Gulf Coast Surveys Damage From Hurricane Katrina

Willie Drye
for National Geographic News
August 30, 2005
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Gulf Coast residents from Louisiana to Florida began digging out today from the wreckage of devastating Hurricane Katrina.

The tempest blasted the area Monday with 140 mile-an-hour (225 kilometer-an-hour) winds and the most destructive storm surge in 36 years.

Hurricane Katrina has killed at least 60 people since it struck Florida last week and moved across the Gulf of Mexico to pound Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

"They're still tabulating the numbers," said Steve Rinard, the meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service station in Lake Charles, Louisiana. "The most costly storm previously was Hurricane Andrew. I'm sure this will likely rank equally or greater than the damage from that hurricane."

Hurricane Andrew inflicted about 25 billion dollars (U.S.) in damages when it struck just south of Miami in August 1992.

Experts say Katrina may surpass even the damage inflicted by Hurricane Camille, a monster storm that struck Mississippi in August 1969 with 185 mile-an-hour (298 kilometer-an-hour) winds and a 25-foot (8-meter) storm surge.

In New Orleans, breaks were reported at several spots in the levees that protect the city from the waters of Lake Pontchartrain, the Mississippi River, and the Gulf of Mexico.

The Web site for the Louisiana State Police lists dozens of roads and streets that have been closed due to flooding in the counties—known as parishes in Louisiana—around New Orleans.

In Jefferson Parish, which includes metropolitan New Orleans, all roads have been closed, the state police Web site says. Much of New Orleans is below sea level, so floodwaters will have to be pumped out.

Storm Surge

The hurricane's eye came ashore around daybreak Monday morning near the mouth of the Mississippi River south of New Orleans. The storm weakened as it moved northward, but still smashed into the Mississippi coastline with winds of about 125 miles an hour (200 kilometers an hour).

Hurricane Katrina's front-right quadrant contained the storm's strongest winds. They pushed water from the Gulf of Mexico into a storm surge of more than 20 feet (6 meters) at the point where Katrina made landfall in Mississippi. Extensive damage has been reported in Biloxi and Gulfport.

The hurricane also bulldozed a storm surge of about 10 feet (3 meters) into Alabama's Mobile Bay.

Steve Huffman, a spokesman for the Mobile County Emergency Management Agency in Alabama, said at least eight feet (2 meters) of water surged through parts of downtown Mobile, where Huffman rode out the hurricane at the agency's headquarters.

"It was howling pretty good," he said. "I stepped outside a few times to see what was happening.

The wind was blowing pretty good, and the trees were trying to turn themselves into pretzels out there. In the distance you could hear transformers popping and hear tree limbs breaking."

Despite the strength of the storm, no deaths or serious injuries have been reported to Mobile authorities, Huffman said.

Randy McKee, the meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service's Mobile office, said Katrina's winds didn't diminish to less than 30 miles an hour (48 kilometers an hour) until around midnight Monday.

"It was a long-duration event," McKee said. "It was so big and had such a large wind field, it took a long time even after the eye passed the northwest Alabama coast. It was with us all day and into the night."

McKee said many streets in Mobile are blocked today by downed trees and power lines.

Hurricane Katrina is the latest storm to strike the hurricane-prone Gulf Coast since Hurricane Ivan made landfall in September 2004. Hurricane Dennis made landfall on the western Florida Panhandle last month.

Willie Drye is the author of Storm of the Century: The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, published by National Geographic.

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