Hurricane Katrina was declared a federal state of emergency by President George Bush on Saturday, August 27, 2005. This announcement came before the hurricane hit New Orleans, allowing FEMA to begin its work in Louisiana immediately. This state of emergency requires agencies and governmental bodies to report to the federal coordinating officer of FEMA.
New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin announced a mandatory evacuation of the city just after midnight on August 28. The Louisiana Superdome was opened as a refuge for any citizens that were unable to leave the city before Hurricane Katrina’s landfall. Over 20,000 people took refuge in the stadium. On Monday, August 29, Hurricane Katrina made its second and third landfalls within the state of Louisiana. These landfalls created huge amounts of flooding within New Orleans and surrounding cities. As early as 11 AM, Hurricane Katrina had caused over 10 feet of floodwater throughout the city. The National Guard and school buses were deployed into the city to attempt to retrieve those who had been unable to evacuate. The Department of Homeland Security also became involved in giving aid to Hurricane Katrina survivors and the city. The next day, August 30th, Hurricane Katrina’s flooding reached such high points that the levees of New Orleans could not be plugged. They were breaching under the weather. At this point, full evacuation of the city, including the nearly 20,000 people in the Superdome was ordered.
Although Hurricane Katrina was downgraded to a tropical depression by August 31st, damage continued. As of the morning of that day, 85% of New Orleans was reportedly underwater. The city also began to experience widespread looting, as those who were trapped turned to any means necessary to survive the emergency situation. Helicopters continued to rescue people off of rooftops, the only structures above the water. On September 1st, the Senate passed a $10.5 billion relief package to ensure aid to Katrina survivors. The flooding began to decline, as Katrina had been absorbed and ended in Louisiana. Over the next few days, people continued to be rescued from the heavily damaged city by the National Guard and other relief agencies.
The official death toll of Hurricane Katrina counts over nearly 2,000 victims of the disaster. Over 1,500 of those victims were Louisiana residents. The hurricane did not only take these lives, it also caused huge amounts of damage to the city and economy of New Orleans. The amount of money needed to repair the damages caused by Hurricane Katrina was enormous. One study estimated that the Hurricane caused a loss of $150 billion to the economies of Louisiana and Mississippi. Economic damage was not only caused by the structural damage; it was also caused by the loss of work during the state of emergency. Many residents also found themselves unemployed after the hurricane. Fuel prices rocketed across the country because of Hurricane Katrina — the storm stopped oil production in the Gulf coast. Hurricane Katrina was one of the most powerful and damaging storms in human history.
Aid was offered to Hurricane Katrina survivors by various federal, local and charitable organizations. According to the Department of Homeland Security, over 11,500 lives were saved by the aid given by federal agencies. FEMA distributed nearly 2 million meals and 7 million liters of water to those who were evacuated or trapped during the storm. Over 19 states opened shelters for displaced victims. The Red Cross mobilized 74,000 volunteers to provide food and shelter. They also raised $1 billion to aid the relief effort. Various other organizations, like the NHL, NY Yankees, NFL and Celine Dion, donated money to relief and aid funds for Hurricane Katrina.
There was a large amount of criticism of the government’s response to the Hurricane. The feeder and local government were both accused of being unprepared for what was obviously a huge storm. Mayor Nagin was criticized for his failure to fully implement his evacuation plan. He delayed the evacuation order until less than a day before Hurricane Katrina hit. Critics says that this caused the deaths of hundreds of people who were not able to find their way out of the city at that time. Nagin was also criticized for not using the many school busses available to aid with evacuation. Many politicians believe that the aid for Katrina was slowed by racial and class considerations. They say that aid was slowed by the fact that those affected were primarily poor. FEMA was also criticized for forcing volunteers to go through unnecessary training processes before allowing them to enter the area. The chief of emergency operations in New Orleans also criticized FEMA, saying that they simply did not show up when needed. President Bush was also criticized for not cutting his vacation short as the scale of the damages of Katrina became apparent.