Hurricane Katrina

Author and Page information

  • by Anup Shah
  • This Page Last Updated Sunday, November 13, 2005

Hurricane Katrina was a devastating category 4 hurricane, that hit the Gulf of Mexico and various Southern regions of the United States at the end of August, 2005, causing some of the worst damage in that country’s history, estimated at $100 billion.

The famous New Orleans city and surrounding areas were worst hit as much of it sits some 6 feet below sea level. City defenses, such as levees, only designed for category 3 type hurricanes, gave way, leading to enormous flooding and associated damage, death and displacement of around 100,000 people who either chose to say the course, or could not afford to flee.

The BBC details some of the numbers:

  • 90,000 square mile disaster zone — equivalent to area of Great Britain
  • 10,000 originally feared dead — revised down by government
  • 60 nations have offered aid as well as UN, NATO and WHO
  • 13 states now have a state of emergency in force

Criticisms of Response

Amidst personally moving stories of loss and suffering, of heroic individuals and communities, this tragedy revealed a number of other issues, also reported a lot in the mainstream media (so this page is not going to go through all those details again), including the following:

A lot of criticism at President George Bush and other leading officials for things like:

  • Poor crisis management
  • Slow response of federal authorities such as FEMA
  • George Bush Not setting foot in New Orleans and other worst hit areas for many, many days

Bush’s apparently poor handling of the situation has seen his approval ratings dip substantially to its lowest level, around 38%. (See Eight Big Lies About Katrina for how the US government has responded, and been accused of trying to pass the blame to others.)

A lot of criticism for the federal authorities for ignoring solid warnings many months and years earlier that New Orleans and surrounding areas need to be protected from category 4 hurricanes, not just category 3. This warning seemed to be ignored, and funding for such disaster management reduced, redirected to other things. For example, see the following:

Note was also made how it took a number of days for the National Guard to arrive, and that many of the National Guard from this area were actually in Iraq.

There was extensive highlight of how the rich were able to flee, but the poor (typically black) were unable to, and so suffered the worst of the hurricane's destructive power. However, accompanying this appeared to be a bit of racist undertones and exaggeration. For example:

  • There was looting of shops, because people had no food or water for many days, some scenes turned violent. The media jumped on this showing pictures of black people running riot, giving the impression that this is how black people are when there are no laws and when the system breaks down.
  • There were even claims of rape of babies, though this was never verified.
  • Media and political commentators also commented that perhaps if there were so many white people in such a situation, maybe the social situation would never have deteriorated so much. Such views were commonly aired, though of course hard to ever know for sure.
  • Police and military at one point were told to even prioritize on shoot to kill policies if people were caught looting. Thankfully, as media reporters showed, many sort of disobeyed this order: where "looting" was clearly for survival (food, water, shelter), people were allowed to continue. Where it was looting of items such as televisions, etc, then police attempted to stop this.

A lot of people have pointed out that this is a disaster on such a large scale that it would be hard for authorities to deal with this, yet, the point is that there were solid and accurate warnings about the impacts such a hurricane could have, a long time ago. Yet, authorities did little, and even reduced funding for such initiatives.

What seems to have stunned a lot of international media is that this is the world's richest and most powerful country (in history), seemingly unable to deal with this emergency, though able to wage a terribly destructive war in foreign lands. Whether this is a fair or unfair observation depends on your perspective, but many, many foreign outlets and people seemed to hold this view.

A number of conservative American blogs and commentators asked why other countries had not come to the aid of the US in such a time. Yet, many countries including very poor ones offered aid in various ways. For example:

  • War-torn Afghanistan offered $100,000 in aid.
  • Aid from Venezuela’s Huge Chavez was rejected because the US conservative leadership dislikes him (see this site’s section on Venezuela, where there is detail of apparent US involvement in a recent coup to oust Chavez). This aid included 120 rescue and aid experts, 2 mobile hospital units, 50 tonnes of food, 10 water purification plants, 18 power generation plants and 20 tonnes of bottled water. Jesse Jackson claimed that it was a bad political decision not to accept this offer of help.
  • Other nations included, though not limited to: Greece, Sweden, El Salvador, Russia, Switzerland, France, Latvia, Norway, Britain, Germany, Italy, Cuba, China, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Canada, Mexico, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Saudi Arabia, even Iran.
  • A total of some 60 nations have offered help, as noted further above
  • And yet, as reported by the Associated Press, since Hurricane Katrina struck the United States, many international donors have complained of frustration that bureaucratic entanglements have hindered shipments to the United States. The same report also notes a German plane with Katrina Aid was turned back, for example.

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Other issues

Health related problems, such as water-born diseases, environmental pollution as chemicals and sewage mix in the cities and spill into the oceans are going to add to the problems.

Major oil production facilities in the Gulf of Mexico were damaged, leading to further a world rise in oil prices.

As massive reconstruction begins, there is also criticism of how that is happening. The British paper, the Guardian reports that “firms known for their close links with the White House are winning work.”

And of course there are environmental issues to consider. For a long time, scientists have worried that climate changes may spawn more fierce hurricanes. This has of course entered discourse again in the wake of Katrine, but skeptics are quick to note that the number of hurricanes in a given season seems to be cyclical. Yet, a BBC weather reporter noted that the intensity of hurricanes seem to be increasing, even if the frequency may show cyclical patterns. The US position on climate change has of course been to oppose international efforts for fear of losing economic advantages. You can find out more about climate change on this site's section on that topic.

President Bush, amidst severe criticisms says he will personally head an investigation into what went wrong, why the response was so slow, etc. Yet, for one who is receiving so much criticism and blame for this, most media outlets have commented that this investigation will hardly be independent.

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Media Reporting

As a welcome surprise, the long-criticized mainstream media has “woken up” and reported critically on this issue, for it has been hard to avoid the issues of mismanagement, slow response, and even what some call down right incompetence. US media critic, William Powers, raises a few points quite well:

These moments are happening daily in the media as the Katrina story unfolds before a horrified nation. Reporters are doing once again what, in a free society, they are supposed to do — asking tough questions and holding public officials to account for their sometimes appalling, and in this case, fatal, mistakes. White House press conferences, which in the age of President Bush have been reduced to spineless questions followed by bromidic non-answers — are full of dramatic confrontations.

… The [media] turnabout is so astonishing it is making headlines itself.

… For the media this story touches on a number of sensitive nerves. It is not just about a massive failure of leadership and institutional competence but national security. News outlets across the country are asking — if the US can't handle a natural disaster, for which there were all kinds of warnings, what will happen next time terrorists attack us by surprise? It is also about social class, a subject not normally on the frontburner for American news organisations, though in the past year or so that has been changing: several prestige outlets, including both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, have run high-profile stories on class in the US, paying particular attention to evidence that the gap between rich and poor is growing wider, a perception underlined by Katrina.

… Finally, the Katrina story is about a subject that has tied American journalists in knots for the past five years - the one riddle they cannot seem to solve: it concerns President Bush himself.

William Powers, Shock snaps US media out of its long trance, The Guardian, September 11, 2005

But given the mainstream media’s poor record in the past, and its often tolerance and subservience to power, media organization, Media Channel is now trying to campaign to keep the press fighting and looking at hard issues into the future as it has done around the issue for Katrina.

Another media watchdog, Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting is equally guarded in its optimism about the press. It notes a number of high profile reporters defending the Bush Administration, and in a conclusion to an article from them:

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, a more aggressive press corps seems to have caught the White House public relations team off-balance — a situation the White House has not had to face very often in the last five years. Many might wonder why it took reporters so long; as Eric Boehlert wrote in Salon.com (9/7/05):

It’s hard to decide which is more troubling: that it took the national press corps five years to summon up enough courage to report, without apology, that what the Bush administration says and does are often two different things, or that it took the sight of bodies floating facedown in the streets of New Orleans to trigger a change in the press's behavior.

Covering Katrina: Has a More Critical Press Corps Emerged?, Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, September 9, 2005

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Hurricane Rita Strikes a similar area

Soon after Katrina, hurricane Rita, almost as powerful, struck the Southern States. Millions evacuated ahead, having been all too aware of the devastation caused by Katrina, taking no chances. While the worst of it did not hit New Orleans, that city saw its levees breached again, resulting in more flooding.

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More information

Given the detailed mainstream media reporting, only a few links to more information is provided, as most readers of this page will already have seen many sources:

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Where next?

Other options

Author and Page Information

  • by Anup Shah
  • Created: Tuesday, September 13, 2005
  • Last Updated: Sunday, November 13, 2005

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Document Revision History

DateReason
November 13, 2005Added a link to an additional source of information that looks at these issues in a broader context of global issues
September 28, 2005Small note added about Hurricane Rita as it also struck the southern states shortly after Katrina.

Alternatives for broken links

Sometimes links to other sites may break beyond my control. Where possible, alternative links are provided to backups or reposted versions here.