Never before in the history of the United States, had this nation witnessed and suffered from such a costly and severe hurricane like Katrina, which occurred in August, 2005. This paper, based on secondary research, discusses the influences of Katrina on the American life. In particular, the findings explore and answer three questions of what this hurricane was, how it damaged the most developed country in the world and what responses were given by the authorities and the non-governmental organizations together with the criticisms of the people. Finally, the paper draws conclusion that Katrina remarkably altered the United States; furthermore, this nation must find solutions for the problems inside itself in order to avoid another similar adversity.
It has been nearly eight years since the hurricane Katrina first made its appearance in the Bahamas, but no one could ever possibly forget it, especially the American who lived in the areas of its direct effects. The damages caused by Katrina are still being felt after an eight-year time. The most severe loss of life and property took place in Louisiana and New Orleans. Mississippi and Alabama were seriously damaged as well. This was a storm that most of the American have long feared (Nagin 2005, cited in Cornwell 2010). Moreover, Katrina was considered as the most destructive disaster in the history of the United States that its overall damages excessively took over those caused by any other major disaster such as the Chicago Fire in 1871, the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire in 1906, and Hurricane Andrew in 1992 (Chapter One: Katrina in perspective). The hurricane undeniably made tremendous impacts on a wide range of American life. Thus, with the purpose of showing how one of the most terrifying catastrophes changed and affected the United States, this paper will discuss the questions of what Katrina exactly was, what its consequences were, and what reactions and criticisms were.
2. Discussion of findings
2.1. What is the “Hurricane Katrina”?
Katrina is a hurricane-scale storm. On August 24th, 2005, the Tropical Depression Twelve, which had formed over the Bahamas the previous day, strengthened into a Tropical Storm and was given the name Katrina. After passing over Florida, Katrina weakened to a Tropical Storm on the 26th. However, it intensified after entering the Gulf of Mexico. On August 27th, the storm reached Category 3 and soon developed to Category 5. The storm became not only extremely intense but also exceptionally large. By the dusk of the 28th, rain began to fall and the Gulf Coast had already suffered from the storm’s impacts. The next day, the hurricane made the second landfall in Louisiana. The heavy and deadly storm unstoppably moved north. Eventually,
Katrina downgraded to a Tropical Storm after passing through Mississippi (Chapter One: Katrina in perspective).
Storms are the acts of the nature, but what made Katrina a lethal storm was the influence of the human beings on the environment. In other words, this hurricane can be classified as an extreme disaster directly caused by man-made global warming. By destroying the Gulf’s wetlands protecting New Orleans, the humankind contributed a vast effort to the deadliness of the hurricane. The research has shown that a storm’s power would be strengthened by the high temperature. Hence, the more intense a storm becomes, the more the temperature in its core climbs. Consequently, the speed of the storm’s spin will be accelerated. This leads to the meteorologically violent storm that we call hurricane (Kluger 2005). This theory explains why Katrina became a powerful hurricane after approaching the warm water in the area of Gulf Mexico, where the wetlands had been destroyed by the human. That made the storm unpredictable for the scientists. Thus, the United States was hit by surprise. For that, the blame for the lethality of the storm was mainly given by the human, themselves.
2.2. How did Katrina affect the United States?
Hurricane Katrina is undoubtedly, the costliest and also the most destructive disaster in the history of the United States. The damages and impacts of this hurricane on the United States can be found in many aspects. However, the three most significantly affected fields are social life, economy and politics.
In social life, Katrina destroyed countless facilities, properties and exerted an unforgettable terror in heart of the people. Due to the complication caused by continuing recovery efforts, the total cost of the damages Katrina left behind was not exactly estimated. However, the figures given by the White House suggested that it was approximately 96 billion dollars. Moreover, the hurricane devastated a vast number of residential properties which was accounted for about 300,000 homes (Chapter One: Katrina in perspective). The storm also caused several breaches in the levees around
New Orleans, which made the city flooded. On May 19th, 2006, the total direct and indirect casualties were confirmed to be 1836 people, mainly from Louisiana and Mississippi (Hurricane Katrina 2005). This severe disaster damaged the region’s communications infrastructure as well. Katrina crippled thirty-eight 911 call centers, resulting in disruption in local emergency services. It knocked out over 3 million phone lines, 1.477 cell towers and affected many broadcast stations (Chapter One: Katrina in perspective; Chapter Four: a week of crisis). The environment suffered as the hurricane caused water stagnation, oil pollution, sewage, household and industrial chemicals. Its surge struck 466 facilities handling large amount of dangerous chemicals, 31 hazardous waste sites (Chapter One: Katrina in perspective). For the survivors, their feelings after the hurricane can be described as a mixture of grief, anxiety and depression. They lost almost everything in that disaster such as their families, their friends, their homes and their properties. The hurricane was a terrible nightmare that nobody could possibly forget.
It is undeniable that Katrina is the costliest storm in the history of this country. Hence, there is doubt that the economy of the United States suffered its dramatic damages. The figures provided by The White House indicates that the unemployment rate doubled from 6 to 12 percent in the most influenced areas of Louisiana and Mississippi during the time of crisis which was between August and September. The salaries and wages went down sharply by about 1.2 billon dollars in the third quarter of 2005 (Chapter One: Katrina in perspective). The storm also demolished 113 offshore oil and gas platforms, damaged 457 oil and gas pipelines, and discharged almost as much oil as the Exxon Valdez oil disaster. This affected 19 percent of U.S. oil production; therefore, the cost of oil and gasoline rose considerably by 3 dollars a barrel for oil and 5 dollars a gallon for gas (Amadeo 2012). The joined effects of both Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, which made landfall soon after Katrina in the outskirt of Louisiana and Texas, resulted in the total number of 114 million unused oil barrels. This number was equal to over one-fifth of the annual output of oil production in the Gulf of Mexico (Chapter One: Katrina in perspective). Additionally, according to the reports of The Department of Energy, this powerful storm made roughly 2.5
million customers suffer from power outages (Chapter Four: A week of crisis). The damages inflicted by the hurricane in the economy can be found in the sugar industry as well. The heart of sugar production in Louisiana, whose yearly crop value was up to 500 billion dollars, was struck heavily by Katrina. The nearby Mississippi’s casinos, which made the income of 1.3 billion annually, were also damaged (Amadeo 2012). The University of North Texas’ Doctor Bernard Weinstein put the total loss in economy up to 250 billion dollars (2008, p.3). This disaster truly and deeply damaged the economy of the most developed country in the world.
Besides the social life and the economy, Katrina left its impacts on politics as well. It tarnished a president’s tenure and caused unbearable burdens for the government along with the numerous criticisms from the people (Cornwell 2010). As Katrina drastically damaged the United States, the government led by President George W. Bush lost its reputation among the people who wanted to be protected properly by their authority. This definitely made it harder for President George Bush to get elected for another tenure. This also resulted in the loss of reputation of his Republican party, and opened a chance for other political party to win the next election. In addition, Michael Brown, who was the former director of FEMA, was forced to resign shortly after the disaster (CNN 2005). Moreover, in a more specific aspect, Katrina affected the African-American politics as well. It was clear that after the hurricane, the black people were very angry with the government. They assumed that it was racism that contributed to the slow disaster response (Sanders 2005). Consequently, three years later, after the last year in the four-year tenure of a President of the United States, the first black president was elected as a result of efforts made by voters to overcome the racial discrimination that Katrina created (Cornwell 2010).
2.3. What were the reactions and criticisms?
With such a troublesome disaster, came the troublesome issues. First of all, there were many problems in the reactions after the hurricane. In order to provide helps for the victims of the catastrophe, the United States government and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) carried out one
of the largest disaster-response operations in the history of the nation.
Government search and rescue efforts were executed by Coast Guard, FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Task Force (FEMA US&R), the Department of Defense, and other Federal agencies. The Coast Guard managed to rescue and evacuate over 33,000 people. This earned them the name the “New Orleans Saints”. FEMA US&R teams also saved 6,500 lives (Chapter Four: A week of Crisis). Furthermore, FEMA was one of the first organizations to provide housing assistance to over 700,000 citizens after the hurricane. They also paid the hotel costs for families that were homeless for months (Hurricane Katrina 2005).
However, had it not been for the helps given by other NGOs, the situation could have been worse. Due to the destruction of the communication infrastructure, it took FEMA three days to realize the magnitude of the hurricane’s damages and start to react (Ahlers 2006). Therefore, NGOs played a fundamental role in the disaster-response project. Almost every local, regional, national charitable organization, private donor, faith-based entity contributed in aiding the victims. More than 9,000 volunteers from forty-one states were of assistance in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. These people took charge of mobile kitchens and recovery sites. Other smaller faith-based entities such as the Set Free Indeed Ministry in Louisiana provided comfort and shelters for the survivors (Chapter Five: Lesson Learned). The most noticeable and crucial contribution was the efforts made by the American Red Cross. In the aftermath, the Red Cross and its partners supplied 1,400 evacuation shelters for about 450,000 evacuees, 68 million hot meals and snacks. Moreover, they also supported 1.4 million families with direct assistance in buying groceries, clothing and other basic needs (Hurricane Recovery Program). In the long-term work of recovering the American society, the Red Cross created the Hurricane Recovery Program. This project made the mental health services accessible to about 187,500 individuals. Besides, they assisted with the development of personal recovery plans for more than 13,200 families. The total fund raised by The Red Cross was accounted for approximately 2.188 billion dollars (Hurricane Recovery Program).
In spite of all the efforts made by both the government and other NGOs, soon after the hurricane, criticisms against the slow reaction and discriminatory attitude of the government began. Many people believed that the lack of preparations and managements were factors leading to the deaths of many more citizens as a result of exhaustion and slow response. Others thought that race, class and other similar elements had contributed to a large proportion of victims who were sick, poor, old or black people. The hurricane surely raised the concern of the American and made them asked themselves these questions:
How was it that an America able to send hundreds of thousands of troops halfway round the world to topple a dictator of whom it disapproved could not protect New Orleans? How could such a Third World disaster happen in the leader of the First World? Why did black suffer the most? (Cornwell 2010)
Indeed, besides the slow response, discrimination is the hottest issue that attracted countless criticisms from the public. Long before Katrina hit the city, New Orleans’ residents already knew that they had been abandoned by the Bush administration. New Orleans is one of the poorest cities of the nation, and its residents are mainly black people. They blamed Bush administration for failing to upgrade the levee system which caused New Orleans’ flood, failing to provide emergency services for Katrina’s victims and leaving behind a large number of black people. Dreier (2006) claimed that The Bush administration’s actions should have been considered as indifferent rather than incompetent. He also suggested that The Bush administration had sabotaged FEMA’s capability to react to the disaster by taking away the authority of FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers, spoiling their morale and ignoring warnings from the state emergency managers. Moreover, people blamed Bush’s government for racism as the percentage of black victims was nearly 49% (Hurricane Katrina 2005). Additionally, FEMA should be heavily criticized for not having cooperated with other NGOs in the disaster-response operation. They seemed unwilling to accept the supports from NGOs. For instance, the American Red Cross was not allowed into New Orleans after the hurricane. Hence, they were unable to assist the government’s response (Chaudhuri n.d.).
All the findings above have shown that Katrina is one of the most destructive disasters in the history of the United States. Sadly, it was global warming caused by human’s activities that made Katrina unpredictable and more dangerous than it should have been. The hurricane hugely damaged the United States, especially on three main aspects: the social life, the economy and the politics. On top of that, the consequences of the hurricane were more serious due to the slow response and the indifference of the government despite the fact that many NGOs had contributed their efforts in the disaster-response operation. Therefore, the government was strongly criticized by the public. Katrina showed the world that there had been too many problems inside the United States, especially in the time of chaos. Hopefully, after nearly eight years, the United States could have solved its problems, and another disaster like Katrina would not happen anymore
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