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Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans 10 years ago, today: Here's how it happened

Retrace every step of the Storm of the Century.

Image: Associated Press

ON THE MORNING of Sunday, 29  August 2005 – Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans, and along the Gulf Coast.

The Category 5 hurricane killed more than 1,000 people, caused tens of billions of dollars in property damage, and led to the biggest forced migration in a century.

Using information from NOAA, the National Weather Service, the Brookings Institute, and various cited media sources – Here’s how it all happened:

  • Tuesday 23 August

katrina Source: NOAA

The 12th tropical depression of the 2005 storm season is spotted in the southeastern Bahamas in the Caribbean.

It’s labelled “TD #12″ by experts in the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

  • Wednesday 24 August

TD #12 is upgraded to Tropical Storm Katrina, moving northwest over the Bahamas.

  • Thursday 25 August

Katrina is upgraded to a Category 1 Hurricane. It makes landfall at 6.30 am along Hallandale Beach and North Miami Beach in south Florida, reaching windspeeds of 80 mph.

A large area of south Florida sustains some property damage and power cuts, and rainfall reaches five inches.

Katrina reaches gusts of up to 90 mph during a seven-hour path over Florida, but turning south-west and moving across the Gulf of Mexico, drops back to Tropical Storm status.

katrina-radar-la Source: NOAA

  • Friday 26 August

An anticyclone over Texas, as well as unusually high sea-surface temperatures, caused Katrina to deviate northward, and intensify back up to a Category 1 hurricane.

It continues to gather strength during Friday, and is upgraded to Category 2 at 11.30 am.

  • Saturday 27 August

5 am – Katrina is declared a Category 3 hurricane, meaning windspeeds of 111 to 129 mph.

With Katrina’s northward path leading directly to the Gulf Coast, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco invokes Section 501 of the Stafford Act.

She formally asks President George W Bush to declare a state of emergency in her state, freeing up the resources and support of the federal government.

5 pm – New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin announces a voluntary evacuation of the city.

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour declares a state of emergency.

  • Sunday 28 August

Inside Katrina's Eye Inside the eye of Hurricane Katrina, as captured by NOAA's Hurricane Hunter aircraft, on Sunday 28 August, 2005. Source: NOAA Images

Katrina is upgraded to a Category 4 hurricane just after midnight, and then Category 5 at 7 am, reaching windspeeds of 175 mph.

10 am – Nagin holds a press conference ordering a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans, and calls Katrina the “storm that most of us have feared.”

Authorities open 10 emergency shelters for those who cannot leave the city, and the 65,000 capacity Superdome – home of the NFL New Orleans Saints – is made available to people with special needs.

Within a few hours, 10,000 people have made their way there.

12 pm – President Bush takes a conference call with several federal disaster officials, including FEMA Director Michael Brown, and Max Mayfield from the National Hurricane Center.

He is warned that the levees (flood barriers) protecting New Orleans from the waters of Lake Ponchartrain could break, and that Hurricane Katrina could be “the big one.”

Bush declares a state of emergency in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida.

4pm – The National Hurricane Center issues an official warning that waves of up to 28 feet could cause levees in New Orleans to be overcome.

  • Monday 29 August – Landfall

HURRICANE KATRINA Source: Associated Press

6.10 am – Hurricane Katrina makes landfall in Mississippi and New Orleans, bringing winds of 125 mph and rainfall at the extraordinarily high rate of one inch per hour.

However, Katrina is downgraded to Category 3, and the eye of the storm misses New Orleans.

What results is a 20-30 foot storm surge along the Gulf Coast, in Mobile Bay, on Lake Ponchartrain to the north of New Orleans, and up the city’s drainage canal system.

The city of Mobile, Alabama is inundated and parts of the Mississippi cities of Gulfport and Biloxi end up under water, due to the storm surge.

This photo shows emergency services rescuing an entire family from the roof of their vehicle on Route 90 in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, 29 August.

YE KATRINA Source: Associated Press

This extraordinary first-hand footage shows the devastation caused by Katrina at the Beau Rivage beach resort in Biloxi, 90 miles east of New Orleans:

biloxi Source: Danielle Burk via YouTube

8am-2pm – Four levees throughout New Orleans are breached, leaving homes and residents at the mercy of 15-20 foot waves.

Throughout the day, emergency services receive calls from residents reporting deaths, drownings, and neighbours stranded on rooftops or in cars.

CORRECTION TOPIX HURRICANE KATRINA Source: Associated Press

After the “overtopping” of the levees, whole neighbourhood are left under 10 feet of water in a frighteningly short period of time.

2pm – 20% of New Orleans is not just subject to some flooding, but literally under water.

The Superdome, with thousands sheltering inside, is compromised, as high winds begin to strip the roof off, and rain begins leaking through.

HURRICANE KATRINA Source: Associated Press

  • Tuesday 30 August

80% of the entire city of New Orleans is now under water – in some neighbourhoods, as much as 20 feet.

These satellite images show the effect that breached levees had on the topography of the city.

surecote Source: NASA

citypark Source: NASA

Widespread reports of looting along the Gulf Coast, as shown in these photos from Biloxi, Mississippi:

HURRICANE KATRINA Source: Associated Press

And New Orleans:

HURRICANE KATRINA Source: Associated Press

Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco empowers the National Guard to shoot looters on sight.

As part of its Pulitzer Prize winning coverage of Katrina, a Times-Picayune photographer captures an infamous photo of a New Orleans police officer holding DVDs he had just looted from a shop on Tuesday.

Rescue efforts continue throughout the day, and as more National Guard troops begin to arrive, residents are brought to the Superdome.

HURRICANE KATRINA Source: Associated Press

Blanco also orders thousands of school buses from the rest of the state, and then orders the evacuation of the entire city.

  • Wednesday 31 August

BUSH Source: Associated Press

Katrina is downgraded again to a tropical depression, but brings storms, heavy rain, and 62 tornadoes on her path northwards across the entire United States.

Meanwhile, President George W Bush gives a major interview with ABC News’ Diane Sawyer.

Source: awlester/YouTube

Facing criticism over the slow arrival of federal troops and resources in New Orleans, he claims:

I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees.

In March 2006 the Associated Press would acquire a video of Bush’s 28 August teleconference with disaster management chiefs, during which he was explicitly warned about the breaching of the levees (see above).

  • Thursday 1 September

HURRICANE KATRINA Source: Associated Press

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin orders police to turn their attention from search and rescue of survivors, to preventing looting, which continues to escalate in some places.

Criticism of the federal government response deepens. Thousands sheltering in the now dilapidated Superdome, struggle without proper food, water or sanitation, and temperatures in the mid-30s.

At the nearby Convention Centre, Terri Jones tries to help Dorothy Divic stave off the effects of heat exhaustion.

89-year-old Divic died in her arms some time after this photo was taken.

HURRICANE KATRINA Source: Associated Press

Local radio host Garland Robinette, who had kept New Orleanians informed throughout the hurricane, gets an unplanned on-air call from an emotional Nagin, who vents his frustration at the federal government, in a now-famous radio moment.

Excuse my French, everybody in America, but I am pissed…This is crazy…
Get off your asses and let’s do something and let’s fix the biggest goddamn crisis in the history of this country.
  • Friday 2 September

HURRICANE KATRINA Source: Associated Press

The tide begins to turn in the relief effort.

- The US Congress passes a $10.5 billion aid package
- 20,000 additional National Guard troops arrive in the region, 6,500 going to New Orleans
- The evacuation of the Superdome continues
- Flights begin again, taking hundreds from New Orleans to San Antonio, Texas

Finally touring the affected Gulf Coast region, Bush acknowledges that the results of the federal response have been “not acceptable,” and holds a press conference in Mobile, Alabama, itself battered by Katrina.

There, he issued his now infamous praise of FEMA Director Michael Brown:

Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job…
  • Sunday 4 September

HURRICANE KATRINA Source: Associated Press

The Superdome is effectively completely evacuated

  • Tuesday 6 September

Only 10,000 people remain in the city of New Orleans, from a population of around 480,000.  (The population would later increase back to 384,000 by 2014).

  • February 2006

A US Congressional inquiry issues a huge, scathing report which finds failure at all levels of government, in preparations for and response to Hurricane Katrina.

The institutional and individual failures we have identified became all the more clear when compared to the heroic efforts of those who acted decisively.
Those who didn’t flinch, who took matters into their own hands when bureaucratic inertia was causing death, injury, and suffering.

Contains reporting by the Associated Press

Read: 5 ex-police officers sentenced for killing civilians after Hurricane Katrina>

Gallery: Powerful new photos show aftermath of 9/11 attacks>

Read: These are the ten cities most at risk of being hit by natural disasters>

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About the author:

Dan MacGuill

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