Hurricane Katrina Devastates New Orleans

On August 23, 2005, a hurricane formed over the Bahamas and headed toward the southeastern United States. Called Katrina, it crossed Florida, picked up strength over the Gulf of Mexico, and made landfall in southeast Louisiana on August 29.

While Katrina’s 125-mile-per-hour winds — sending beds flying out of hotel windows — and 10 inches of rain were bad enough, a storm surge of more than 28 feet devastated the Mississippi coastal cities of Gulfport and Biloxi. But the greatest damage was reserved for the region’s largest city — New Orleans.

Nicknamed “the Big Easy,” most of New Orleans is below sea level. Under Katrina’s onslaught, levees supposed to protect the city gave way in more than 50 places, and 80 percent of the city was flooded. While most of New Orleans’ 1.2 million residents were evacuated (many to the city of Houston, Texas), thousands either refused to leave or could not.

The disaster claimed more than 1,800 lives and destroyed 200,000 homes. Damage estimates ranged as high as $125 billion, making it the most expensive hurricane in U.S. history. It wasn’t until October 11 that the last of the floodwaters were pumped out.

By then, a hurricane of criticism had whipped up over the federal government’s response to the disaster. The criticism ranged from condemning the government’s slow response in some areas with regard to the evacuation process to providing adequate temporary housing after the storm.

There were also charges that the slow response was due in part to the fact that many of New Orleans’ residents were poor African Americans. Bush’s approval ratings sank dramatically.