The hurricane Katrina was our costliest hurricane this far. Not the deadliest, that was the 1900 Galveston hurricane that killed 6 to 12,000 people. At that time it had passed through the Florida Strait as a tropical storm, so the Galveston people didn’t take it seriously, after all they had an 8 foot seawall. It entered as a category 4 hurricane, the storm surge was 15 feet, topped the seawall and wiped out the city like a tsunami.
I have always been fascinated by hurricanes, the enormous energy they disperse and how beautiful they appear from space. So it was on Aug 27, 2005 that I watched the press conference with the Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco reassuring the people “I believe we are prepared,” she said in Jefferson Parish. “That’s the one thing that I’ve always been able to brag about.”
Though experts had warned it would take 48 hours to evacuate New Orleans, Blanco did not order a mandatory evacuation that Saturday.
“We’re going to pray that the impact will soften,” she said.
Later the same day in city Hall she is still trying to decide when or if to reverse flow on the highways, she has still no clue on how severe the situation is and refuses to hear the warnings from NHC that warned more or less that an unprecedented catastrophe is coming. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin agreed that he would take care of his people.
The next day the hurricane had grown to category 5 and everybody that could started to evacuate with or without an evacuation order, but it wasn’t until 20 hours before landfall that she ordered mandatory evacuation and reversed direction on all the exit highways. Everybody that could evacuate had already started, so the coaches were picked up by the hotels to evacuate the tourists. The traffic jams were enormous since everybody tried to get out at the same time. They more or less knew the levies would be topped, but even then Mayor Nagin refused to use the school buses to evacuate. He claimed “My people will not be bused in school buses, they deserve coaches.
The U.S. government begged repeatedly that the governor would call in the national guard, but she refused. The Federal government considered calling in the U.S. military, but decided against it, since it is against the law unless the governor authorizes it.
It had landfall as a category 3 hurricane east of New Orleans so the major storm surge, 26 feet high, hit Mississippi and wiped out casinos and other structures at the coast, and hurricane winds affected an area the size of England. New Orleans was on the west side of the path, so New Orleans was spared an over topping of the levees. That is, until the next morning one levee gave way due to incorrect secured footing and New Orleans got flooded.
FEMA was still busy cleaning up from earlier hurricanes, so new people needed to be hired or transferred to other department, but to work for FEMA you needed at least 3 days extra of sensitivity training, so FEMA paperwork got delayed another week.
There was plenty of blame to go around, but President Bush is still getting blamed for it.
Not so with Hurricane Harvey. It also grew very rapidly from a tropical disturbance to a major hurricane and was still growing at landfall as a category 4 hurricane. It looked like it was going to get inland fast and follow the normal path and rain out while moving rapidly, but instead it got blocked by two high pressures and decided to stall after rainfall, move back into the gulf, picking up more rain and then rain out over Houston and surrounding areas. The wind damage and storm surge was normal for a category 4 hurricane, but the staying in place for a long time made it the rainiest hurricane ever hitting the U.S. mainland, with some areas around Houston getting over 50 inches of rain.
Yet the hurricane response has been nothing short of excellent. The Governor of Texas acted early in cooperation with the Federal Government to pre-stage national guard and supplies in conjunction with local government. But the thing that made the biggest difference has been the volunteer response from thousands of people with high clearance trucks and boats evacuating thousands of people. About he only thing going wrong was the mayor of Houston discouraging early evacuation when he knew the rains were going to be horrendous.
It is going to be the costliest hurricane in U.S. history, but without the volunteer response and excellent cooperation between all levels of government it could have been so much worse.
The American spirit is alive and well in Texas, as is the Trump leadership