In the wake of Hurricane Irene, we can’t help but remember another hurricane that hit the United States at the end of August. This year marks the sixth anniversary of the hurricane called “Katrina.”
The costliest natural disaster to hit the United States, Hurricane Katrina, occurred on August 29, 2005. The National Hurricane Center warned Louisiana officials that Katrina was thought to be headed straight for New Orleans, and was perhaps the catastrophic storm long predicted and feared. An estimated 80% of the city’s population evacuated successfully, prior to the hurricane.
Katrina made landfall slightly east of New Orleans – hitting the Mississippi coastal cities of Biloxi and Gulfport more directly. Plaquemines Parish suffered a storm surge in excess of 20 feet. The Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, combined with the Industrial Canal, funneled the surge onto St. Bernard, East New Orleans, and the lower Ninth Ward. Portions of the Seventeenth Street and London Avenue Canal levees collapsed (blamed on poor construction by the Army Corps of Engineers), flooding much of New Orleans.
Residents who had not evacuated were trapped in attics, on rooftops, on overpasses, or in the Superdome and Convention Center. Poor communication between local, state, and federal leaders delayed rescue efforts in some areas for days. The population of New Orleans was scattered across Louisiana and the United States. St. Tammany Parish and the city of Baton Rouge doubled in size as a result of the evacuees.
Three weeks after Katrina, Hurricane Rita, another Category 5 hurricane, hit the Lake Charles area, wiping out the communities of Cameron and Holly Beach. Coastal rural communities were devastated from loss of crops and saltwater intrusion into farmland.
- In 1965, shortly after Hurricane Betsy, the Army Corps of Engineers designed a Lake Pontchartrain Hurricane Barrier to shield the city of New Orleans with floodgates like those that protect the Netherlands from the North Sea. Congress provided funding and construction began in 1971, but work stopped in 1977. In 1985, after nearly a decade of court battles, the Army Corps of Engineers was directed to scrap the plan, and to reinforce the city’s levee system instead. What happened? Become an investigative reporter and find out! Search online for information, or go to your school or public library for advanced research.
- With your investigative reporter’s hat on, write a news article explaining what you have found to be true regarding the building and maintenance of the New Orleans levee system and why it failed in 2005. Should the Army Corps of Engineers shoulder ALL of the blame for the breached levees during Hurricane Katrina? Explain. Remember to write your article like a news reporter – in the reverse pyramid style of writing, and include who, what, when, where, why, and how!
Extension Activity: The resounding “can-do” American spirit was heard around the world as the Gulf Coast States began their rebuilding efforts after the hurricanes of 2005. For example, the generosity extended by the cities of Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Houston, Texas – both cities experiencing a tremendous strain on their city and city services. Can you recall any stories of heroism or generosity extended during this time? Search online for stories about Americans extending a helping hand to folks in need. What can you do today to aid someone in your city, county, or state in need of help or assistance?
From “LOUISIANA: Steeped in History,” Copyright © CJHatcher & Associates.
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