Hurricane Katrina, Response and Recovery (10-12-06)
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.
Senate Introduces Hurricane Research Bill
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)
NIST Releases a Report on the Performance of Physical
Structures in Hurricanes Katrina and Rita
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.
Army Corps of Engineers Releases Report on New Orleans
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
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
Senate Releases Hurricane Katrina Report
To read the full text of the Senate report, click here.
House Approves an Additional $19.1 Billion for Hurricane
Congress and the White House Release Hurricane Katrina
Reports, Updated Impact Statistics
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.
Hurricane Katrina Downgraded as Record-Breaking Hurricane
o 27 named storms (previous record: 21 in 1933)
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
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
Shuffling Hurricane Katrina Emergency Spending
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Last updated on October 12, 2006.