Orleans, slowly after which the storm reduced to a Category 3, as the south eyewall eroded, and wind field became weaker. Katrina made its third landfall on the same day, on the border of Louisiana and Mississippi, at the mouth of Pearl River. As illustrated in Figure 2, Katrina was a large, long-lasting hurricane, with a storm surge of 31ft, which was recorded as the highest storm surge in Mississippi in the history of the United States (Jonkman et al., 2009).

Figure 1: Colour-coded path of Hurricane Katrina described by its category on the Saffir- Simpson Scale (reproduced from Marshall, 2005).

Figure 2: Heights of the Storm Surge along the Gulf Coast (reproduced from Marshall, 2005). Impacts

The impacts of Hurricane Katrina were greatly experienced by the city of New Orleans.

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A large portion of New Orleans was protected by earthen and concrete levees to prevent flooding, because it was below sea level. The levees were constructed to protect the city from a slow Category 2, or fast Category 3, hurricane. A few levees were weak and had collapsed after being hit by a strong Category 5 hurricane, which they were unable to withstand (Marshall,

2005). The failure of levees led to flooding in many parts of New Orleans, as large volumes of water from Lake Borgne, Lake Pontchartrain, and the Gulf of Mexico flowed into the city (Labib and Read, 2015). Due to surge flooding, the coastline of Mississippi also experienced tremendous destruction (Jonkman et al., 2009).

Hurricane Katrina is one of the most disastrous events in American history. Katrina is America’s first disaster to cause property damage worth $96 billion. Hurricane Katrina and the New Orleans flood made extensive damage, as many buildings, forests, green spaces, and approximately 300,000 homes were destroyed, resulting in a considerable amount of debris being left behind. Unemployment rates and power infrastructure were also affected by Katrina. In areas of extensive damage in Louisiana and Mississippi, the unemployment rate increased from 6% to 12%, negatively impacting the economy. There were 2.5 million power outages reported by customers in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi (The White House and Executive Office of the President, 2006). Katrina also caused at least 10 oil spills in Louisiana, a total of more than 28,000,000 L, which poured into the water bodies of the Gulf Coast. Environmental and health hazards caused by the destruction include, oil pollution, standing water, household and industrial chemical leakages, and sewage contamination. The storm surge hit 466 chemical facilities and waste sites and destroyed 170 drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities. Overall, Hurricane Katrina resulted in 1,833 fatalities, and caused catastrophic damage, especially in the city of New Orleans (The White House and Executive Office of the President, 2006).


As a proactive response to Hurricane Katrina, warnings were spread rapidly across the Gulf Coast and were issued well before Katrina made landfall. The National Hurricane Center issued hurricane advisories, specifying information regarding storm surge, impact area, projected

path, and the potential consequences, including the overtopping of levees and extensive flooding in New Orleans (Cutter and Gall, 2006). On the morning of August 27th, the first evacuation orders were issued for the coastal regions. Immediately after Katrina turned into a Category 5 hurricane, a mandatory evacuation order was issued, and 430,000 vehicles were able to evacuate from the metropolitan area of New Orleans before the storm reached there. Approximately 1.1 million people of those at risk were also able to move out of south-east Louisiana. The local authorities set up multiple shelters across the city, including the Superdome in Orleans parish, for the population that remained behind (Jonkman et al., 2009).

Many federal, state, local, and private organizations reactively responded to the massive flooding in New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina, rescue workers were able to rescue nearly 62,000 individuals from the roofs, attics, and water, within 5 days using helicopters or boats. With the assistance of the search and rescue teams, nearly 78,000 displaced individuals were relocated to shelters by September 4th (Jonkman et al., 2009). The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a part of the American Department of Homeland Security, was in charge of managing the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina. The American government sanctioned $62 billion in hurricane relief aid, and FEMA distributed over $5 billion to more than 1.7 million households (Cutter and Gall, 2006).


Recovery after Hurricane Katrina was a difficult, yet continuous process in New Orleans. The emergency period lasted very long in duration, providing evidence for failures in the initial response and the evacuation protocol conducted. Based on the 6-week emergency period, New Orleans should have spent approximately 60 weeks in the restoration period; however, there was only a 40-week restoration period. The dedication of gathering resources, funding, and

rebuilding the levees is a potential explanation for the lower restoration time. While important planning systems were implemented 10 weeks after Hurricane Katrina during restoration, plans for reconstruction began to spread within the emergency period (Colten et al., 2006). The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) set new building codes for new constructions in New Orleans’ flood zones. The city continued to rebuild in an adaptive way to ensure that it returns to the condition it was in prior to Katrina. New Orleans showcased a faster rate of recovery in comparison to other disasters; however, the extensive destruction caused by Katrina is decades away from normalcy. New Orleans is a resilient city, but it will take time for everything to return to the way it was prior to Katrina. (Cutter and Gall, 2006).


Further work has been suggested for the rebuilding of property and infrastructure to make it safer and resistant to hurricanes in the future. The NFIP suggested the U.S. government to implement building codes and land-use planning to strengthen infrastructure (Cutter and Gall, 2006). Rebuilding stronger levees around New Orleans can help prevent major flooding in the city for a similar event in the future. Providing an adequate emergency response, with prepared state emergency response teams and a mandatory evacuation order can also reduce catastrophic damage in the future. Implementing a more effective hurricane protection management policy, including strong risk management, proper maintenance of levees, and coordinated construction, can prevent extensive damage in the future (Labib and Read, 2015). It is essential that the American government learns from the mistakes made during Hurricane Katrina and strive to implement a system to prevent issues for future catastrophic events.


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  10. Moscicki, M. (2019). Lecture 5: Severe Weather [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from University of Western Ontario Geography 2152F OWL site.
  11. The White House, & Executive Office of the President. (2006). Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned, February 2006. Retrieved from
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