Hurricane Isaac is churning through the Gulf of Mexico, reminding residents of the death and destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina almost seven years ago. That storm was one of the worst in U.S. history, killing more than 1,800 people, wrecking hundreds of thousands of homes and tripling unemployment in the area.
Seven years ago, Hurricane Katrina hammered the U.S. Gulf Coast with a storm surge eight and a half meters high and winds that blew apart buildings.
The storm overwhelmed the levees that were supposed to protect the city of New Orleans.
With that experience in mind, residents and officials are focusing on satellite and radar images that show Hurricane Isaac headed for the same area.
Residents of low-lying areas are being urged to flee to higher ground, and everyone has been instructed to board up windows and stock up on food, water and flashlights.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu says residents need to heed the lessons of Katrina. He says the city is ready.
“We are staged, battle ready, we are in battle rhythm, we are prepared to handle what comes our way,” Landrieu said.
Since Katrina, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has spent billions of dollars to strengthen New Orleans against flooding. While parts of the project are unfinished, the Corps says the city has its strongest-ever defense against floods.
The American Insurance Association says Katrina showed stronger buildings save lives. The industry has been urging states and cities to pass rules requiring strong building materials and techniques that help homes resist wind and water. The AIA’s Jim Whittle says homes built with stronger materials and better construction techniques are more likely to survive.
“The roof stays on, the doors stay in position. The windows stay in position, Any time you have some breech within the envelope of the building, that could create a pressurization issue that can result in destruction of the home,” Whittle said.
In the floods after Katrina, the U.S. Coast Guard struggled to rescue people stranded on rooftops and elsewhere, using aircraft and boats.
Coast Guard Captain Ed Cubanski says the Coast Guard has moved personnel and equipment out of the direct path of the storm.
“We have assets to the West and the East, and, depending on which directions the storm goes, we can mobilize on the backside to assess what needs to be done, and then we will have the assets to follow in and do the rescues,” Cubanski said.
Cubanski says Katrina showed the need for better coordination between national and local officials and drills to prepare for emergencies.
Katrina also reminded politicians in Washington and elsewhere that they need to make emergency services a priority, even in a time of tight budgets.