Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall on August 29, 2005, was not the strongest storm to ever hit American shores. Yet it caused over 1,600 deaths and rendered the most property damage in U.S. history after flood walls in New Orleans gave way and left 80% of the Crescent City and many of the surrounding parishes under water.
The response to this unfathomable disaster was an unprecedented mobilization of the National Guard for a domestic emergency. Soldiers and Airmen from all 50 states, the territories of Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia deployed in record time in support of their Gulf Coast neighbors. The National Guard responded in record numbers, despite a massive overseas deployment of some 79,000 personnel in support of the Global War on Terror.
Guard forces were rescuing people within four hours of Katrina’s landfall. More than 11,000 Soldiers and Airmen were involved in rescue operations on August 31. More than 6,500 Guard men and women were on site in New Orleans by September 2. At the peak of the Guard’s involvement on September 7, over 51,000 Guard members were mobilized for Katrina in a Title 32, federally-funded but state-controlled status. The number was three times greater than the previous record response for a natural disaster - nearly 17,000 following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that shook San Francisco. This rapid response would not have been possible without the proliferation of Emergency Management Assistance Compacts between the states which enabled Governors to call on one another for aid in times of need. In the early stages of rescue operations, the most visible sign of relief was the 146 Army National Guard helicopters in the air rescuing stranded citizens, like the UH-60As from the Arkansas Army National Guard’s Detachment 1149th Medical Company (Air Ambulance). Over 17,000 Gulf Coast residents – 4,200 in New Orleans alone – along with many pets, were saved by Guard air and watercraft. Air Guard transport planes and Army Guard trucks also evacuated more than 70,000 residents. In the month of September, the Guard delivered over 5.5 million individual food rations, over 7 million liters of water and 12 million pounds of ice. For residents of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas, Guard members cleared debris and provided communications, security, medical care, and most of all – hope