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Events of extreme disaster are usually characterized by high levels of uncertainty, risks, possibilities of unknown number of casualties, massive pressure to act over time limitations and available resources. Hurricanes are formed in tropical waters and steered in high speeds by winds which cause them to gain strength giving the capability to result in massive rainfall, huge waves that can be carried beyond the shoreline and deadly spiraling cyclones of wind carrying water. Stewart (2005) in a discussion on television explained that Hurricane Katrina started its formation over Bahamas on August 23, 2005 as a category 1 hurricane. The category 1 hurricane proceeded to Florida causing flooding and several deaths before heading to the Gulf of Mexico. It weakened a bit before eventually hitting Louisiana as a category 3 hurricane. The storm elevated to category 5 in the early morning of August 29, 2005, hitting hard near the border of Mississippi and Louisiana. The levee systems which were meant to protect against such disasters involving flooding failed leading to massive flooding of the affected areas.
Hurricane Katrina had its most devastating effects on the city of New Orleans in Louisiana. The failure in the levee system led to 80% of the whole city being flooded leaving some areas submerged in water for up to 20 feet. The flooding continued for weeks after the hurricane had hit. The result was immense damage of property in Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia and Alabama but most notable was the effects on New Orleans which suffered a large number of casualties, power failure, and lack of drinkable water, great property loss and many more. The death toll as a result of the catastrophe stood at 1,836 people with over 780,000 people being rendered homeless in New Orleans alone. 200,000 people were put out of employment following businesses being destroyed.
The disaster led to response levels that were far reaching. Wesely (2009) wrote in his article that the whole nation including all government levels, the private sector, charitable Non-governmental Organizations, foreign countries, and also individuals swung into action in the Gulf Coast to provide manpower and the aid required to aid the victims of Hurricane Katrina. These response actions helped save thousands of lives and further assist the survivors during and after the landfall. As stipulated in the National Response Plan, responding to disaster in the US is by default the task of the local government. If need arises, the local government requests for reinforcement from the county level. This hierarchy proceeds to the state and to the federal government. Preparations for the Hurricane Katrina disaster began before the storm with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) deploying a mortuary team with refrigerated trucks. Prior to the warnings issued by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) via NOAA Radio and the internet about an approaching storm, many citizens took heed and evacuated. President Bush also made a call for mandatory evacuation of citizens that morning. This led to scores of people being evacuated to Superdome. Additional help was brought in to assist take care of the bulging population at the Superdome. As soon as the storm hit, 58,000 National Guard personnel, drawn from all 50 states, were deployed on the scene to assist in rescue operations. Their on-scene command base was elected out of Camp Shelby, Mississippi.
The Department of Defense also offered some volunteers in the Civil Air Patrol on August 28th. In aid of the victims, Congress set aside a total of $62.3 billion. President Bush in his response requested former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush to assist raise more funds. Barr (2005) stated that of all the units involved in the response to the tragic events, the Coast Guard registered the biggest effort by rescuing over 33,500 people of the total 60,000 people stranded in New Orleans. Their efforts were appreciated by the Congress and were entered in the Congressional Record. Volunteers began to offer assistance to the local residents. This went on in a controlled manner as they were instructed not to enter the disaster areas. The network of volunteers continued with offering their services for over six months after the storm. As conditions worsened, there was need to evacuate the people from Superdome to safer areas. The Governor therefore instructed the private school buses to ferry people from Superdome. Apart from the rescue operations going on the ground, Department of Transportation together with the Department of Defense worked together to airlift 24,000 people. Federal departments and agencies worked close with the state, local and private sectors in ensuring smooth running of the rescue efforts. Following thousands being rendered homeless, FEMA offered to provide rental assistance and trailers to over 700,000 applicants. The trailers however didn’t reach the proposed number leading to massive housing shortage in New Orleans. FEMA also paid hotel costs for 12,000 individuals and families displaced by Hurricane Katrina up until February 2006. In a spirit of mutual aid, majority of the states offered shelter for the evacuees as evidenced by the registration of evacuees in all 50 states. Many agencies offered manpower and equipment to assist in the rescue process to substitute the fatigued staff of Louisiana local authorities.
The response to the disaster never lacked criticism with scores accusing the federal government of poor preparations and response to the hurricane. This was based on the media’s televised images of shaken and frustrated leaders while other images showed residents being stranded hungry, thirsty and homeless. Orders also came for the American flags to be hoisted half-staff form September 2, 2005 to September 20, 2005 in honor of the victims. Following the confusion caused by the hurricane, some people took the chance to engaging looting of property and engaging in other crimes. This prompted the law enforcement agencies to act but the destruction of the equipment, records and correctional facilities by the storm posed a challenge in their attempt to curb the vice. Security concerns, both actual and perceived, led to suspension of rescue activities, delayed restoration of communication equipment as well as delayed medical support arrival. The quest to act under the pressure of time limitations created by the disaster exposed lapses in the way various departments coordinated. The lack of proper coordination led to laxities and delays in the supply of the required aid.
The devastating effects caused by the strike of Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast made it to be categorized among the worst disasters to have ever hit the US. The extent of the damage extended beyond the worst hit Gulf Coast since the storm had adverse effects on other areas before the eventual landfall on 29th August, 2005. Before hitting Gulf Coast, Hurricane Katrina battered the Gulf of Mexico knocking down energy infrastructure forcing the evacuation of more than 75 percent of the Gulf’s 819 manned oil platforms.
The eventual landfall that hit mostly the City of New Orleans, the 35th largest city in the US, resulted in knocking down of the walls/levees which resulted in the eventual flooding of 80%of the city. The floods remained for weeks after the storm which created even more devastating effects. One the outcome of the aftermath was flooded homes which led to displacement of over 1 million in total with over 780,000 citizens in New Orleans alone. The displaced individuals were evacuated and forced to seek refuge in other cities and states. The social effect of this on the victims has many implications, from separation with family members, loss of relatives to the pressure of living away from the comfort of their homes. A lot of healing was required to handle the effects of the aftermath on the individuals.
The obvious result of the disaster that led to its categorization as catastrophic was the high number of deaths in the affected areas. The documented casualties from Hurricane Katrina totaled to 1,836 people. In addition the survivors were left without homes due to the extensive destruction of their homes. Scores of people were left without jobs due to businesses being affected. The security of the individuals was another issue that was of concern in the aftermath. The stories told by the victims in the Gulf Coast were about lost family members and relatives. The storm left the citizens without food supply and access to clean drinking water not to mention the unsanitary conditions they had to endure. The harsh reality of the Hurricane’s aftermath left many people with emotional and psychological stress which prompted for seeking help.
Hurricane Katrina unlike other hurricanes which are known to have little or no economic effect hit a record high as a result of the losses. In terms of property loss, the amount was estimated at $81 billion. The Bureau of Economic Crisis (BEA) later estimated the total economic impact in terms of losses to stand at about 150 billion dollars. The major impacts of economic downfall were as a result of the fallout on the oil supply from Gulf Coast, food export, destruction of businesses, loss of employment, reduced tourism and other forms of trade. Gulf Coast, one of the worst hit areas, provided 10% of the total nation’s oil supply. Following interruptions in the operations, the gasoline elevated. To further fuel the losses of the property after the storm were the incidents of looting and violent crimes. The lootings were said to have been fueled by lack of food and essential items. There were also reports of carjacking, rapes, murders and thefts that flooded the media prompting deployment of thousands of National Guard and federal troops. The economy of the country slowed down significantly due to the effects of Hurricane Katrina.
Another significant damage caused by Hurricane Katrina was the environmental impact. The landfall resulted in environmental damages and threats to the public health. These effects lasted longer in the affected areas even after the storm was over. Oil spills, industrial wastes, household sewage, toxic chemicals just to mention but a few, were some of the pollutants that were swept to the hit areas. The contaminate water is the same one that flooded the resident’s homes leading to long term health effects on individuals and animals. The ground water reserves which provide most of the drinking water were highly contaminated by the floods too.
A significant loss that the victims felt after their homes were destroyed was probably the loss of their identification documents. Following the massive evacuation of the citizens leading to them seeking refuge in other states proved a hard task after the registration of persons department in various states prompted for their identification documents to enter them in their records. James (2009) noted that conflicts arose in trying to resettle the victims after they lacked the identification documents, making it hard to keep proper documentation of persons.
Numerous challenges were experienced in a bid to reconstruct areas affected by the hurricane and resettle the victims. Four years down the low and most of these challenges have been faced. Most of the work to rebuild the southern cities, especially New Orleans have seen significant progress reversing the aftermath of the storm. Some of the effort started immediately after the storm calmed down while some reconstruction work still continues up to today.
Gustin (2007) pointed out that, by September 2, 2005 recovery work begun with restoration of power an communication in the central business district of New Orleans as a priority task. One of the important areas that were hit by the storm was the Port of New Orleans bringing shipping activities to halt. Resumption of the ship operations were given a priority and by 6th September normal operations resumed which allowed for relief aid to be transported to assist the victims who were trying to recover the disaster.
Immediately after the storm, Jervis (2007) pointed out that Corps of engineers embarked on a mission to repair the levees and the pumps. The walls were repaired to avert future flooding while the flooded city was drained for the next couple of weeks. Several relief agencies chipped in to assist the residents in several ways. The American Red Cross though making a late entrance set up a number or relief centers across New Orleans where help could be accessed. These centers provided aid such as packaged food, bottled water and other essential items. Temporary medical centers were also setup which treated the victims for free. These were later wound up towards the end of 2005. Several other charity groups setup programs to assist the victims and continued to do this months after he victims had begun to resettle. Some charities even went a step further to assist the residents put up homes. They also provided manpower to assist build new houses in the city. Catholic charities for instance offered to repair damaged homes and the damaged churches across the region. Other organizations like Build Now also offered to set up new homes for the people in a bid to resettle the residents back to their former area.
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Roberson (2009) claims that though gradual in progress, the efforts to resettle people back to the city and bring back the number of the residents have seen significant results with 2/3 of the initial population having settled back to their homes by mid 2007. In a program aimed at helping the residents move back in to their houses, Army Corps of Engineers came up with a plan dubbed ‘Blue roof Program’ which helped people repair the roofs of their homes. This was meant to shield them off the rains until permanent roof were available. Apart from the help from charity organizations and the government, individuals used the money paid from insurance to rebuild their houses, a move that saw a large number bounce back to their normal life.
Mashek (2008) wrote in his article that businesses had been adversely affected if not damaged. But with life slowly crawling back to normalcy, businesses have re-opened with bars and restaurants being the first ones to re-open. This improved the lives of a significant population who owns businesses to self provident levels. Car dealers enjoyed relatively heightened operations selling a large number of vehicles after the hurricane. Months later, most businesses had picked up from the ruins despite the initial shortage of labor. A large number of the victims have also been able to secure employment with the help of several well wishers.
Tourism generates a lot of income for the city through visits by foreigners and hosting of several social events including sports meetings. This had hit lows after the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina and something needed to be done to pull people back to visiting New Orleans. As a follow up to the recovery plan, several conventions were held in the city that attracted thousands of people. For instance the American Library Association in June 2006 with over 18,000 in attendance, the HIMSS and the American College of Cardiology conventions that were held in spring 2007 each attracting an estimated 24,000 people and other conventions held right in the city. Sporting events like Bayou classic also returned to the city with major sporting leagues like NBA and 2013 Super bowl also promising to include the city as a future host. Following this, New Orleans has been declared as one of the best places to visit and has since tremendous growth in the tourist numbers.
A major concern after the landfall and flooding was access to safe and clean water. This followed contamination of the water and sewerage spill outs which mixed with the ground water sources that provided safe water for domestic use. This prompted the instillation of the ‘boil water’ rule which was meant to make residents make the available water safe for drinking. Water and sewage has since been restored back in the resident’s homes and the ‘boil water’ order has since been lifted.
The social effects of Hurricane Katrina were far reaching with many families loosing their loved ones and relatives, others being separated with family members mainly children and scores of people not sure what happened to their family and loved ones. The government has since setup several programs to assist in such cases. The department of Health and Hospitals provides victims with contacts of organizations that help them identify and trace missing people and those who perished in the disaster. The Department of Justice working together with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to provide pictures of children who are looking for their parents. They also have a hot line number that one can call to report or get support.
Hurricane Katrina, as one of the major disaster disasters to have hit US in the recent times, exposed lapses in the government’s disaster and emergency preparedness. A lot of questions were raised concerning several issued leading to the extensive damage of property and death rates as well as the way the rescue missions were coordinated. What was shocking though was the revelation that a large part of the disaster was preventable.
The tragedy exposed massive failures in risk assessment and risk management. Risk assessment is important in that it allows for suppressing of the damage on the human health and safety. Considering the fact that the warnings of Hurricane Katrina ha already been issued, it is only fit to state that they were either underestimated or ignored. Disasters of such magnitude can have adverse effects and therefore should be managed accordingly. The levees and the flood control system was without a doubt not able to withstand a strong storm but the government still stood back and did nothing.
When a disaster is looming and there are clear signs of it occurring, sitting back and hoping it wont happen equals to gambling. When a tragedy of high magnitude as Hurricane Katrina is predicted and action is not taken, that translates to gambling with thousands of human lives. With the warning of occurrence of the hurricane having been issued, the fact that nothing had been done to prevent its impact was exposed when it finally hit causing massive losses. The levees were designed to hold a category 3 storm while the capacity in terms of technology existed to withhold a category 5 storm like hurricane Katrina. Doing nothing when it comes to risk management is not a good enough tool.
In a report published by the US government in 2006, it appreciated that a lesson on the importance of listening to the experts was learned when hurricane experts issued warnings of a hurricane bound to hit New Orleans as early as 4 years before the tragedy. The political elite downplayed the experts warning that was backed by scientific evidence. With the striking of the storm, we came to appreciate the importance of the politicians appreciating they are no experts in all fields and hence to heed to advice offered by experts. When we take heed of the experts’ advice, damages during catastrophes can be litigated to a great extent.
When it comes to managing emergencies, a slight measure of prevention can prevent a huge cost in terms of losses in human life and property. It requires no expert to establish that the amount of resources used to rebuild New Orleans, greatly exceeded the cost it would have cost to prevent the disaster. The cost of reinforcing the levees cannot be compared to the cost of putting up new ones after the storm. The funds for repair of the levees for instance were kept intact while in the real sense it was to the cost of the citizens.
Effective emergency management of disasters requires proper coordination of all the departments and organizations involved. These are mostly those who come to the aid during a disaster. It is important to understand that among the groups present for the rescue operations, the well wishers who come to help with manpower mostly are not professionals and therefore the need for qualified personnel to provide guidance. The coordination could also be in terms of disbursement of resources. During Hurricane Katrina, the urgency of relief prompted the rescue departments to work against time, but the logistics of getting the funding from the federal government took long and the bureaucracy was followed. This led to delayed rescue efforts and supply of relief to the victims.
Hurricane Katrina will be remembered as one of the most destructive disasters in the US for ages to come. With massive losses in property and a lot of funds being used to cope with the losses as well as the high number of casualties, it becomes necessary to come up with measures to prevent and to mitigate the effects of such catastrophes. Emergency management therefore becomes an important integral part of any nations running or any business. Hurricane Katrina had been predicted by experts and prior warnings given but failures in the part of the federal government to act resulted to the high losses which would have otherwise be kept to a minimum.
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