With 1 million Gulf residents displaced during the storm, the city ultimately lost some 100,000 people, going from a prestorm population of 484,674 to a rebounded 384,320 by July of last year. Subsequent storms Rita, Ike, Gustav and Isaac, which also caused extensive water and wind damage, did not help.
According to the “New Orleans Index at 10,” published by southeastern Louisiana nonprofit the Data Center, over the last decade the city has experienced more investment, less crime and a crackdown on corruption since the storm. Many neighborhoods continue to bounce back from the disaster, but Katrina’s huge toll has had a lasting impact.
But officials and residents still grapple with the scale of what Marlon Defillo, the New Orleans Police Department’s assistant superintendent at that time, described as “mass chaos” and “total distress,” with water in some areas such as the Lower Ninth Ward rising “up to 14 feet in 20 minutes.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) labeled Katrina the “costliest hurricane” in U.S. history,” with estimated total damage of $135 billion. On 1.7 million claims, insurance companies have paid out an estimated $41.1 billion for residential, commercial and automotive damages, according to the Insurance Information Institute. The National Flood Insurance Program has spent $16.3 billion on claims.
Of more than $120 billion disbursed by FEMA to four affected Gulf states over the last decade, $75 billion was for emergency relief operations, at least $15 billion went to public works projects and $6.7 billion was given to private households.
Behind the enormous numbers are human stories that are equally shocking. One New Orleans victim, Robert Green, recalled, “Everything was floating. We had to hurry up and make the decision to get to the attic.” Once on the roof, he said, his family felt safe only for a few moments. “The house lifts up off the foundation and … actually floated up the street the way the current was pushing. So we wound up up the street on the roof of our house.”
Green’s mother and granddaughter perished in the storm. Drowning was the cause of death for 40 percent of fatalities in Louisiana, and 25 percent were a result of injury or trauma.