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Hurricane Katrina

Flood Risk

Project: Hurricane Katrina
Open-Content project managed by mtuck

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Governor Mike Foster (R-LA) endorses the Coast 2050 plan (see December 1998) to spend $14 billion over a 20 to 30-year period to rebuild Louisiana’s coastal wetlands as a means of protecting the mainland from the full destructive force of a major hurricane. [Chronicle of Higher Education, 4/26/2002]

Entity Tags: Coast 2050: Toward a Sustainable Coast, Ivor Van Heerden

Category Tags: Before Katrina, Louisiana: State, Flood Risk, Environmental Policies/Programs, Coastal Wetlands

During a FEMA disaster training session, agency officials lists a number of catastrophic disasters that could strike the US soon. The three most likely disasters, the report says, are a hurricane striking New Orleans, a massive earthquake in San Francisco, and a terrorist attack on New York City. The study predicts that as many as 250,000 people would be stranded in New Orleans because of the city’s less-than-adequate evacuation routes and that one-tenth of those who remain (25,000 people), would probably die. [Houston Chronicle, 12/1/2001; New Republic, 9/26/2005]

Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency

Category Tags: Federal: FEMA, Evacuation Problem, Flood Risk, Before Katrina

In a Scientific American article titled “Drowning New Orleans,” journalist Mark Fischetti warns that a “major hurricane could swamp New Orleans under 20 feet of water, killing thousands. Human activities along the Mississippi River have dramatically increased the risk, and now only massive reengineering of southeastern Louisiana can save the city.” [Scientific American, 10/2001]

Entity Tags: Mark Fischetti

Category Tags: Before Katrina, Media, Flood Risk

In “Keeping its head above water: New Orleans faces doomsday scenario,” Houston Chronicle science reporter Eric Berger says New Orleans will be devastated by a major hurricane. According to scientists, “[i]n the face of an approaching storm,… the city’s less-than-adequate evacuation routes would strand 250,000 people or more, and probably kill one of 10 left behind as the city drowned under 20 feet of water. Thousands of refugees could land in Houston. Economically, the toll would be shattering… .” [Houston Chronicle, 12/1/2001]

Entity Tags: Eric Berger

Category Tags: Before Katrina, Media, Flood Risk, Evacuation Problem

Secretary of the Army Mike Parker, a former Mississippi senator, testifies before the Senate Budget Committee and criticizes the Bush administration’s proposal to reduce the Army Corps of Engineer’s fiscal year 2003 budget by 10 percent. According to Parker, the proposed cuts would affect several of the Corps projects including two flood control projects in southeast Louisiana. These two projects, the Yazoo Pumps and the Big Sunflower River Dredging, would be reduced from a combined $9 million in fiscal year 2002 to $565,000 for fiscal year 2003. Parker asserts that the proposed cuts would also force the Corps to cancel $190 million in already-contracted projects and will result in 4,500 lost jobs. His comments to the committee indicate a dissatisfaction with the Bush administration’s priorities. “After being in the administration and dealing with them, I still don’t have warm and fuzzy feelings for them. I’m hoping that OMB (White House Office of Management and Budget) understands we’re at the beginning of the process. If the corps is limited in what it does for the American people, there will be a negative impact.” [Clarion Ledger, 3/7/2002; Washington Post, 3/7/2002; Reuters, 9/1/2005]

Entity Tags: Mike Parker, Big Sunflower River Dredging, US Army Corps of Engineers, Yazoo Pumps

Category Tags: Flood Control Programs, Flood Risk, Federal, Before Katrina, Resource Allocation, Warnings

FEMA publishes a report on the agency’s flood mitigation efforts in Louisiana. In the introduction, FEMA notes the state’s extreme vulnerability to flooding. “In a sense, Louisiana is the flood plain of the nation, Louisiana waterways drain two-thirds of the continental United States. Precipitation in New York, the Dakotas, even Idaho and the Province of Alberta, finds its way to Louisiana’s coastline. Despite massive improvements to reduce the impacts of severe weather in the last 100 years, flooding is a constant threat. The state of Louisiana has more flood insurance claims than any other state in the country.” FEMA’s report also says that Louisiana has more than 18,000 repetitively flooded structures, more than any other state. [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 3/5/2002; Independent Weekly, 9/22/2004] A repetitive loss structure is one that has suffered flood damage two or more times over a 10-year period and for which repair costs exceed 25 percent of its market value. [FEMA, 10/22/2004]

Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency

Category Tags: Federal: FEMA, Flood Risk, Disaster Mitigation, Before Katrina

The Louisiana Board of Regents approves a $3.7 million grant to fund a five-year study intended to learn more about New Orleans’ hurricane risk. The newly-formed LSU Center for the Study of Public Health Impacts of Hurricanes will manage the project. Ivor van Heerden, deputy director of the LSU Hurricane Center, will serve as the project’s head. The project will consider and evaluate possible hurricane scenarios in an attempt to predict the impact of a hurricane strike, the preparations that should be made to prepare for such a strike, and post-disaster recovery. It will also work with health experts to develop plans for dealing with the anticipated health crisis that would result if the city were to flood. The project will employ the use of the LSU Hurricane Center’s supercomputer, SuperMike, to generate computer-based hurricane path and impact prediction models. “Once complete, the model can be applied to other sites nationally and internationally and to other disasters such as tornadoes, chemical spills, or terrorist attacks,” LSU Research reports. [Advocate (Baton Rouge), 4/21/2002; LSU Research, 12/2004] The project’s progress, however, will be impeded by it limited funds (see April 2002-2005).

Entity Tags: Ivor Van Heerden, LSU Hurricane Center, LSU Center for the Study of Public Health Impacts of Hurricanes

Category Tags: Flood Control Programs, Academia/Professional, Public Safety Risk, Flood Risk, Environmental Risk, Recovery, Response, Louisiana: State, Before Katrina

The New Orleans Times Picayune publishes a five-part series, titled “Washing Away,” which examines what will happen when Southern Louisiana takes a direct hit from a major hurricane. Part two of the series, titled the “The Big One,” begins with a stark warning: “It’s a matter of when, not if. Eventually a major hurricane will hit New Orleans head on, instead of being just a close call. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again.” Such a storm, the article reports, “would turn the city and the east bank of Jefferson Parish into a lake as much as 30 feet deep, fouled with chemicals and waste from ruined septic systems, businesses and homes. Such a flood could trap hundreds of thousands of people in buildings and in vehicles. At the same time, high winds and tornadoes would tear at everything left standing.” John Clizbe, national vice president for disaster services with the American Red Cross, tells the newspaper that between 25,000 and 100,000 people would die in such a scenario. Another expert, Joseph Suhayda, a Louisiana State University engineer, predicts that that New Orleans’ levee system could fail in such a storm. “It’s not something that’s expected. But erosion occurs, and as levees [break], the break will get wider and wider. The water will flow through the city and stop only when it reaches the next higher thing. The most continuous barrier is the south levee, along the river. That’s 25 feet high, so you’ll see the water pile up on the river levee.” [Times-Picayune, 6/2002; Reuters, 9/2/2005]

Entity Tags: Joseph Suhayda, John Clizbe

Category Tags: Flood Risk, Environmental Risk, Levee Breach/Flooding, Before Katrina

FEMA calls a meeting with New Orleans’s city officials and civic leaders to address the well-known challenge of evacuating the many city residents who do not have cars, and to develop a plan to ensure that “no one [will be] left behind” when a hurricane threatens the city. During the meeting, FEMA officials present a computer simulation showing that a hurricane hitting southeast Louisiana could bring floodwaters all the way to the French Quarter, one of the highest points in the city. The officials also say that detailed surveys and census data reveal that many city residents do not own cars and therefore have no means to evacuate on their own. [Los Angeles Times, 9/13/2005]

Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency

Category Tags: Evacuation Problem, Flood Risk, Louisiana: NOLA, NGOs, Federal: FEMA, Before Katrina

“The City in a Bowl,” a PBS “NOW With Bill Moyers” program, explores what could happen to New Orleans if it were struck by a major hurricane. The program explains that the shield against damage provided by the area’s wetlands “is breaking apart.… Scientists say if this shield keeps crumbling over the next few decades, then it won’t take a giant storm to cause a disaster. A much weaker, more common kind of hurricane could devastate New Orleans.” Walter Maestri, emergency management director in Jefferson Parish, envisions a scenario where New Orleans “completely fills. And we’ve now got the entire community underwater some 20, 30 feet underwater. Everything is lost.” Jay Combe of the US Army Corps of Engineers says he has been assembling a doomsday manual for such a crisis. He suggests that if a big hurricane hits new Orleans, “I think of a terrible disaster. I think of 100,000 [deaths], and that’s just my guess.” The segment concludes, “If a monster storm strikes New Orleans, this city might never come back.” [PBS, 9/2/2002] The content of this segment will be repackaged and broadcast on National Public Radio later this month. [National Public Radio, 9/2002]

Entity Tags: Jay Combe, Walter Maestri

Category Tags: Before Katrina, Flood Risk

Speaking before her colleagues in the Senate, Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.) warns that a Category 4 hurricane could wreak massive destruction on Southern Louisiana. She urges Congress to provide sufficient funding for Southern Louisiana flood control projects to mitigate this danger. “I must take this opportunity to bring to light what is at stake when a hurricane or storm takes aim on the Louisiana coast. Not only is the safety, lives and property of Louisiana residents at risk the nation’s critical energy infrastructure and energy supply as well as crucial conservation measures are in danger. Tropical Storm Isidore should serve as a wake-up call to the federal government, which must do more to protect the nation’s resources in Louisiana. Because the City of New Orleans is below sea level and surrounded by levees, every drop of rain that lands there must be pumped out. This important job is accomplished by local, state, and federal agencies working together to ensure that the necessary infrastructure is in place and working much of this work is done by the US Army Corps of Engineers. However, in the President’s budget request submitted to Congress this year, funding for the Southeast Louisiana Flood Control Project, (SELA), was cut by an astonishing 50 percent (see 2001-Early 2004). The SELA flood control project is a smart investment. By investing in these flood control projects, we could prevent the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars that will otherwise be spent in federal flood insurance claims and other disaster assistance programs. Fortunately, the Senate Appropriations Committee understands this investment and has approved an increase for this project, which will allow the construction already underway to continue. However, this is not enough. I urge the administration to rethink its priorities and to include sufficient funding for the SELA project in its budget request for fiscal year 2004.… Louisiana’s rapidly eroding wetlands are invaluable in absorbing the surge of storm events like [Hurricane] Isidore. Without them, one can only imagine the damage a hurricane could wreak on South Louisiana and the nation’s energy infrastructure.” [US Congress, 9/30/2002, pp. S9562]

Entity Tags: Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, US Army Corps of Engineers, Mary L. Landrieu

Category Tags: Warnings, Flood Risk, Federal, Before Katrina

Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D-La) urges Congress to protect and rebuild Louisiana wetlands, which would buffer the impact of a major hurricane hitting New Orleans. She also informs her colleagues of the need to improve the region’s transportation infrastructure so residents would be able to safely flee the city in case of a hurricane. “We are telling you and begging this Senate and this Congress to recognize benefits Louisiana provides to the nation. Louisiana is proud of that, but we need extra federal help to secure this marshland, to help rebuild it, and protect us. If Louisiana does not receive help the wetlands will disappear, and the people of Louisiana will be sitting ducks for future floods and storms.… While we are making progress, we have a long way to go. So whether it is at the energy conference, where I hope we will have a positive outcome, or in the new transportation bill where we can talk about the highways and evacuation routes in south Louisiana and the Gulf South need our attention. Not only do they serve as economic highways that are really necessary for commerce to flourish, but, as you know, when the hurricanes come, it is the only way for people to flee the storm. We don’t have trains, as people do in the Northeast, to get out of harm’s way. All we have in Louisiana are highways dangerously crowded with automobiles and pickup trucks. We need to make sure people can get north to higher ground…” [US Congress, 10/2/2002, pp. S9834]

Entity Tags: Mary L. Landrieu

Category Tags: Warnings, Flood Risk, Evacuation Problem, Federal, Before Katrina, Coastal Wetlands

A coalition of governmental agencies, elected officials, environmental organizations, and community groups launch a campaign to increase public awareness about Louisiana’s disappearing coastal wetlands. The campaign—backed with a $3 million grant from Shell Oil, one of the campaign’s partners—is called “America’s Wetland.” The impact of the wetlands’ disappearance on Louisiana’s coastal ecology has been the focus of environmentalists and scientists for years. And scientists have also been warning that the loss of the state’s coastal wetlands and barrier islands has made coastal population centers such as New Orleans increasingly susceptible to hurricane-generated storm surges that could cause massive flooding. What’s unique about this program is that it stresses how the loss of wetlands will impact the oil industry and national economy. The campaign argues that coastal erosion is threatening the oil companies’ network of oil and natural gas rigs, pipelines, and refineries throughout the region. Losing this infrastructure would result in higher oil prices. Furthermore, the state’s fisheries—which make up 30 percent of the nation’s total annual catch—are also vulnerable. “The coast is really about money, aside from the ecological value of it,” explains outgoing Republican Governor Mike Foster, who played a major role in the campaign’s formation. [Associated Press, 6/6/2004; Americas Wetlands, 9/21/2005]

Entity Tags: Royal Dutch/Shell, State of Louisiana

Category Tags: Before Katrina, NGOs, Federal, Louisiana: State, Private Sector, Coastal Wetlands, Flood Risk

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) issues a report, which states: “Human activity, directly or indirectly, has caused 1,500 square miles of natural coastal barriers to be eroded in the past 50 years. Human activity has clearly been a significant factor in coastal Louisiana land losses, along with subsidence, saltwater intrusion, storm events, barrier island degradation, and relative sea level changes.” It warns that “New Orleans and surrounding areas [will] now experience the full force of hurricanes, including storm surges that top levee systems and cause severe flooding as well as high winds.” [Guardian, 9/1/2005]

Entity Tags: American Society of Civil Engineers

Category Tags: Warnings, Flood Risk, NGOs, Before Katrina

Consistent with its strategy to outsource disaster management functions (see Summer 2004), FEMA solicits bids for a contract to develop a hurricane disaster management plan for Southeastern Louisiana. FEMA’s “Scope of Work” for the contract demonstrates that it is acutely aware of the region’s vulnerability to hurricanes, and of the inadequacy of current plans to manage a major hurricane effectively. According to the document, FEMA and the Louisiana Office of Emergency Preparedness “believe that the gravity of the situation calls for an extraordinary level of advance planning to improve government readiness to respond effectively to such an event.” FEMA describes the catastrophe that will result when a hurricane strikes Southeastern Louisiana. For example, FEMA writes that “the emergency management community has long feared the occurrence of a catastrophic disaster” that would cause “unprecedented levels of damage, casualties, dislocation, and disruption that would have nationwide consequences and jeopardize national security.” It cites “various hurricane studies” predicting that “a slow-moving Category 3 or almost any Category 4 or 5 hurricane approaching Southeast Louisiana from the south could severely damage the heavily populated southeast portion of the state creating a catastrophe with which the State would not be able to cope without massive help from neighboring states and the Federal Government.” FEMA also expressly recognizes that “existing plans, policies, procedures and resources” are inadequate to effectively manage such a “mega-disaster.” The work specified in the contract, awarded to Innovative Emergency Management (IEM) in early June (see June 3, 2004), is to be performed in three stages. During Stage I, scheduled for completion between May 19 and September 30, 2004, IEM will conduct a simulation exercise featuring a “catastrophic hurricane striking southeastern Louisiana” for local, state, and FEMA emergency officials. (FEMA will pay IEM $518,284 for this stage (see July 19-23, 2004)) IEM completes this stage when it conducts the “Hurricane Pam” exercise in July 2004 (see July 19-23, 2004). During Stage 2, IEM will develop a “full catastrophic hurricane disaster plan.” FEMA allocates $199,969 for this stage, which is to be completed between September 23, 2004 and September 30, 2005 (see September 23, 2004). The status of Stage 2 is currently unclear. [Department of Homeland Security, 2004 pdf file; Department of Homeland Security, 2004 pdf file; US Congress, 9/9/2005] IEM apparently provides FEMA with a draft document titled “Southeast Louisiana Catastrophic Hurricane Functional Plan,” in August 2004. [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 8/6/2004 pdf file] The Times-Picayune will identify a later 109-page draft, dated September 20, 2004 [Times-Picayune, 9/9/2005] [Times-Picayune, 9/9/2005] , and the Chicago Tribune will report that as Hurricane Katrina bears down on Louisiana during the evening of August 28, 2005, emergency officials are working from a functional plan, based on the 2004 Hurricane Pam exercise, that is only a few months old. The third stage relates to earthquake planning for the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ) in the Central United States. [US Congress, 9/9/2005; Chicago Tribune, 9/11/2005] The Scope of Work specifies that the contractor must plan for the following conditions:
bullet “Over one million people would evacuate from New Orleans. Evacuees would crowd shelters throughout Louisiana and adjacent states.” [Department of Homeland Security, 2004 pdf file]
bullet “Hurricane surge would block highways and trap 300,000 to 350,000 persons in flooded areas. Storm surge of over 18 feet would overflow flood-protection levees on the Lake Pontchartrain side of New Orleans. Storm surge combined with heavy rain could leave much of New Orleans under 14 to 17 feet of water. More than 200 square miles of urban areas would be flooded.” [Department of Homeland Security, 2004 pdf file]
bullet “It could take weeks to ‘de-water’ (drain) New Orleans: Inundated pumping stations and damaged pump motors would be inoperable. Flood-protection levees would prevent drainage of floodwater. Breaching the levees would be a complicated and politically sensitive problem: The Corps of Engineers may have to use barges or helicopters to haul earthmoving equipment to open several hundred feet of levee.” [Department of Homeland Security, 2004 pdf file]
bullet “Rescue operations would be difficult because much of the area would be reachable only by helicopters and boats.” [Department of Homeland Security, 2004 pdf file]
bullet “Hospitals would be overcrowded with special-needs patients. Backup generators would run out of fuel or fail before patients could be moved elsewhere.” [Department of Homeland Security, 2004 pdf file]
bullet “The New Orleans area would be without electric power, food, potable water, medicine, or transportation for an extended time period.” [Department of Homeland Security, 2004 pdf file]
bullet “Damaged chemical plants and industries could spill hazardous materials.” [Department of Homeland Security, 2004 pdf file]
bullet “Standing water and disease could threaten public health.” [Department of Homeland Security, 2004 pdf file]
bullet “There would be severe economic repercussions for the state and region.” [Department of Homeland Security, 2004 pdf file]
bullet “Outside responders and resources, including the Federal response personnel and materials, would have difficulty entering and working in the affected area.” [Department of Homeland Security, 2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency

Category Tags: Flood Risk, Organization Capacity, Environmental Risk, Evacuation Problem, Public Safety Risk, Response Level, Federal: FEMA, Evacuation, Response, Shelter, Before Katrina, Disaster Preparedness

A new computer model developed by the National Weather Service suggests that most areas inside and outside the levees in New Orleans and vicinity would be flooded if a slow-moving Category 2 hurricane were to make landfall at New Orleans. Under certain conditions, even a Category 1 could submerge the city in as much as 9 feet of water, the model predicts. The model, named SLOSH, an acronym for Sea, Lake and Overland Surge from Hurricanes, factors in the effects of Louisiana’s eroding coastline. [Times-Picayune, 6/25/2004]

Entity Tags: National Weather Service

Category Tags: Flood Risk, Federal, Before Katrina

FEMA sponsors a 5-day exercise rehearsing for a mock storm, named “Pam,” that destroys over half a million buildings in New Orleans and forces the evacuation of a million residents. The drill is conducted by Innovative Emergency Management (IEM). [Associated Press, 7/24/2004; Times-Picayune, 7/24/2004; Knight Ridder, 9/1/2005] It is attended by about 250 emergency officials and involves more than 40 federal, state, and local agencies, as well as volunteer organizations. As part of the scenario, about 200,000 people fail to heed evacuation orders. Pam slams directly into New Orleans bringing 120 mph winds, 20 inches of rain, 14 tornadoes, and a massive storm surge that overtops levees flooding the city with 20 feet of water containing a toxic mix of corpses, chemicals, and human waste. Eighty percent of the city’s buildings are damaged. Survivors crawl to the rooftops to wait for help, but rescue workers are impeded by impassable roads. [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 7/23/2004; Knight Ridder, 9/1/2005; New York Times, 9/1/2005; MSNBC, 9/2/2005; Associated Press, 9/9/2005] The flooding results in a massive number of casualties and leaves large portions of southeast Louisiana uninhabitable for more than a year. [Associated Press, 9/9/2005] At the conclusion of the exercise, Ron Castleman, regional director for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, states: “We made great progress this week in our preparedness efforts. Disaster response teams developed action plans in critical areas such as search and rescue, medical care, sheltering, temporary housing, school restoration and debris management. These plans are essential for quick response to a hurricane but will also help in other emergencies.” [Reuters, 9/2/2005] As a result of the exercise, officials come to realize how difficult it will be to evacuate the city’s population in the event of a real hurricane. They expect that only a third of the population will be able leave before the storm hits, in part due to the fact that up to 100,000 residents live in households without a car. When asked how many people might die in such a storm, FEMA spokesman David Passey hesitates before stating, “We would see casualties not seen in the United States in the last century.” [Times-Picayune, 7/20/2004] In December 2004, a 412-page draft report summarizing the exercise will be completed with detailed predictions of what the government should expect in the event that a major hurricane strikes New Orleans.
Predictions - Flood waters would surge over levees, creating “a catastrophic mass casualty/mass evacuation” and leaving drainage pumps crippled for up to six months. “It will take over one year to re-enter areas most heavily impacted,” the report predicts. More than 600,000 houses and 6,000 businesses would be affected, and more than two-thirds of them would be destroyed. Almost a quarter-million children would have no school. “All 40 medical facilities in the impacted area [would be] isolated and useless.” Casualties would be staggering: 61,290 deaths, 187,862 injured, and 196,395 ill. A half million people would be made homeless by the storm. Storm “refugees” would be housed at college campuses, military barracks, hotels, travel trailers, recreational vehicles, private homes, cottages, churches, Boy Scout camps, and cruise ships. [Associated Press, 9/9/2005]
Recommendations - “Federal support must be provided in a timely manner to save lives, prevent human suffering and mitigate severe damage. This may require mobilizing and deploying assets before they are requested via normal (National Response Plan) protocols.” [Associated Press, 9/9/2005]
Top officials briefed - Ivor van Heerden, the Louisiana State University hurricane researcher who ran the exercise, reports that a “White House staffer was briefed on the exercise,” and thus, “there is now a far greater awareness in the federal government about the consequences of storm surges.” [Louisiana State University, 2005] After the Hurricane Katrina Disaster, van Heerden will recall in an interview with MSNBC that the federal government didn’t take the exercise seriously. “Those FEMA officials wouldn’t listen to me. Those Corps of Engineers people giggled in the back of the room when we tried to present information.” When Heerden recommended that tent cities be prepared for displaced residents, “their response… was: ‘Americans don’t live in tents’ and that was about it.” [MSNBC, 9/2/2005]
Follow-up - Another exercise is scheduled the following year, but it’s cancelled when its funding is cut (see 2005).

Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency, Ivor Van Heerden, Ron Castleman

Category Tags: Disaster Preparedness, Federal: FEMA, Louisiana: State, Louisiana: NOLA, Louisiana: SELA, Private Sector, Outsourcing, Flood Risk, Environmental Risk, Evacuation Problem, Sheltering, Before Katrina

The Washington Post publishes a front page story examining what might happen if Hurricane Ivan, or any other major hurricane, hits New Orleans. The article cites numerous experts who agree that such an event is inevitable and will be a disaster. Walter Maestri, emergency management director in Jefferson Parish, warns that as many as 50,000 people could drown if a Category 4 hurricane makes a landing on Southern Louisiana’s shores. Windell Curole, director of the South Lafourche Levee District, tells the newspaper: “I’m terrified. I’m telling you, we’ve got no elevation. This isn’t hyperbole. The only place I can compare us to is Bangladesh.” Gregory W. Stone, director of the Coastal Studies Institute at Louisiana State University, says, “I don’t mean to be an alarmist, but the doomsday scenario is going to happen eventually. I’ll stake my professional reputation on it.” [Washington Post, 9/15/2004] Other articles at the same time also point out the danger. For instance, on September 14, the Associated Press publishes the story,“Direct Hit by Ivan Could Sink New Orleans” which discusses a worst-case scenario where a direct strike could leave the city “deep in a stew of sewage, industrial chemicals and fire ants, and the inundation could last for weeks…” Ivor van Heerden, director of Louisiana State University’s Hurricane Public Health Center, states, “My fear is, if this storm passes (without a major disaster), everybody forgets about it until next year, when it could be even worse because we’ll have even less wetlands.” [Associated Press, 9/14/2004] The Dallas Morning News publishes an article giving similar warnings. [Dallas Morning News, 9/14/2004]

Entity Tags: Windell Curole, Gregory W. Stone, Hurricane Ivan, Walter Maestri

Category Tags: Flood Risk, Media, Before Katrina

Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D-LA) warns colleagues in Senate that US must invest in flood control projects in Louisiana in order to avert a major natural disaster in the event of a hurricane making landfall in Southern Louisiana. “I want to speak this morning about what we can do here in Washington a little better, with a little more energy, with a little more focus to help the people in Louisiana and throughout the gulf coast area. Not only do they deserve our help, but because of the energy industry and the economic benefits they bring to the whole country, they not only need our help, they deserve our help. They deserve our attention…. We are talking about severe devastation when a Category 3 or Category 4 or Category 5 hurricane pushes that water out of the gulf, out of Lake Pontchartrain into the tremendously populated areas around the gulf coast.… We are in Iraq, in an important battle, but part of our objective there is to secure an oil supply for the region and for the Nation and to use that for the betterment of the people of Iraq, for their growth and development and the security and stability of the world, as well as to fight for other issues. We are fighting to get 1 to 3 million barrels out of Iraq, and right here in the Gulf of Mexico, today, we have a facility that has virtually been shut down because of a hurricane. Nearly a million barrels is being imported in this country, and exported, a year.… My point is, I hope we will again use this opportunity to focus on the critical infrastructure needs necessary for Louisiana and the gulf coast of Mississippi and Alabama primarily to protect itself not just from homeland security threats from terrorists but real threats of weather.… Yet time and time again, when Louisiana comes to ask, ‘Could we please have just a portion of the revenue that we send?’—we are not asking for charity; we are asking for something we earned; we are happy to share with the rest of the country to help invest in infrastructure—we are told: We cannot do it this year. We do not have enough money. It is not a high enough priority.… Well, I do not know when it is going to get to be a high enough priority. I hate to say maybe it is going to take the loss thousands of lives on the Gulf Coast to make this country wake up and realize in what we are under-investing.… We also have a bill through the WRDA legislation, which is the traditional funding for the Corps of Engineers, the federal agency primarily responsible to keep the waterways dredged, to keep the levees up as high as possible, to work with our local flood control folks, particularly our levee boards in Louisiana, which are some of the most important public entities we have, that literally keep people dry from heavy rains and from floods and storms of this nature.… We need our federal government to understand that we are happy to share our resources and riches with the world, but we do deserve a greater portion of these revenues to keep our people safe, to keep our infrastructure intact, and, most certainly, to be respectful of what the people of Louisiana and the entire gulf coast contribute to our national well-being and security. .. [A]s a Senator representing the State of Louisiana, the chances of it happening sometime are pretty good. If we do not improve our transportation evacuation routes, invest in protecting this infrastructure, and focusing on reinvesting some of the tremendous wealth that has been taken from this area, and reinvesting it back, we will only have ourselves to blame.” [US Congress, 9/15/2004, pp. S9257-S9260]

Entity Tags: Mary L. Landrieu, US Army Corps of Engineers

Category Tags: Before Katrina, Federal, Flood Risk, Evacuation Problem, Warnings

A National Geographic article hypothesizes a scenario of a major hurricane hitting New Orleans. “[T]he storm gathered steam and drew a bead on the city. As the whirling maelstrom approached the coast, more than a million people evacuated to higher ground. Some 200,000 remained, however—the car-less, the homeless, the aged and infirm, and those die-hard New Orleanians who look for any excuse to throw a party. The storm hit Breton Sound with the fury of a nuclear warhead, pushing a deadly storm surge into Lake Pontchartrain. The water crept to the top of the massive berm that holds back the lake and then spilled over. Nearly 80 percent of New Orleans lies below sea level—more than eight feet below in places—so the water poured in. A liquid brown wall washed over the brick ranch homes of Gentilly, over the clapboard houses of the Ninth Ward, over the white-columned porches of the Garden District, until it raced through the bars and strip joints on Bourbon Street like the pale rider of the Apocalypse. As it reached 25 feet (eight meters) over parts of the city, people climbed onto roofs to escape it. Thousands drowned in the murky brew that was soon contaminated by sewage and industrial waste. Thousands more who survived the flood later perished from dehydration and disease as they waited to be rescued. It took two months to pump the city dry, and by then the Big Easy was buried under a blanket of putrid sediment, a million people were homeless, and 50,000 were dead. It was the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States. When did this calamity happen? It hasn’t—yet. But the doomsday scenario is not far-fetched. The Federal Emergency Management Agency lists a hurricane strike on New Orleans as one of the most dire threats to the nation, up there with a large earthquake in California or a terrorist attack on New York City. Even the Red Cross no longer opens hurricane shelters in the city, claiming the risk to its workers is too great.” Joe Suhayda, a retired coastal engineer at Louisiana State University, says, “I don’t think people realize how precarious we are.” The article further notes, “The chances of such a storm hitting New Orleans in any given year are slight, but the danger is growing. Climatologists predict that powerful storms may occur more frequently this century, while rising sea level from global warming is putting low-lying coasts at greater risk. ‘It’s not if it will happen,’ says University of New Orleans geologist Shea Penland. ‘It’s when.’ Yet just as the risks of a killer storm are rising, the city’s natural defenses are quietly melting away. From the Mississippi border to the Texas state line, Louisiana is losing its protective fringe of marshes and barrier islands faster than any place in the US.” [National Geographic, 10/2004]

Category Tags: Before Katrina, Media, Flood Risk, Evacuation Problem, Environmental Risk, Public Safety Risk

In a National Hazards Observer article titled “What if Hurricane Ivan Had Not Missed New Orleans?,” University of New Orleans professor Shirley Laska warns that a Category 4 hurricane hitting New Orleans would be one of the greatest disasters ever to hit the US, with estimated costs exceeding $100 billion. According to Laska, in the aftermath of the hurricane, it would take nine weeks to dewater the city, and “national authorities would be scrambling to build tent cities to house the hundreds of thousands of refugees unable to return to their homes and without other relocation options.” [Natural Hazards Observer, 11/2004]

Entity Tags: Shirley Laska

Category Tags: Before Katrina, Media, Flood Risk

Speaking before his colleagues in the House of Representatives, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-LA) expresses concern about what would happen if a large hurricane were to hit New Orleans. “What would have happened if last September, Hurricane Ivan had veered 40 miles to the west, devastating the city of New Orleans? One likely scenario would have had a tsunami-like 30-foot wall of water hitting the city, causing thousands of deaths and $100 billion in damage. The city has always been at risk because of its low-lying location, but that risk has been increased because of rising sea levels, groundwater pumping and the erosion of coastal Louisiana. Twenty-four square miles of wetland disappear every year, since the 1930s an area one and a half times the size of Rhode Island washed away. Considering the reaction of the American public to the loss of a dozen people in the recent mud slides in California, it is hard to imagine what would happen if a disaster of that magnitude hit the United States. The experience of [the December 2004 tsunami that hit] Southeast Asia should convince us all of the urgent need for congressional action to prevent wide-scale loss of life and economic destruction at home and abroad. Prevention and planning will pay off.” [US Congress, 1/26/2005]

Entity Tags: Earl Blumenauer

Category Tags: Before Katrina, Federal, Flood Risk, Policies, Warnings

A Popular Science article predicts that New Orleans could be completely submerged if hit by a Category 5 hurricane. Scott Kiser, a tropical-cyclone program manager for the National Weather Service, calls New Orleans the one city in the US and possibly the world that would sustain the most catastrophic damage from such a hurricane. He points out that the levees need not fail; a storm surge caused by high winds creating huge waves would quickly drown the city. John Hall of the US Army Corps of Engineers similarly calls the city “the most vulnerable major city to hurricanes.” The article notes that “New Orleans has nearly completed its Hurricane Protection Project, a $740-million plan led by [Al] Naomi [Corps project manager for the New Orleans District] to ring the city with levees that could shield residents from up to Category 3 storm surges.” The Army Corps is considering a new levee system capable of holding back a surge from a Category 5 hurricane, but it “is still in the early planning stages; it may be decades before the new barriers are completed.” [Popular Science, 4/2005]

Entity Tags: Scott Kiser, John Hall, Al Naomi

Category Tags: Before Katrina, Federal, Media, Flood Risk

The New Orleans district of the US Army Corps of Engineers formally notifies Washington that if a major hurricane scores a direct hit on the city, two of New Orleans’ biggest pumping stations could be disabled. These pumping stations are needed—even under normal conditions—to keep the city dry. In the event of an overtopped or breached levee and heavy rains, the city would be submerged. [Los Angeles Times, 9/4/2005]

Entity Tags: US Army Corps of Engineers

Category Tags: Flood Control Programs, Flood Risk, Federal, Warnings, Before Katrina

In a letter to President Bush, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco urges the president and his energy secretary, Samuel W. Bodman, to visit the Louisiana coast and see first-hand the deteriorating condition of the state’s coastal wetlands. She wants the administration to reconsider its objection (see July 15, 2004) to a provision in the House (see April 21, 2005) and Senate (see June 28, 2005) versions of the 2005 Energy Policy Act (HR 6) that would channel oil and gas royalties from offshore operations to coastal states for coastal wetland restoration. In her letter, she emphasizes how Louisiana’s disappearing wetlands is making the oil and gas industry’s vast network of pipelines increasingly vulnerable to damage. She also stresses that coastal wetlands have historically protected the coast from the full fury of hurricanes and, without this barrier, a major hurricane could devastate low-elevation coastal communities like New Orleans. “Let me show you the fragile wetlands that are the only protection for the thousands of miles of pipelines that connect this nation to 80 percent of its offshore energy supply and to a full third of all its oil and gas, both foreign and domestic. The vulnerability of those protective wetlands is all the more apparent to our two million coastal zone residents during this active hurricane season.” [Louisiana, 7/20/2005; Houma Today, 7/21/2005]

Entity Tags: Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, George W. Bush, Samuel W. Bodman

Category Tags: Before Katrina, Federal, Flood Risk, Louisiana: State, Coastal Wetlands

Meteorologist Jeff Matthews, Director of the Weather Underground, a popular web-based weather service, reports: “We may be on the verge of a rapid deepening phase, and Katrina is growing from a medium sized hurricane to a large hurricane. Where the pressure will bottom out after this deepening phase is anyone’s guess, and I believe something in the 915—925 mb range is most likely, which would make Katrina a strong Category 4 or weak Category 5 hurricane by tomorrow afternoon.” He then laments: “New Orleans finally got serious and ordered an evacuation, but far too late. There is no way everyone will be able to get out of the city in time, and they may be forced to take shelter in the Superdome, which is above sea level. If Katrina makes a direct hit on New Orleans as a Category 4 hurricane, the levees protecting the city will be breached, and New Orleans, which is 6—10 feet below sea level, will fill with water. On top of this 6 feet of water will come a 15 foot storm surge, and on top of that will be 20 foot waves, so the potential for high loss of life is great. Given the current track and intensity forecast, I’d put the odds of this at about 20 percent” [Masters, 8/27/2005]

Entity Tags: Jeff Matthews, Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans Superdome

Category Tags: Pre-Impact Katrina, General Public, Advisories, Flood Risk

“Katrina is in the midst of a truly historic rapid deepening phase… [and] is now the sixth strongest hurricane ever measured in the Atlantic,” states Jeff Matthews, meteorologist with the Weather Underground. “At the rate Katrina is deepening, she could easily be the third or fourth most intense hurricane ever, later today.” Katrina’s “winds are likely to increase to ‘catch up’ to the rapidly falling pressure, and could approach the all-time record of 190 mph set in Camille and Allen. Winds of this level will create maximum storm surge heights over 25 feet, and this storm surge will affect an area at least double the area wiped clean by Camille, which was roughly half the size of Katrina. Katrina has continued to expand in size, and is now a huge hurricane like Ivan. Damage will be very widespread and extreme if Katrina can maintain Category 5 strength at landfall.” Masters warns that, “Given that the storm is so large and is already pushing up a huge storm surge wave in front of it, even a weakened Category 3 Katrina hitting at low tide will cause an incredible amount of damage. A stretch of coast 170 miles long will experience hurricane force winds, given the current radius of hurricane force winds around the storm. A direct hit on New Orleans in this best-case scenario may still be enough to flood the city, resulting in heavy loss of life and $30 billion or more in damage.” [Masters, 8/28/2005]

Entity Tags: Hurricane Camille, Jeff Matthews, Hurricane Allen, Hurricane Katrina

Category Tags: Pre-Impact Katrina, General Public, Advisories, Flood Risk

FEMA’s Situation Update indicates that it is starkly aware of the dire situation in New Orleans, including the lack of transportation for many of the poorer residents: “Katrina could be especially devastating if it strikes New Orleans because the city sits below sea level and is dependent on levees and pumps to keep the water out. A direct hit could wind up submerging the city in several feet of water. Making matters worse, at least 100,000 people in the city lack the transportation to get out of town.” FEMA outlines preparations as follows: FEMA’s National Response Coordination Center (NRCC) Red Team and the National Emergency Response Team (Blue) have been fully activated. Region 4 (serving Alabama, Florida and Mississippi, among others) and Region 6 (serving Louisiana) are also fully activated. At the state level, both Mississippi’s and Louisiana’s Emergency Operations Centers are fully activated. [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 8/28/2005]

Entity Tags: National Emergency Operations Center, National Response Coordination Center, Federal Emergency Management Agency

Category Tags: Pre-Impact Katrina, Federal: FEMA, Emergency Response, Advisories, Flood Risk, Evacuation Problem

Ordering 

Time period


Categories

Period

Before Katrina (140)Pre-Impact Katrina (192)During Katrina (76)Immediate Katrina Aftermath (19)After Katrina (3)

Organization

Federal (138)Federal: FEMA (64)Louisiana: State (72)Louisiana: NOLA (46)Louisiana: SELA (42)Mississippi: State (4)Mississippi: Biloxi (0)Mississippi: Gulfport (0)Mississippi: Other Local (0)Alabama: State (0)Florida: State (0)States: Other States (0)Private Sector (19)Academia/Professional (9)Media (27)NGOs (17)General Public (9)

Knowledge

Flood Risk (28)Evacuation Problem (22)Public Safety Risk (3)Environmental Risk (5)Organization Capacity (10)Levee Breach/Flooding (58)Sheltering (1)Response Level (1)Advisories (81)Increased Chance of Hurricane (1)

Disaster Management Legislation Relevant to Katrina

Legislation (3)

Emergency Preparedness/Response Plans

Evacuation (13)Shelter (4)Response (7)Recovery (1)

Policies that Affected Intensity of Katrina Impact

Environmental Policies/Programs (16)Land Development (3)Flood Control Programs (23)Disaster Mitigation (12)Disaster Preparedness (11)Resource Allocation (29)FEMA Restructuring (16)Outsourcing (5)Political Patronage (9)Canvassing (0)

Progress and Impact Hurricane Katrina

Florida (3)Louisiana: State (2)Louisiana: NOLA (20)Louisiana: SELA (18)Mississippi: Local (0)Mississippi: State (0)Mississippi: Biloxi (0)Mississippi: Gulfport (0)Mississippi: Other Local (0)Alabama: State (0)

Execution of Emergency Plans

Evacuation (22)Sheltering (2)Emergency Response (120)Other States' Assistance (0)

Response in Wake of Katrina Disaster

Response to Evacuation Execution (0)Response to Emergency Response (1)Investigations (0)

Recovery from Katrina

Infrastructure (bridges; roads) (0)Governmental Services (water, electricity, etc) (0)Industry (oil industry, etc.) (0)citizenship (0)

Statements

Policies (5)Warnings (15)Plans (0)Mitigation (4)Katrina (6)Execution of Emergency Plans (25)Response (0)Recovery (0)

Specific Cases and Issues

Coastal Wetlands (27)

Other

Other (4)
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