Hurricane Katrina, Response and Recovery (10-12-06)

Untitled Document

Hurricane Katrina crossed Florida as a category 1 storm, gained strength over the Gulf of Mexico, and pummeled the Gulf Coast, near New Orleans, as a category 3 storm, causing severe damage and displacing hundreds of thousands of people in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Damaging winds and storm surge destroyed thousands of houses, and an unknown number of buildings, roads, bridges, boats and vehicles along the coast. Subsequent flooding damaged hundreds of thousands of houses and more buildings, roads, boats and vehicles. Electricity and communications (telephone land lines and mobile phones) for over 2 million people and an unknown number of businesses and government facilities were knocked out by wind and water throughout the Gulf Coast and Florida. The city of New Orleans was completely shut down. The federal, state and local government response to the disaster was slow, disorganized and inept. Congress has responded with large emergency supplemental relief packages and has started to investigate why the preparation and response were so poor. The Earth science community plays an important role in understanding the causes and effects of hurricanes, providing engineering solutions for natural and man-made barriers to wind and water, protecting energy exploration, refining and distribution, determining and mitigating the environmental impact of natural and man-made hazards and restoring the natural and built environment to mitigate future hazards. Geoscientists must help educate the public, industry and policy makers about these issues to reduce future risks.

In addition to holding hearings that deal specifically with Hurricane Katrina, Congress is also conducting hearings on energy supply concerns that were aggravated by the hurricane, and on wetlands and coastal resources. The background section contains more details about human and economic losses and a timeline of events before and after the storm.

For more information on public policy and hearings relating to wind hazards, click here.

Recent Action

Senate Introduces Hurricane Research Bill
On September 29, 2006, Senators Mel Martinez (R-FL), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and David Vitter (R-LA) introduced a new bill entitled The National Hurricane Research Initiative (NHRI, S. 4005). The new bill would provide funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to improve understanding of hurricane movement and intensity. The bill is partially based on recommendations from a draft report of the National Science Board entitled "Hurricane Warning: The Critical Need for a National Hurricane Research Initiative." The report stated, "Time is not on our side."

The NHRI would put NOAA and NSF in charge of implementing specific goals laid out in the bill, including prediction of hurricane intensity, storm surge, rainfall and inland flooding, assessment of susceptible infrastructure, and improved disaster response, recovery and evacuation planning. The bill would also create a National Infrastructure Database to provide a baseline for creating standards, measuring modification and loss, and establishing sound public policy.

"Hurricanes, by far, cause more economic damage to a more widespread area than any other natural disaster. This bill takes sound, scientific recommendations and builds from them a foundation for better, more coordinated research," said Martinez.

The NHRI has been referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. There is no comparable legislation currently being considered in the House. (10/12/06)

Previous Action

NIST Releases a Report on the Performance of Physical Structures in Hurricanes Katrina and Rita
On June 9, 2006, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released a reconnaissance report on the "Performance of Physical Structures in Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita." The report was coordinated by the Building and Fire Research Laboratory (BFRL) group at NIST, which is authorized to investigate all major building failures in the United States. The group studied a variety of buildings, physical infrastructure (levees, bridges, water and wastewater systems, power, communications and industrial facilities) and residential structures in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Based on the findings, the report makes 23 recommendations for specific improvements in the way that these structures are designed, constructed, maintained, and operated in hurricane-prone regions across the United States. For example, the report urges states to adopt building codes that require 'critical equipment' such as electrical systems and generators to be located above potential flood levels, and masonry walls and roofing to be securely anchored and reinforced in order to protect against wind damage. In short, many buildings will be better able to withstand future storms simply provided that contractors are vigilant about strictly adhering to building standards and statewide model construction codes. The report further recommends that states consider creating a licensing program for roofing contractors, continuing education courses for contractors, and field inspection teams to monitor construction.

Many of NIST's recommendations are being utilized by federal agencies, state and local governments and the private sector, in order to lessen or prevent future hurricane damage to structures. For instance, federal agencies are currently updating flood hazard maps to better estimate the effects of storm surge and wave action on coastal structures. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is also repairing and improving the flood protection system in New Orleans, based on findings from its Interagency Performance Evaluation Team (IPET) and recommendations from the NIST report.

To read the full text of the report, click here.
For a comprehensive slideshow briefing, click here. (6/21/06)

Army Corps of Engineers Releases Report on New Orleans Levees
In a report released on June 1, 2006, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers acknowledged that the levee system in New Orleans was incomplete and inconsistent, flawed in design and construction due to a reliance on outdated data, and not built to handle a hurricane the size of Katrina. The findings came in a report entitled "Performance Evaluation of the New Orleans and Southeast Louisiana Hurricane Protection System," which was prepared by the 150-member Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force (IPET).

The Corps concluded that New Orleans hurricane protection system was "a system in name only." Its performance was compromised by three main factors: incompleteness of the system, inconsistency in the levels of protection, and a lack of a second tier of protection in the event that the first tier failed. The report found that floodwalls and levees were at substantially lower elevations relative to sea level than they had been designed to be, due to incomplete construction, errors in interpretation of measured datum points (several structures were built 1 to 2 ft below the intended elevation), and substantial subsidence over the past 35 years (in some areas greater than 2 feet).

Inconsistencies in the quality of materials used in the levees (some levee sections were composed of highly erodible materials), weaknesses at transitions between structure types, and differences in floodwall design also added to the instability of the system. While overtopping of the levees during Hurricane Katrina was considered inevitable, it was the foundation failure of the I-wall structures that caused major breaching and massive flooding of New Orleans.

The foundation failure of the hurricane protection structures was due in part to their construction over relatively weak and compressible Holocene age deposits. The report found that in areas where foundation failures occurred, the subsurface sediments generally consisted of peat and/or weak clays overlying sand and/or clay layers. Undermining of the floodwalls was due to shearing planes that occurred within the clay layers and seepage through the beach sands beneath the buried floodwall foundations. The Corps admitted that soil shear strengths in some areas were overestimated, and that it was a mistake to base design and construction plans on average soil strength values unrepresentative of highly variable subsurface conditions.

The report stated that while "the repaired sections of the hurricane protection system are likely to be the strongest parts of the system," it warned that the area will remain vulnerable to hurricanes until the remainder of the system can be repaired and upgraded.

Click here to read the full text of the IPET report. (6/6/06)

UC Berkeley Releases Independent Report on Hurricane Katrina
On May 22, 2006, the Independent Levee Investigation Team (ILIT) released its report on the "Investigation of the Performance of the New Orleans Flood Protection Systems in Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005." ILIT, led by the University of California at Berkeley and funded by the National Science Foundation, is composed of 36 members from universities, private engineering firms, and state and federal agencies. The team found that the failure of the New Orleans regional flood protection system can be traced to "engineering and maintenance lapses, poor judgments, and efforts to reduce costs at the expense of system reliability."

Even once $3.1 billion in levee and floodwall repairs are completed later this year, existing design and construction defects raise doubts that the system can withstand another hurricane the size of Hurricane Katrina. ILIT reported that defects that caused breaches in the hurricane protection system were due mainly to the use of highly erodible shell sand fill in the levees, and underseepage flows that passed beneath the concrete floodwall support pilings. The team recommended that Congress authorize the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to comprehensively reevaluate the entire system and determine its level of safety and reliability.

In addition to the technical issues associated with the hurricane protection system, ILIT identified multiple organizational and institutional concerns. The report stated that there were underlying problems associated with "governmental and local organizations jointly responsible for the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of the flood protection system, including provision of timely funding and other critical resources." The report makes clear that no group or organization was single-handedly responsible for the failure of the hurricane protection system, but that multiple parties are to blame.

Eleven major recommendations, such as strengthening the USACE's technical abilities and creating a national flood defense authority, were included in the report. ILIT emphasized that the U.S. must "seriously consider defining risk in the framework of federal, state, and local government responsibilities to protect their citizens," and minimize attempts to arbitrarily reduce the costs of constructed works.

The report concluded that "simply addressing engineering design standards and procedures is unlikely to be sufficient to provide a suitably reliable level of protection. Steady commitment and reliable funding, shorter design and construction timeframes, clear lines of authority and responsibility, and improved overall coordination of disparate system elements and functions are all needed as well."

To read the full ILIT report, click here. (6/6/06)

Senate Approves Emergency Supplemental Bill with $28.9 Billion for Hurricane Katrina Relief
On May 4, the Senate approved a $109 billion emergency supplemental appropriations bill in a 77-21 vote. Roughly two-thirds of the emergency appropriations will be spent on the war in Iraq, with the remaining funds dedicated to Hurricane Katrina relief and recovery. The Senate version of H.R. 4939 includes $28.9 billion for hurricane relief efforts and $4 billion for levee repair and flood control projects. The Senate bill appropriates roughly $15 billion more than the $91.9 billion passed by the House in mid-March. Other details of the supplemental include $122.85 million for wetland restoration in the Gulf Coast, $132 million for repairs of National Wildlife Refuges in the Gulf Coast, $10 million to the U.S. Geological Survey for investigations and repairs in the Gulf Coast, $7 million of additional funds for the leaking underground storage tanks program to investigate and repair damage related to Katrina, $6 million for Environmental Protection Agency investigations in the Gulf Coast and $15 million to the Minerals Management Service for repairs and to offset other funding transfers made earlier. Also included in the bill was $5 million for the Army Corp of Engineers to provide drought assistance to southwestern states and extension of the Drought Relief Act to 2010. The bill is now headed for House-Senate conference action, which promises to be contentious. House leadership has said it refuses to pass a bill that spends more than the $92.2 billion as originally requested by President Bush. Additionally, the President has threatened to veto the final bill if it exceeds his request. (5/5/06)

Senate Releases Hurricane Katrina Report
Approximately one month before the start of the 2006 hurricane season, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs released its bipartisan report on "Hurricane Katrina: A Nation Still Unprepared." The report, released on April 27, 2006, identified the U.S. government's "inadequate response and recovery efforts" during Hurricane Katrina and proposed changes to the nation's emergency response system. The report faulted the Bush administration for emphasizing terrorism at the expense of natural disaster preparedness, and - among its 86 recommendations - called for the replacement of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) with a National Preparedness and Response Authority (NPRA). The NPRA would reunify the disaster preparedness and response activities that were decoupled by Secretary Michael Chertoff in 2005, and would be led by a director with greater access to the President during an emergency. The Senators who led the inquiry, Susan Collins (R-ME) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), acknowledged that such an overhaul could not possibly be completed by the start of the 2006 hurricane season, but emphasized that FEMA has become "discredited, demoralized, and dysfunctional" and should not continue to operate in its current state.

To read the full text of the Senate report, click here. (6/6/06)

House Approves an Additional $19.1 Billion for Hurricane Katrina Relief
On March 16, the House voted 348-71 to pass a $91.9 billion emergency supplemental appropriations bill that includes $19.1 billion in additional funding for Hurricane Katrina relief and recovery, falling $700 million short of the amount requested by the administration in February. Katrina funding in H.R. 4939 includes $9.55 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund, $1.36 billion for levee construction and flood control efforts by the Army Corps of Engineers, and $100 million for wetland restoration in the New Orleans metropolitan area. The supplemental also provides an additional $10 million for the Emergency Watershed Protection Program, which authorizes "the purchase of easements on floodplain lands in disaster areas affected by Hurricane Katrina." The Senate is expected to start work soon on its version of the supplemental bill. (3/24/06)

Congress and the White House Release Hurricane Katrina Reports, Updated Impact Statistics
Six months after Hurricane Katrina, a series of hearings and investigations have culminated in the release of reports by Congress and the White House. On February 15, the House Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina released its final report, "A Failure of Initiative." The report cites "failures at all levels of government," focusing on incomplete evacuations, the lack of a coherent National Response Plan, the unfamiliarity of federal agencies with their responsibilities, the lack of preparation within the Department of Homeland Security and the affected states, and problems of coordination and communication. The report also addresses problems with the levees, including the "diffuse" nature of responsibilities for levee maintenance, the lack of a warning system for levee breaches, and the fact that the levees were not built to withstand the most severe hurricanes.

Roughly one week after the release of the House report, the White House introduced its own version, entitled "Hurricane Katrina, Lessons Learned." The White House Report also cites a number of government failures, including communications problems, delays in supply deliveries, and confusion among federal agencies about their roles in managing the disaster. Regarding levees, the report cites problems caused by the delay in reporting the breach of the levees, due mainly to a misunderstanding about the difference between breaching and overtopping. The report also contains 125 recommendation, including rewriting the National Response Plan.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is also addressing the issue with over 30 studies related to the hurricane. In a preliminary statement released February 1, David Walker, the GAO Comptroller General, identified three key problems with the Katrina response: clear and decisive leadership; strong advance planning, training, and exercise programs; and capabilities for a catastrophic event. The GAO has since released specific reports on major emergency issues, hospital and nursing home evacuation, the National Flood Insurance Program, and fraud problems in FEMA's expedited assistance program.

The Senate has not yet released a report on Katrina; however, the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs is continuing a series of hearings to investigate the disaster. More information on the Senate investigation is available on the hearings page.

The recent White House report provides an updated assessment of the scope of the disaster. It cites an estimated $96 billion worth of damage caused by the hurricane and storm surge. Over two-thirds of the total damages ($67 billion) are attributed to the destruction of roughly 300,000 homes. Business property losses totaled an estimated $20 billion. The remaining $10 billion worth of damages were split between consumer durable goods ($7 billion) and government property ($3 billion). The overwhelming destruction of property resulted in 118 million cubic yards of debris.

In addition to property damage, the White House report details environmental and economic problems related to the hurricane. Katrina caused 10 oil spills, releasing 7.4 million gallons of oil, over two-thirds the amount that was spilled during the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster. It also caused the 11 petroleum refineries to be shut down, preventing 114 million barrels of production capacity from being used.

The report also revises estimates of the human impacts of Hurricane Katrina. 770,000 people were displaced by the storm, 1330 were killed, and 2096 are still missing. The majority of the fatalities occurred in Louisiana, where 1080 people perished. In addition, there were 231 fatalities in Mississippi, 15 in Florida, 2 in Alabama, and 2 in Georgia. According to the National Hurricane Center's tropical cyclone report published in December, most of the deaths in Louisiana were caused by the flooding of New Orleans, while the majority of the deaths in Mississippi were caused by the storm surge. Three of the fatalities in Florida were attributed to fallen trees, and three others to drowning. Both deaths in Alabama and one death in Georgia were caused by car accidents during the storm, and the final death in Georgia was caused by a tornado.

To access the House report, click here.
To access the White House report, click here.
To access the GAO reports, click here. (2/27/06)

Hurricane Katrina Downgraded as Record-Breaking Hurricane Season Ends
Tropical Storm Zeta formed in the Atlantic Ocean on December 30 and became the long-lasting storm in January as it drifted northwest before petering out on January 7. This ended a record breaking year for the hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean. Among the many records broken:

o 27 named storms (previous record: 21 in 1933)
o 14 hurricanes (previous record: 12 in 1969)
o Four major hurricanes hitting the U.S. (previous record: three in 2004)
o Three category 5 hurricanes (previous record: two in 1960 and 1961)
o Seven tropical storms before August 1 (previous record: five in 1997)
o Costliest Atlantic season ($107 billion+) (previous record 2004, $45 billion)
o Costliest hurricane: Katrina ($80 billion+) (previous record Andrew, $26.5 billion - 1992 dollars)

In related news, on December 22, researchers downgraded Hurricane Katrina from a Category 4 storm to a Category 3 storm when it made landfall on the Gulf Coast. The change was made after researchers analyzed data from hurricane hunter aircraft, including from dropsondes, devices dropped into the hurricane that measure wind speed, temperature, humidity and atmospheric pressure, stepped frequency microwave radiometers and radar images. The maximum wind speeds were probably about 125 mph at landfall. New Orleans, which is about 63 miles northwest of landfall, probably only experienced category 1 or 2 wind speeds. Ground-based anemometers measured maximum wind speeds of only 95 mph at a NASA facility in eastern New Orleans. (1/7/06)

Hurricane Katrina Legislation Working Through Congress
Over three months after Hurricane Katrina the disaster continues to be a major issue in Congress, with hearings being held every week to oversee the response to the disaster. Despite this interest, there has been little legislative activity directed at hurricane recovery beyond the $64 billion in emergency appropriations passed in early September. Several bills have been introduced, in particular the Louisiana Recovery Corporation Act (H.R. 4100) and the Louisiana Katrina Reconstruction Act (S. 1765), but thus far none of the bills have made it out of committee. No decision has been reached on President Bush's October request to rescind $2.3 billion in government spending and reallocate another $17 billion from the Disaster Relief Fund to pay for infrastructure repairs and other recovery efforts either. Of the $64 billion already appropriated for hurricane relief, $19.58 has been obligated: $7.15 billion has been spent on housing assistance, $2 billion has gone to flood insurance claims, and $1.45 billion is being used to rebuild infrastructure. Another $615 million has gone to human services needs and $86.5 million is committed to unemployment assistance. $4.5 billion has been directly appropriated to the Army Corps of Engineers, of which $4.1 billion has come from the Disaster Relief Fund and is being used for FEMA procurement, debris removal, and logistical support. A small portion of the emergency appropriations will be directed towards dredging navigation systems ($182 million) and restoring hurricane and flood protection ($141 million). Based on this break down of the emergency appropriations, about $35.704 billion of the $64 billion has been directed to specific projects.

On November 17, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed S.2006, a bill that authorizes the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a $1 million assessment of infrastructure needs in southeast Louisiana and report back to the committee before January 15, 2006. The bill also directs the Corps to work with state authorities to design a Category 5 flood protection system within four months of that assessment. The bill seems to have stemmed from the frustration of several committee members, particularly Senator David Vitter (R- LA), that the Corps' planned forensic study of the levee failures would not be ready until June 1, 2006, which is the beginning of the next hurricane season. Several Corps officials have attempted to persuade Vitter and other Senators that findings from the study would be incorporated into levee reconstruction before the official results were released. Vitter has maintained, however, that lawmakers and the public need access to these results much sooner. The Corps is currently planning to restore the levee system to its designed pre-Katrina protection levels, but officials have said they will upgrade the system to Category 5 protection if authorized to do so. (12/12/05)

New Federal Coordinator for Post-Katrina Recovery
On November 1, 2005, President Bush and Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff announced the appointment of Donald E. Powell to be the Federal Coordinator for post-Hurricane recovery efforts along the Gulf Coast. Don Powell has been the chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and will report to the administration as a central coordinator for state and local governments, the private sector, and community leaders as rebuilding plans get underway. President Bush, members of Congress and local government officials who testified before Congress all agreed that selecting such a point person was essential to an efficient and effective recovery process. Powell's background includes 30 years of experience in financial services and involvement with community organizations in Amarillo, Texas. (11/2/05)

Shuffling Hurricane Katrina Emergency Spending
On October 28, 2005, President Bush requested that Congress rescind $2.3 billion in government spending and reshuffle another $17 billion in FEMA funds to pay for rebuilding critical infrastructure in the Gulf Coast region. The $2.3 billion would come from mostly unused FY 2005 funds in a variety of government programs, including Interior department wildfire management, radioactive waste treatment at the Hanford Reservation, and the Natural Resource Conservation Service. The $17 billion would come from the $60 billion previously allocated to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Disaster Relief Fund (DRF).

Under the plan, the Army Corps of Engineers would receive $1.6 billion to rebuild levees, waterways and wetlands and $4.6 million to finish a levee upgrade study. Other specific recovery efforts that would receive new funding include $324 million for NASA repairs, $124 million for national parks and wildlife refuges, and $41.4 million to upgrade National Weather Service hurricane forecasting equipment. A White House fact sheet summarizes the plan as well as how $64 billion in emergency relief has been spent. Because the request does not propose any new spending, it is unlikely that it will face major congressional opposition, although the budget cuts may prove controversial.(11/2/05)

Four Emergency Spending Packages for Hurricane Katrina Approved
On September 2, 2005 Congress approved a $10.5 billion emergency spending package to cover the immediate costs of the disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina. Public Law 109-61 entitled "Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act to Meet Immediate Needs Arising From the Consequences of Hurricane Katrina, 2005" gives FEMA $10 billion for direct relief efforts and the Department of Defense $500 million for its expenses related to disaster response.

On September 8, Congress passed a second emergency spending package, Public Law 109-62, for $51.8 billion in additional relief. The House Appropriations Committee in a press release indicated that they expect the funds to be distributed as follows: $26.13 billion for public assistance ($813.4 million for unemployment assistance, $250 million for damage inspections, $23.2 billion for housing and other short-term aid, $1.6 billion for manufactured housing and $250 million for legal and mental health counseling); $7.65 billion for rebuilding public infrastructure; $4.58 billion for FEMA ($2.6 billion for logistics, $1.9 billion for supplies and $75 million for search and rescue); $3.4 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers operations and repairs; $3.9 billion for Defense Department operations and repairs; $5.5 billion for other agencies and $648.8 million for future disaster prevention. The actual language in this second bill, public law 109-62, is very brief and gives $1.4 billion for Defense Department operations and maintenance, $200 million for the Army Corps of Engineers operations and maintenance, $200 million for the Army Corps of Engineers flood control operations and $50 billion for the Department of Homeland Security. How the funds should be used is not specified in the Act.

On September 21, Congress passed the "Katrina Emergency Tax Relief Act of 2005" (H.R. 3768), which offers $8.4 billion in tax deductions and waivers. Of the $70.7 billion in total hurricane relief, $16 billion has been spent, and it is unclear how soon Congress will need to pass a third emergency package. The administration estimates total costs will fall somewhere between $100 and $200 billion, including the 3 initiatives described in President Bush's speech to the nation from New Orleans on September 15. Louisiana's Senators, Mary Landrieu (D) and David Vitter (R), have proposed legislation to provide about $250 billion in federal aid to help their state rebuild over a 10-year period. The bill includes about $180 billion in direct federal spending, with the rest of the spending coming from tax breaks. Despite criticism by some Members for being too costly and by others for including measures that are not related to direct relief, the bill was signed into law as Public Law 109-73 on September 23.

A fourth emergency relief bill was signed into law as Public Law 109-91 on October 20. The "Hurricane Katrina Unemployment Relief Act of 2005" authorizes a transfer of $500 million from the federal unemployment account to unemployment trust funds in the states affected by Hurricane Katrina. Of that total, $15 million would be transferred to Alabama, $85 million to Mississippi, and $400 million to Louisiana. (10/20/05)

Hearings on Hurricane Katrina Begin in Congress
Soon after the hurricane, several committees in Congress announced hearings on the government response to Katrina. Many of these hearings were delayed or canceled as the leadership in Congress continued to disagree about how to best conduct federal oversight. Democrats insisted on an independent, 9/11-style commission to investigate government failures in the wake of Katrina, but thus far Republicans have countered that congressional committees are the proper forum for this type of investigation. On September 8, 2005 House Republican leadership announced a House Select Committee on Hurricane Katrina, to conduct all of the Katrina investigations in the House. Thus far most Democrats have boycotted the committee because there would not be an equal number of Republicans and Democrats on the committee and because the Democrats believe the Republican-dominated Congress cannot fairly investigate the shortcomings of a Republican administration. In the Senate, Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Chairwoman Susan Collins (R-ME) declined to form a special panel and forged ahead with her own committee's investigations.

Despite the ongoing debate over how an investigation should be conducted, several congressional committees have continued conducting oversight hearings on recovery strategies, energy supply impacts, and government accountability. Click here for full summaries of hearings on Katrina response and recovery. Click here for hearings that deal with how the 2006 Hurricane season, particularly Katrina and Rita, impacted oil and gas supplies. (9/30/05)


Hurricane Katrina made landfall as a category three storm that battered the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Alabama with damaging winds, strong storm surge and subsequent flooding. The levees and canal walls that protected New Orleans failed within hours after Katrina's first landfall, causing 80% of the city to be flooded, leading to further chaos, a complete shutdown of the city, and emergency evacuations of stranded citizens. Over a million people have been displaced by the hurricane, an unknown number remain homeless and over 1200 perished in the storm or within days after its passage as relief was slow to materialize. Hurricane Katrina is the costliest disaster in U.S. history, destroying homes, businesses, roads, bridges, vehicles, ships, barges, canals and the energy and communications infrastructure along the Gulf Coast. The oil, natural gas, fishing, poultry, cattle, and timber industries along the Gulf were shutdown and in some cases destroyed. Shortages of energy and agricultural resources produced by these industries have caused short and probably long term price increases that affect the entire country. In its wake, the hurricane exposed significant shortcomings in emergency planning and response at the local, state and federal level. The hurricane also focused attention on racial issues, economic disparities, and the special needs of the elderly, infirmed and handicapped in an emergency situation. Earth scientists had predicted and modeled the damaged from a hurricane hitting New Orleans for decades and policymakers and emergency planners had been updated on disaster scenarios to help them prepare. The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) was inept, disorganized and too slow to respond to Hurricane Katrina. The Coast Guard, private businesses and the public provided immediate rescue and relief, while other federal, state and local agencies faltered. FEMA continued to be heavily criticized days to weeks after the hurricane because of their continued disorganization and ineptitude, eventually leading to the resignation of FEMA's director, Michael Brown. In response to the disaster and the criticism, Congress has initiated investigations into the government response.

Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005. After roaring across Florida and regaining strength over the Gulf of Mexico, the category 4 hurricane passed just east of New Orleans, causing severe damage and displacing hundreds of thousands of people in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Damaging winds and storm surge destroyed thousands of houses, and an unknown number of buildings, roads, bridges, boats and vehicles along the coast. Subsequent flooding has damaged hundreds of thousands of houses and more buildings, roads, boats and vehicles. Electricity and communications (telephone land lines and mobile phones) for over 1 million people and an unknown number of businesses and government facilities were knocked out by wind and water throughout the Gulf Coast. The city of New Orleans was completely shut down.

Human Impact

Over a million people were displaced with 104,900 moved to Red Cross shelters in 24 states and the District of Columbia, and an unknown number moved to shelters run by non-profit organizations, religious institutions and other non-governmental groups. About 3,600 children were listed as missing in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia; many were separated from their families during the evacuation and are expected to be reunited soon. Fatalities stand at 974 deaths in Louisiana, 221 deaths in Mississippi and 19 deaths in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee as of September 30, 2005. Officials are worried that the death tolls may rise.

Energy Supply and Infrastructure

Oil production, oil refineries and oil distribution by pipeline or other means throughout the stricken Gulf Coast region have been limited or completely shut down. The Minerals Management Service estimated that 95% of daily oil production was initially reduced (by 1.4 million barrels per day) and 72% of daily natural gas production was halted in the Gulf of Mexico as a result of evacuations, shut downs to prevent problems, damage to production facilities, damage to refinery facilities or loss of power. About 45 of 4000 Gulf platforms and 4 of 17 Louisiana refineries were damaged by the storm.

Transportation Infrastructure

The system of ports of South Louisiana near Fort Fourchon and Pilottown and the New Orleans port were damaged, hundreds of barges have been lost or damaged and navigational waterways from the ports to the Mississippi River have been blocked with debris. The port system of South Louisiana is the largest U.S. port with 198.8 million tons in trade in 2003. About 59% of U.S. grain exports go out through Gulf Coast ports while 90% of corn exports and 60% of soybean exports go out through the New Orleans port. Farmers in the Midwest are concerned about the economic impact of lower grain prices and higher transportation costs if the Gulf Coast ports cannot handle barges of agricultural products coming down the river after the upcoming harvest in a few weeks.

Local Industry

The timber, agricultural and fishing industries along the coasts of Louisiana to Alabama were severely damaged and may take years to recover. About 30% of domestic seafood comes from Louisiana and the shrimping industry alone could lose $540 million over one year. Three superfund sites within and near New Orleans were flooded, EPA has documented at least 5 oil spills in New Orleans, raw sewage and other toxic substances were released into flood waters and damage to oil platforms, oil refineries and chemical plants released other pollutants into the waterways. Much of this toxic soup will flow into the Gulf eventually leading to unknown environmental impacts on the plant and animal community, leading to potentially longer-term damage to timber, agricultural and fishing industries. In addition, at least 25 national wildlife refuges suffered immediate damage from wind, water and pollutants and 30 square miles of marsh near New Orleans was obliterated. The marshes had provided some protection against hurricanes.

Below is a brief and non-comprehensive timeline of the path of Hurricane Katrina, the initial response of the state and local governments and the federal government. Estimates of the amount of damage are given, but could change as more is learned in the aftermath of this disaster. No estimates of the loss of life or injuries are provided because of the larger uncertainties in these numbers.

The Path of Katrina

Tue. 23 August Katrina became the 11th named tropical storm of the Atlantic season when it was located about 175 miles southeast of Nassau in the Bahamas.
Wed.24 August  
Thu. 25 August Katrina struck the Florida coast near Hallandale as a category 1 hurricane with 80 mph winds. Heavy rains caused extensive flooding and power was out for over 1.3 million Floridians. NOAA estimated a maximum rainfall accumulation of 5 inches.
Fri. 26 August

From August 26-August 28, Katrina grew from a category 2 (100 mph winds) to a category 5 (with maximum winds of 175 mph) as it moved west-northwest at about 7 mph through the nearly 90°F waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Sat. 27 August At 10:00 am (local time), the National Weather Service (NWS) issued a hurricane watch for New Orleans. At 4:00 pm the watch was extended to Mississippi and Alabama.
Sun. 28 August  
Mon. 29 August

Katrina made landfall at 6:10 am (local time) near Buras, LA (about 63 miles southeast of New Orleans) as a category 4 hurricane with 145 mph winds.

At 8:14 am, the NWS issued a flash flood warning due to a levee breach along the Industrial Canal in eastern New Orleans. They estimated 3 to 8 feet of flooding in the Ninth Ward and Arabi.

The storm made its second landfall at 10:00 am (local time) near the Louisiana-Mississippi border as a category 3 hurricane with 125 mph winds. Winds and storm surge damaged a 125-mile stretch of coastline from Alabama to Louisiana. Rainfall accumulations exceeded 8 to 10 inches in much of the hurricane-affected coastal area. Storm surge of 20 to 30+ feet inundated much of the Mississippi coast, destroying the major population centers of Biloxi and Gulfport, MS. Storm surge of less than 20 feet inundated Mobile Bay and flooded out the city of Mobile AL. Storm surge near Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans was estimated to be less than 11 feet, below the 14 feet storm surge the levees were designed to handle.

Tue. 30 August

From August 29 to early August 30, tornadoes spawned from the outer bands of Hurricane Katrina in Georgia, damaged tens of buildings and poultry houses and caused electricity outages for thousands.

By August 30th, 80% of New Orleans was under water with the floods reaching as high as 20 feet in some areas.

State and Local Government Response

Fri. 26 August Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco declares a state of emergency in her state
Sat. 27 August New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin declared a state of emergency and asked residents to evacuate low-lying areas of the city. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour also declared a state of emergency and ordered a mandatory evacuation of Hancock County.
Sun. 28 August Nagin ordered a mandatory evacuation of the city, less than 24 hours before the hurricane's estimated landfall. Alabama Governor Bob Riley declared a state of emergency.
Mon. 29 August  
Tue. 30 August Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco asked that the estimated 100,000 people still left in the city (including about 10,000 at the Superdome and hundreds more at local hospitals) evacuate New Orleans immediately.

Federal Government Response

Fri. 26 August The military deployed 10,000 National Guard troops along the Gulf Coast.
Sat. 27 August President Bush declared a state of emergency in Louisiana.
Sun. 28 August  
Mon. 29 August President Bush declared emergency disasters in Louisiana and Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina made landfall.
Tue. 30 August According to the Washington Post, the Department of Homeland Security declared Katrina an "incident of national significance" which should trigger the highest level of federal response, but the decision was not publicly announced until the next day. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allowed higher-polluting gasoline to be sold in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi to ease gas shortages.
Wed. 31 August The Department of Health and Human Services declared a federal health emergency throughout the Gulf Coast and began to send medical supplies. President Bush authorized the release of as much as 30 million barrels of oil from the 700 million barrel Federal Petroleum Reserve. EPA eased restrictions on the types and blends of gasoline that can be sold in different states.
Thu. 1 September The military deployed an additional 20,000 National Guard troops to the Gulf Coast.
Fri. 2 September

Congress approved a $10.5 billion spending package to cover the immediate costs of the disaster. FEMA received $10 billion for direct relief efforts and the Department of Defense received $500 million for its expenses related to disaster response.

Sat. 3 September President Bush ordered 7,200 active duty forces to the Gulf Coast, although by law the troops cannot engage in domestic law enforcement and will not be under the command of state officials. The military deployed an additional 10,000 National Guard troops, who will be under the command of state officials and can engage in domestic law enforcement.
Thu. 8 September Congress passed a bill for $51.8 billion in additional relief for a total of $62.3 billion in emergency spending for Hurricane Katrina. $50 billion was given to the Department of Homeland Security, $1.4 billion to the Department of Defense and $400 million to the Army Corp of Engineers.
Fri. 9 September Michael Brown, the director of FEMA was replaced as the federal government's leader of Hurricane Katrina response efforts by Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad W. Allen. The Bush administration wanted a more effective and experienced manager leading the effort.
Sat. 10 September Michael Brown resigned from his position as Director of FEMA and was replaced by R. David Paulison, a career firefighter, who was leading FEMA's emergency preparedness force. Before coming to FEMA, Paulison was chief of the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue and also directed the Dade County emergency management office.


Sources: Washington Post, New York Times, E&E Daily, Greenwire, NOAA National Hurricane Center, Government Accountability Office, Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force (IPET) Report, Independent Levee Investigation Team (ILIT) Report.

Contributed by Katie Ackerly, Government Affairs Staff, Linda Rowan, Director of Government Affairs, Peter Douglas, 2005 AGI/AAPG Fall Intern, Jenny Fisher, 2006 AGI/AAPG Spring Intern, Jessica Rowland, 2006 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern, and Rachel Bleshman, 2006 AGI/AAPG Fall intern.

Background section includes material from AGI's August, 2005 Monthly Review

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.

Last updated on October 12, 2006.