Hurricane Katrina is undoubtedly one of the most overwhelming storms in the United States history, going by the number of fatalities caused and damage in dollar terms (Rogers, Keating, & Minutaglio, 2015). A penetrating analysis provided in the videos and articles offer deep insights on how a natural disaster turned into one of the worst manmade disasters due to systemic failures by stakeholders. The present paper provides a narrative description of some of the issues that transpired to qualify Hurricane Katrina into a manmade disaster.
The evidence provided in the materials shows that New Orleans is vulnerable to flooding due to its low elevation, continuous human interference, haphazard construction of levees, and disappearance of natural wetlands and barrier islands. The innovation of draining swamplands to allow for the city’s expansion was counterproductive in terms of making New Orleans more susceptible to storm surges. Although wetlands serve as nature’s best natural defense against storms, the narratives provided in the videos show that manmade activities caused the wetlands to disappear at an incredible rate, leaving the city exposed to natural calamities.
Another factor relates to the planning failure and the inability by officials to put in place measures to deal with a storm even after information was availed about an impending hurricane. Here, evidence demonstrates that the huge investments made to divert the Mississippi River and build defensive levees actually hastened the sinking of whole neighborhoods below sea level, while poorly constructed levees served to worsen the flooding. Additionally, it is evident that city officials were unable to plan on how to prevent the tragic aftermath of the storm despite the accuracy of information provided by scientists about the harmful impact of the hurricane (Kasinitz, 2006). It is disturbing to note how officials ignored the warning despite having prior knowledge of Hurricane Ivan that ravaged Louisiana in 2004.
The engineering failures of the levees and canals aptly demonstrate how human mistakes, rather than nature, conspired to trigger the worst devastation in New Orleans history. Here, it is important to note that the Industrial Canal, 17th Street Canal levee, London Avenue Canal, and Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet Canal failed to contain the floods due to inadequate design and construction by the Corps of Engineers (Bergel, 2007). These breaches caused massive flooding in New Orleans City and other neighborhoods, such as St. Bernard, Tennessee Street, Lower Ninth Ward, and Jefferson.
Drawing from the evidence presented in this paper, it is clear that Hurricane Katrina caused heavy devastation due to man-made systemic failures that could have been prevented. The effects of Hurricane Katrina were disastrous as it damaged the southeastern U.S. including Louisiana, Mississippi, South Alabama, Georgia, and Florida (Fig. 1).
However, the focal attack took over New Orleans – more than 80 percent of the city area was under water as the city is surrounded by it on three sides by the Gulf of Mexico, Mississippi River, and Lake Ponchartrain. This natural disaster forced almost all the residents to leave their houses. The salvation of people from the flooded areas was carried out with the help of boats and helicopters. Approximately 800 thousand people were left without electricity and telephone communications. During the rescue operations, several assumptions concerning many thousands of casualties were expressed, yet they have not been confirmed.
At this point, the officially confirmed number of victims amounted to 1,833 fatalities in total, while insurance companies paid $41.1 billion (Hurricane Katrina statistics fast facts, 2016). The estimated economic losses amounted to $ 125 billion. The US Congress allocated $110 billion on the recovery of the affected areas. The rescue operations in the disaster area involved 43 thousand US soldiers of the National Guard, 4000 Coast Guard officers, and approximately 15 thousand soldiers of the regular army. This tragedy had far-reaching environmental consequences as drinking water reservoirs were contaminated due to the ingress of oil products. In some areas of New Orleans, outbreaks of dysentery, typhoid, gastric diseases, and poisonings were reported.
Further evidence demonstrates that there was social strife in the days after Katrina hit New Orleans, whereby cases of looting, violence and rape increased dramatically. Although these events may have informed the police to use ‘martial law’ and deadly force, it is clear from the evidence presented in the videos that the police went overboard in instigating what is now commonly referred to as premeditated homicide. The Henry Glover incident and the Danziger Bridge shootings are good examples that show New Orleans police officers lied in the handling of the disaster. Henry Glover’s badly burnt body was discovered with multiple bullet injuries to the head even after it was apparent that he had been taken to police officers for assistance with injuries to the chest.
While some of the police officers involved in these incidents received reduced sentences for the capital offence of murder, others are yet to pay for their mistakes. Speaking of social consequences, it should be noted that crime rates increased significantly leading to mass pillaging in the city. According to CNN reports, hundreds of people broke glass in stores bringing out various products (Hurricane Katrina statistics fast facts, 2016). Media also reported the shooting of the city hospital that was conducted at a time of preparation of patients for transportation. After that, the representative of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declared that the rescue operations had to be suspended due to the criminal encroachments (Thompson, 2008). As a result, such conditions led to even greater negative ramifications.
In spite of the measures initiated to recover the affected areas and help populations, the authorities’ actions were criticized. In particular, Louisiana Senator David Vitter set the lowest rating of Bush’s administration for the efforts of the government (Eggers, 2010). In an open letter, American director and social activist Michael Moore also accused the country’s leadership in reducing the cost of the Corps of Engineers which, in his opinion, has led to serious consequences. In 2006, about 60 percent of the U.S. population assessed the ability of the country to resist natural disasters as low (Schneider, 2016).
It is therefore important for the U.S. government and other relevant stakeholders to make heavy investments in erecting quality flood clearance channels and pump stations, educating the public on proper disaster response mechanisms, and building resilient healthcare systems for use in caring for the victims. The paramount purpose of all the rehabilitation programs was to exclude the possibility of the recurrence of such disasters and significantly reduce their consequences.
The authorities understood that there is a dire need to enhance a simple restoration of buildings and roads by laying a triple safety factor in the reconstruction of levees, roads, and bridges (Schneider, 2016). As a rule, the builders preferred to demolish the damaged building if it was too old and build a new house in its place. At this point, the hardest challenge was to combine recovery with the strengthening of infrastructure and housing to withstand future disasters as this required additional calculations, projects, and costs. It goes without saying that no one can eliminate the recurrence of natural disasters, yet the state is to do everything so that their consequences were not so devastating.
Sheppard (2015) claims that nowadays Louisiana is an excellent model for climate resilience. Overhauling its levees systems, the state ensured the ability to prevent such disastrous consequences as it was in case of Katrina. Furthermore, in the framework of the sustainability program, the government created a central coastal authority aimed at hurricane prevention by means of thorough annual investigations. As it was stated before, wetlands were one of the key causes of a disaster. Therefore, Louisiana restored its wetlands in an attempt to protect levee systems.
However, “the coast is besieged by subsiding land and rising sea levels due to climate change”, and, thereby, requires even more attention from the authorities as well as more resources to guarantee safely and security of population (Sheppard, 2015, para. 20). With the help of the state and large businesses located in these regions, the affected areas steadily opened new stores and other public places. As a result, the crime rate began to fall, and the welfare of the local population to slowly grow. Following the modern requirements in the field of technology and innovation, the state designed its website focusing on interactive mapping to promote awareness of people of the coastal vulnerability. Thus, from the above observations, it becomes evident that the state made a lot in order to improve its preparedness to potential hurricanes. In any way, the preventative measures are to be maintained and continuously upgraded in accordance with climate changes.
In conclusion, it should be emphasized that Hurricane Katrina has serious ramifications that affected people, infrastructure, and natural systems. The main learning point from the videos and articles is that it is important to address the human-related issues related to surveillance, law enforcement, flood management, and coordination of response activities if the country is to succeed in preventing the catastrophic effects associated with natural disasters.
Bergel, J. (2007). Investigating what went wrong and how. Nieman Reports, 61, 57-58. Web.
Dickel, S., & Kindinger, E. (2015). After the storm the cultural politics of Hurricane Katrina. Bielefeld, Germany: Transcript.
Eggers, D. (2010). Zeitoun. New York, NY: Vintage.
Hurricane Katrina statistics fast facts. (2016). Web.
Kasinitz, P. (2006). Katrina, the media and the American public sphere. Sociological Forum, 21(1), 141-146. Web.
Levin, M. (2015). 16 maps and charts that show Hurricane Katrina’s deadly impact. Web.
Rogers, R., Keating, C., & Minutagrio, R. (2015). Hurricane Katrina 10 years later: New lives, new hope. People, 84, 72-78. Web.
Schneider, R. O. (2016). Managing the climate crisis: Assessing our risks, options, and prospects. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.
Sheppard, K. (2015). 10 years after Katrina, Louisiana is becoming a model for climate resilience. Web.
Thompson, A. C. (2008). Post-Katrina, White vigilantes shot African-Americans with impunity. Web.