President Barack Obama will head to New Orleans on Thursday to mark 10 years since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. It was the costliest and most damaging hurricane in U.S. history, killing nearly 2,000 people and leaving thousands of others homeless.
The hurricane made landfall on the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005, after passing across Florida several days earlier. Katrina hit Florida as a Category 1 storm; by the time it reached Louisiana and Mississippi, it had grown to a Category 5. According to some estimates, Katrina caused more than $250 billion worth of damage. It was the third-strongest hurricane in U.S. history, affecting about 90,000 square miles along the Gulf Coast, with most of the damage occurring in New Orleans, where it left 80 percent of the city flooded and destroyed more than 100,000 homes.
Controversy ensued in the aftermath of the storm, surrounding what many people saw as an inadequate response by George W. Bush’s administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It took four days for the federal government to send help to New Orleans. Critics pointed to the now famous photo of Bush peering out of Air Force One at the devastation and said that it represented his lack of connection to the suffering.
Then-Mayor Ray Nagin made a televised address 24 hours before the storm’s landfall, urging residents to leave the city. About 30,000 people who were unable to leave took refuge in the New Orleans Superdome, where electricity, plumbing and restroom facilities quickly failed. At the Morial Convention Center, people complained of the stench of bodies, feces and urine and of days of delays after being promised relocation.
Some people took it on themselves to help with recovery efforts. Del Walters spoke to two of them during Al Jazeera America’s Sunday night segment The Week Ahead. David Shand was captain in the Navy, and Lt. Matt Udkow is a pilot for the Coast Guard. Both flew rescue missions in the aftermath of the storm.
“I think about it all the time — the emotions that we were going through that day, so many people in trouble, just the utter destruction all the way along the coast,” said Shand.
Udkow said, “I don’t think anything can prepare you to see that kind of destruction and human suffering. To be able to help even in a small way is a blessing.” He said that all government agencies responded to the best of their abilities and that the scope of the storm was unprecedented.
Shand said there has been an improvement in communication among agencies over the past 10 years. Congress authorized $14 billion to reconstruct the region’s levees and other flood barriers.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimated that New Orleans had 384,320 residents as of July 2014. That’s down from the population before the hurricane but up from shortly after the storm, when about half the city’s occupants fled.