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Home : Features : 2010 : In Katrina's Wake
The Storm

When the National Weather Service announced on August 24, 2005, that the next named storm would be "Katrina,"it didn't seem to jolt the citizens of south Florida. The state's residents had grown all too accustomed to this kind of interruption of everyday life: an oncoming storm had been upgraded from a tropical depression to a hurricane. In 2004, the state had experienced four named hurricanes in six weeks, so the 2005 warning didn't seem unusual, nor raise many alarms.

Trouble Waters

Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Florida on August 25 as a Category 1 on the Simpson-Saffir hurricane scale. It produced 80 mph winds near North Miami Beach, and then declined slightly in speed as it traveled southwest over land into more rural reaches.

The Florida National Guard activated 800 personnel. Seventyfive members were to prepare high-clearance vehicles in the event of flooding in the southern part of the peninsula.

From there, the storm entered the Gulf of Mexico, enabling it to regain strength. Atmospheric conditions gave the rejuvenated hurricane still stronger wind speeds-about 95-100 mph-which quickly upgraded it to a Category 2.

The storm's predicted impact area was also growing at an alarming rate, as was its unpredictability. Florida called up 130 more National Guard personnel in case the hurricane changed direction. The governors of Louisiana and Mississippi declared states of emergency.

By August 28, the areas under watch contained approximately 753,000 households, with a population of slightly over 2 million. Of those, about 1.3 million lived in Louisiana, and about 700,000 in Mississippi, areas for which the worst damage was being predicted.

Preparing for the worst

As Hurricane Katrina gained strength crossing the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Texas appeared to be the only Gulf Coast state that would escape serious damage.

Governors began activating disaster preparation plans on August 26. Past storms had wreaked havoc on the coast, but this one seemed to be veering toward New Orleans, home to nearly 450,000 residents, with a metropolitan area of around 1.3 million. Since the city was below sea level, storm surges would threaten the stability of the levee system, which held back the waters of the Mississippi River itself, Lake Pontchartrain and the canals that crisscrossed the city.

Gulf Coast residents became even more alarmed on August 28 when the force of Katrina accelerated and it was upgraded to a Category 5 hurricane. Its wind speeds exceeded 170 mph.

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