On Monday, August 29th, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in the greater New Orleans area and changed the lives of thousands of Gulf Coast residents. A category 3 hurricane, Katrina brought 120mph winds, 8-10 inches of rain and a recorded tide increase of over 14 feet. Though the hurricane lost a great deal of its strength by the time it had made its way inland, registering as a category 1-2 storm, the devastation and loss of life left in its wake makes it one of the greatest natural disasters in the history of the United States.
To view how the flood waters affected the city you can visit this interactive map provided by the Times Picayune.
A National Disaster
With over 50 levee failures and numerous levee breaches causing severe flooding in 80% of the city, the death toll and structural damage continued for several days after the hurricane had passed. With the majority of the city sitting below see level (up to 4 meters in some areas), rescue missions, recovery and evacuation was severely hampered. The arrival of Hurricane Rita just a few weeks later added to the challenge of draining the city and again slowed the recovery process. It took nearly a month and a half to pump all of the water out of the bowl shaped city and when the initial recovery efforts had been completed, the death toll had risen to over 1,500.
Since Hurricane Katrina, the recovery process in New Orleans has been wrought with challenges. The early days after the storm, the rescue and recovery missions were made difficult by the extensive flooding and lack of easy access to many parts of the city. As the city was pumped dry, the sheer level and scope of damage became an insurance and federal aid minefield for many residents.
Financial, emotional and health factors made every Katrina survivor’s recovery story different and each factor created unique problems for those individuals and their families. Insurance scams and contractor fraud made many people wary and distrustful of rebuilding efforts and is one of many contributing factors to why many former residents have not returned to New Orleans.
Looking to the Future
Luckily, for New Orleanians, things are improving. The recession that hit the rest of the country with a 4.1 percent loss of employment since last June, has only registered as a 0.9 percent loss in the greater New Orleans area. Population numbers for the metro area are also close to 90 percent of the pre-Katrina numbers, with 76.4 percent in the city; up 4.3 percentage points from last year. FEMA has also committed over $800 million to rebuild infrastructure which will help rebuild schools, strengthen police resources and make necessary levee improvement.
Organizations like Rebuilding Together New Orleans have, in cooperation with local government and community leaders, made significant strides in aiding homeowners to return to their communities and rebuild their lives. Now four years later, significant improvements are readily apparent throughout the city and while the initial effort was slow, recent trends shine a new light of hope on a successful future for New Orleans.
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