Hurricane Katrina Case Studies


Hurricane – is “a massive storm formed over the ocean when unique weather and water conditions come together” (Oullette & Feltgen, 2007, 11). The most important condition for a hurricane to form is warm ocean water, found in the tropics (Oullette & Feltgen, 2007, 11). Hurricane is a natural disaster. Disaster – is “a destructive event that affects the natural world and human communities” (Rodger, 2007, 4). Each summer, hurricanes form in the Atlantic coast of North America, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane Katrina along the United States Gulf Coast was the fourth major storm of the 2005 hurricane season. It devastated many communities and was the most destructive natural disaster ever to hit the United States (Rodger, 2007, 4).

Analysis of Hurricane Katrina as the worst natural disaster in the United States history

Katrina was the deadliest and most awful hurricane in the history of the U.S. It was the third strongest hurricane on record that attacked U.S. and the sixth strongest Atlantic hurricane. In addition, Katrina was the fifth hurricane, the eleventh tropical storm, and second Category 5 hurricane of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season (Levitt & Whitaker, 2009, 1-2). In comparison with other hurricanes of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season such as Hurricanes Cindy, Dennis, and Emily, which had each taken its turn roaring through the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, Katrina was the most powerful one (Oullette & Feltgen, 2007, 12).  It began as a tropical depression over the Bahamas in the North Atlantic Ocean on August 23, 2005, and made its way past southern Florida as a moderate Category I hurricane, where it caused some deaths and flooding. The next day it gained strength and became a tropical storm, growing rapidly size in the Gulf of Mexico (Hoffman, 2007, 4; Rodger, 2007, 4; Levitt & Whitaker, 2009, 2). Hurricanes often strengthen when they move from the Atlantic Ocean into the Gulf of Mexico. That is because the water is warmer in the Gulf.  Warm water temperatures send water vapor more quickly up into the hurricane’s turbulent core (Oullette & Feltgen, 2007, 25).  Katrina crossed southern Florida on August 25. On August 27, over a span of less than 18 hours, Katrina jumped from a Category I to a Category 3 hurricane. Katrina was twice as big as it had been when it hit Florida. Tropical storm winds extended more than 448 km/h across the hurricane. It had become one of the most powerful hurricanes recorded at sea. A Category 3 hurricane packs an incredible punch, and the National Hurricane Center alerted federal, state, and emergency officials that Katrina could cause severe damage whether it made landfall. That is exactly what it did. By the night of August 26, Katrina turned toward the northwest. Katrina was clearly closing it on New Orleans, and the warm waters of the Gulf provided Katrina with plenty of fresh fuel. By midnight, Katrina went through another powerful intensification. Satellite images recorded the eye forming into a tight, well-defined ring, a sign of increased strength. The morning of August 28, Katrina burst into a Category 5 hurricane. Its maximum sustained winds roared to 280 km/h as the hurricane slowly marched toward New Orleans. The storm a little bit weakened before attacked land for a second time and third time.  Katrina’s winds had slowed to about 201 km per hour when it made landfall in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama as a Category 3 hurricane on August 29. On August 30, Hurricane Katrina was downgraded to a tropical depression. However, it remained a powerful storm and caused great damage (Hoffman, 2007, 4; Rodger, 2007, 4; Levitt & Whitaker, 2009, 2; Oullette & Feltgen, 2007, 26-27).

The most severe loss of life and property damage after the levee system suffered a failure occurred in New Orleans, Louisiana, which was devoured by floodwaters. A levee is “a wall that holds water from spilling over into a lower lying area (from the French word lever, “to rise”) (Oullette & Feltgen, 2007, 16). Some levees are natural, like the ones along rivers and lakes, and others are human made, often built from concrete many feet thick. Behind the natural levees, where New Orleans sits between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, the land is much lower. With New Orleans situated below the level of the water, flooding has always been a danger (Oullette & Feltgen, 2007, 12). However, the storm caused destruction not only in New Orleans, but also across the entire Mississippi coast and into Alabama as far as a hundred miles from the storm’s center. It overwhelmed the cities of Bay St. Louis, Biloxi, Gulfport, Long Beach, Ocean Springs, Pascagoula, Pass Christian and Waveland (Levitt & Whitaker, 2009, 2-3). 

Katrina brought floods and storm surges that caused catastrophic destruction along the Gulf Coast. A storm surge happens, when the water level rises higher than normal and water spills into land (Rodger, 2007, 5). In Louisiana, the flood protection system in New Orleans failed in fifty-three different places. Nearly every levee in metro New Orleans breached as Hurricane Katrina’s 140-mile-an-hour gale force winds, torrential rain, and thunderous floodwaters rolled eastward through the city, flooding 80 percent of the city and many areas of neighboring parishes for weeks (Levitt & Whitaker, 2009, 2-3). In addition, Katrina was also a massive contamination event, with pesticides, oil, fertilizers, and numerous other hazardous and toxic wastes being contained in the floodwaters and migrating throughout New Orleans, Saint Bernard parish, the lower Ninth Ward, and the Lake view area. The 8 – 9 million gallons of oil estimated to have been spilled by Katrina’s fury establishes the “Katrina Spill” - the second-largest oil spill in the history of North America (Brunsma, Overfelt & Picou, 2007, 6). So, it is obvious that as a natural disaster, Katrina was a monster meteorological event that literally obliterated the built and modified environments along a 90, 000 square mile area of the central Gulf Coast and destroyed the homes of 700, 000 people, and as a technological disaster, Katrina was a massive, complex contamination event that caused great oil spills and the creation of “toxic gumbo”, that is, the bacteria – infested, hazardous floodwaters that engulfed the city of New Orleans (Brunsma, Overfelt & Picou, 2007, 6). In total, Katrina caused an estimated $ 81.2 billion in damage, making it the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history (Levitt & Whitaker, 2009, 2-3). 

However, true cost of Katrina to the region and the nation cannot be measured in dollars. In addition to property damage, Katrina dramatically changed the life of many people. Flood and storm surges caused the immediate need in evacuation.  On August 26, the governor of Louisiana, Kathleen Blanco, declared a “state of emergency”. She called on National Guard troops to set up evacuation routes and assist residents to leave coastal areas. By the morning on August 27, Haley Barbour, the governor of Mississippi, had also declared a state of emergency for his state. At the request of Governor Blanco, President George W. Bush authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency, “to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate for required emergency measures” (Oullette & Feltgen, 2007, 26-27). However, these measures were not very effective. Although more than 1 million people left the states along the Gulf of Mexico, thousands of people did not leave, because no official action was taken to move the poor, elderly, and disabled people out of the area before the storm (Rodger, 2007, 4). Katrina killed an estimated 1,800 people. In the subsequent human floods that ravaged the Gulf Coast, making it the deadliest in the United States since the Okeechobee Hurricane in 1928 and the hurricane that hit the island city of Galveston, Texas, in 1900 (Levitt & Whitaker, 2009, 3). Considering this great number of victims, it is necessary to notice the fact that despite warnings that a major hurricane would hit the area, many people could not or would not evacuate their homes. By the time a mandatory evacuation was issued for New Orleans, it was too late. People were trapped. Due to it, there were a great number of victims (Rodger, 2007, 5). 

The devastation of Katrina rose fundamental questions about the strength and frailties of the existing institutional, legal, and policy landscape governing the risk management of natural disasters in American society. Many people believed that suffering that continued in the days and weeks after the storm was because of the failure of government at all levels to plan, prepare for, and respond aggressively to the storm. Among the many factors that contributed to these failures, the Committee found that there were four the major ones: “1). long-term warnings went unheeded and government officials neglected their duties to prepare for a forewarned catastrophe; 2). government officials took insufficient actions or made poor decisions in the days immediately before and after landfall; 3). systems on which officials at all level relied on to support their response efforts failed; 4). government officials at all levels failed to provide effective leadership” (United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, 2006, 2). Criticism of the federal, state, and local governments’ reaction to the storm was widespread.  It resulted in an investigation by the U.S. Congress and the resignation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency director Michael Brown. The storm also prompted Congressional review of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the failure of the levee protection system (Levitt & Whitaker, 2009, 2-3).

The most important problem that hurricane Katrina also revealed was problem of American society such as the inextricable link between race, class, gender, and age. As the world watched the coverage of Hurricane Katrina and its desolation in horror, America’s racial inequality and shocking levels of poverty, dislocation, vulnerability, particularly among African Americans, were laid bare before the world. Television cameras from around the world captured awful images of people walking, floating, and sometimes drowning in contaminated water. Same cameras captured frightening images of crowds of people dying slowly of dehydration and hunger, dead bodies on deserted streets, and people trashing about in pain and fainting because of want of desperately needed medication for chronic illness. The hordes were multiracial in orientation, but the overwhelming majority of the displaced and disinherited were black. It was difficult to believe that the most powerful country in the world abandoned some of its poorest citizens at a time when they needed their government most. However, such attitude to black people was not only a result of a natural disaster. It was the result of a long history. Slavery and its effects on wealth accumulation, family life, and white attitudes toward the treatment of people of African descent are the historical roots that have caused such position of black people during the period of Hurricane Katrina (Levitt & Whitaker, 2009, 10-15). Moreover, there were many other social problems from complete institutional failure to the murder of civilians by New Orleans police officers, which vividly identified some difficulties and problems in social structure of the United States. 

Hurricane Katrina has dramatically changed New Orleans culturally, environmentally, and economically and left image of desperation and damage for all future days. However, more than seven years have passed from the time of the disaster New Orleans needs recovery. Many people still do not have appropriate houses and live in poverty. Moreover, New Orleans is the second in the U. S. according to the rate of homelessness. In addition, it also has the second rate of racial discrimination (Levitt & Whitaker, 2009, 14).

On the other hand, Katrina also has some positive aspects. It is unique in the opportunity it offers to learn about the anatomy of modern disasters and about ways to prepare for them. Moreover, it is unique in the opportunity it offers everyone to understand what happened to the people who still suffer it effects. Although, it is a very sad event in the history of the United States, it gives the opportunity to prepare for future, in order not to suffer from such disaster if it will attack again.


To sum up, Hurricane Katrina is one of the worst, the deadliest and the costliest natural disaster in the world. It caused $ 81.2 billion in damage, took the life of an estimated 1,800 people and left survived people without houses and any properties. It brought great cities to their knees and focused large questions about the nation’s ability to prepare for and respond to natural disasters and other large risks. Moreover, it revealed longstanding problems associated with systemic racism, governmental malfeasance and political cowardice.

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