New Orleans Before and After Hurricane Katrina

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 18 September 2016

New Orleans Before and After Hurricane Katrina

The year 2005 Hurricane Katrina season was one of the fiercest in the United States. Hurricane Katrina formed over the Bahamas on 23 rd August and crossed over to the Southern Florida as a moderate hurricane resulting in deaths and floods. Later, the storm spread rapidly in Mexico Gulf and weakened before making a second landfall on 29th August. Severe destruction was caused most of which took place in New Orleans, Louisiana. In this region, floods resulted from the failure of the levee system after an inland swash of the storm inwards. (Swenson and Marshall 4).

The effects of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans were not only shattering but also long lasting. Although a great portion of the Katrina missed the city, the storm surge caused greater than fifty breaches according to a report issued by investigators into the catastrophe. Following that, oil refining came to a halt in turn leading to skyrocketing of petrol prices in the whole world. A greater number of people were killed, a very high percentage of residents was evacuated and sad enough, the remnants comprised mainly of the poor and the elderly.

Those who remained had to swim through for their lives, wade in the great depths of water or even cling to the lightning arrestors at the rooftops of their houses. Thus, Hurricane Katrina had great repercussions on the population, politics and the economic atmosphere of the whole of the United States. In addition, the disaster in its natural occurrence stimulated fundamental research by the academicians regarding economic matters, real estate financing and urban planning. This paper contrasts at length the city of New Orleans before and after Hurricane Katrina.

New Orleans is geographically situated on a natural steep ground parallel to Mississippi River. Right from the beginning, New Orleans is shown as a city wed to a river and the ocean. As such this strategic situation could control the trade between the vast interior of North America and the rest of the world. In fact, New Orleans’s strange situation might even determine the political future of North America. Developments erected later on incorporated the filling in of a nearby lake to raise its altitude.

Navigable canals were constructed to facilitate water transport and trade. Following the building of the Inner Harbor Navigations Canal, the waterways present were closed drastically lowering the city’s water table. In fact, the conglomeration of the highly absorbent organic soils led to a subsidence reaching up to 2. 4 meters. This illustrates why most of the city of New Orleans lay below the sea level. The 1965 Betsy Hurricane raised a lot of concern pertaining flooding about the future hurricanes and which led to the enactment of The Flood Control Act of 1965.

This Act among other key issues authorized the design and even construction of flood barriers in the city of New Orleans by the Corps of Engineers subject to cost sharing conditions but the legislation later waived some of them. Though that, the responsibility of maintenance particularly lay on the local municipal authorities upon completion of the flood control protection projects which were scheduled to take thirteen years inclusive of both design and construction. Thus, when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the project was incomplete.

Facts (2) reveal that the project was between 60-90 % incomplete with a project completion date estimation of 2015. (Fact Check 1-2). As a result, most levees and flood walls were functionless throughout the city of New Orleans. In deed, most of them collapsed below their design thresholds. It had been forecast that Hurricane Katrina would pass to the eastern side of New Orleans, the wind would return from the north forcing large volumes of water from the Lake Pontchartrain up the levees and probably into New Orleans.

The catastrophic destruction to New Orleans and its vicinity had been earlier predicted by the National Weather Service (NWS) as had been indicated in the bulletin. The effects forecast included: irreversible damage to most of the industrial plants, destruction of the well constructed buildings of the city, interference with electric transmission poles, collapsing of buildings and lack of clean water for human consumption.

Besides that, the stagnant water caused by the storm surge was to make the city uninhabitable for very long periods of time and the collapse of petrochemical and oil refineries in the vicinity would lead to waste spillages into the floods. Galle (5) predicted that what would result there from was a mess that would distort the ecosystem balance, pollute the city and thus make living in it impossible. (Galle, J 2006). Nolan (5) had also reported that the storm surge would topple their levee system and had warned that oil production in the Gulf of Mexico would be shut down.

(Nolan 2005). Extreme concern was expressed in anticipation of the immense destruction implicated on New Orleans by the Hurricane Katrina. As a result, most of the city’s residents began preparing for possible evacuation and started taking precautions in order to secure their homes on the 26th of August. According to Hauser (4), most neighboring areas and parishes also appealed for evacuations. By mid afternoon, officials in Washington and St. Tammany had called for mandatory or voluntary evacuations. (Housser, Christine, et al).

In spite of the compulsory order to evacuate, people declined because of various reasons which included: the obligation to protect their property, lack of finances and reliable means of transport and the belief that their houses offered adequate protection. The extensive floods greatly affected the remnants that survived the Hurricane Katrina and even remained long after the hurricane had passed. In fact, the obviously stranded survivors resided at their housetops throughout the city while some were trapped inside their attics.

According to Galle’s report, most residents chopped their way onto their roofs with sledge hammers and hatchets as they had been advised to keep in readiness for such disastrous occurrences. There was no uncontaminated water and outages experienced were anticipated to last for long time spans. On 29th August, the loss of lives was described as significant as bodies floated on the water in the whole city particularly in the eastern region. (Galle, J 2006). New Orleans experienced communication failures after Hurricane Katrina.

This resulted from the breaking of transmission lines, power failures and destruction of base stations which in turn affected telephones and internet access. Television stations with local coverage were disrupted and newspapers were transferred to their other stations in neighboring cities. This had a great impact on the dissemination of information in New Orleans as electronic mailing and broadcasting were the most significant means of transmitting information to the survivors and to the rest of the world.

Sander (3) confirms that in New Orleans only the local CBS-affiliate WWL-TV remained on air during and after the storm. Emergency and tactical communications were provided by the Amateur radio which also handled health and welfare inquiries. (Sanders, T 2006). New Orleans had a well established infrastructure before Hurricane Katrina struck. The infrastructure comprised a well laid network of roads that led into and out of the city. There were also several banks, warehouses, gymnasiums, hotels, clubs, a superdome, airlines, educational and financial institutions among other buildings.

Following the occurrence of Katrina, most of the major roads leading to and from the city were destroyed. The only route leading outside the city in the western region collapsed and only the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway; reserved to carry emergency traffic remained undestroyed. Writer (2) reports that Louis Armstrong: New Orleans International Airport had been closed before the storm but there was no flooding in airplane movement areas or inside the building itself. The Airport was however reopened in 30th August to humanitarian and rescue operations.

Commercial cargo flights and passenger service resumed in mid September the same year. (Writer, S 2005). Other buildings destroyed included the Hyatt Regency hotel which had most of its windows shattered on the northern side. In fact, the Hyatt was the worst destroyed hotel in New Orleans city where the beds flew out of the windows and its glass exterior was totally smashed thereby exposing the insulation tubes. The centrally located superdome was also significantly damaged where two sections of the roof that were joined together and the dome’s waterproof membrane had been consequentially peeled off.

On 30th August, the Louisiana governor ordered the complete evacuation of the remnant people that had sought refuge in the Superdome so that they could further be transported to other safer places like Astrodome in Houston. Though the Hurricane spared New Orleans the worst implications by passing to the eastern side of the city on 29th August at noon thus seemingly making the city appear to have escaped most of the destruction, the levee system was not spared in the least. The storm surge severely damaged the city’s improperly constructed levee system that had been built by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Mississippi River Outlet’s levees were breached at about twenty points flooding much of New Orleans to the eastern side. The London Avenue Canal, the Industrial Canal and 17 th Street Canal levees formed the principal levee breaches in New Orleans that resulted to most of the city’s flooding. The flooding that occurred as a result of the breaching drowned most of the city for days up to weeks in certain places. Most buildings and roads were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. (Housser, Christine, et al). An investigation into the disaster reveals that the U. S.

Army Corps of Engineers confirmed that a massive contribution to the grave damage caused to the city of New Orleans had been made by improper design specifications, substandard construction and incomplete sections of the levee structures. As a matter of fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers admitted that most of the flooding had been caused by the breaching of the levees. (Schwartz, J 2006). The New Orleans levees date back to pre Katrina era. They had been initially constructed by the French Government who can be termed as the real owners of these levees.

Later, they were monitored by the Spanish Government and later sold to the U. S. Government that still controls them to date. In New Orleans pre Katrina, civil wars in the southern states of Louisiana constantly led to the destruction of the levees by those participating in the wars often evolving from racial discrimination within the state. The reconstruction of the levees always took a lot of time as financial resources to fund those projects. The city is reported to have always been ‘poor’ before Katrina and had deteriorating financial position following its literal seclusion from federal and state funds by the then serving governor.

(The Doctors’ Lounge p. 20). This led to the lowering of the city’s economic status following a reduction to the amount of revenue collected in form of tax. Due to such wars, most of the levee reconstruction was highly constrained. As a result, most levees broke down and the city experienced water overflows that often led to destruction of property. Such incidences were occasioned by weak foundations for the levees and substandard constructed ditches. It was therefore not a wonder that when Hurricane Katrina struck, immense destruction occurred as the levees could not prevent the Hurricane.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 18 September 2016

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