As the East Coast copes with the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, many southerners somberly remember Hurricane Katrina. It's hard to believe, but six years ago on Aug. 29, the relentless power of Katrina washed up from the Gulf of Mexico wiping out entire communities and cities.
Today marks the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the most costly disaster in United States history, costing more than $81 billion in damages. There are few residents that do not remember that Katrina devastated multiple states with 135 mph winds and an unyielding 30-foot storm surge killing at least 1,836 people.
The actual hurricane and in the subsequent floods, made Katrina the deadliest U.S. hurricane since the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane. Estimated damages from Irene are already at $8 to $15 billion in six states.
There are many reasons why Katrina still brings a mixed bag of emotions to the Gulf Coast region. Some remember the day as a time to begin building bigger and better, while others believe the areas hit by Katrina will never fully recover. Whatever the memory, most will agree that the lessons learned after Katrina can be shared with those recovering from Irene today.
Today, the recovery and rebuilding process continues, but constant reminders remain scattered throughout the region in the form of cement slabs, vacant buildings, and empty neighborhoods.
Katrina memorials stand tall along the Gulf Coast marking the tragedy felt by so many. It is with God's strength, good neighbors, and the memorials that locals find their way through life these days. Christian recovery groups continue to flock to the Gulf Coast region to help families rebuild their homes.
After the mainline levee broke in New Orleans and homes were destroyed all across the Gulf, thousands flocked from other states to help Gulf Coast residents.
In Mississippi, large pockets of utter destruction stopped life as locals knew it at the time. The comments heard by many after the storm was that Katrina was not just "tragic" it was “unbelievable.”
“Tremendous progress has been made on the Coast’s coming back bigger and better than ever, but there is still a lot to do,” said Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour today.
“Mississippians offered a helping hand to their neighbors and quickly got to work rebuilding communities along the Gulf Coast. We will do the same for those suffering from Irene."
If you were in the midst of Hurricane Katrina, it's likely you'll never forget certain images. There was massive rain, trees, buildings and neighborhoods barely standing. Street lights dangled by a thread, clothes were hanging in the trees, and debris flew everywhere.
A mistake many people made in deciding to ride out Hurricane Katrina was thinking it wouldn't be as bad as Hurricane Camille, a Category 5 storm that struck Mississippi 36 years ago.
What remains true today about Katrina and Irene is that the unpredictable nature of storms makes it difficult to say far in advance which areas will be flooded and how much higher the wind-whipped waves on top of the surge will be.
Staggering to some is the slow pace of recovery on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and New Orleans. Not everyone agrees with lawmakers that a lot of progress has been made. No one was happy with the federal government's initial response to the hurricane.
Many of the reports after Katrina focused on the failure of federal dollars to reach their intended targets. Oxfam's reported that although $17 billion was approved by Congress to rebuild homes in Louisiana and Mississippi, not one house was immediately rebuilt with that money in either state.
According to one poll, eighty percent of the American public still think the federal government's response could have been "much better.”
Most remember questionable statements by President Bush when he said, "This government will learn the lessons of Hurricane Katrina."
Today, vast sections of New Orleans are still devoid of life, populated by endless rows of broken, empty houses with "for sale" signs and somber flags still up saying “surrender."
More than 81,000 businesses were destroyed by Katrina causing the loss of 450,000 jobs. Insurance rates keep rising posing a new problem for the housing market.
“We have not been able to sell our home in years,” Gulfport resident Mickey Wilson told The Christian Post. “We are like everyone else here, we cannot afford the home insurance and we cannot sell because nobody else can afford it either.”
Just a few years ago, research showed that 60 percent of the businesses in New Orleans were not reopened.
According to a report by the Democratic members of the House Small Business Committee, “80 percent of small businesses on the Gulf Coast have not yet received loans promised by the federal government."
"These long delays have not only caused many viable small businesses to fail that would have otherwise survived, but has contributed to the slow recovery of the local economy," noted the report.
Most damaging, was the fact that New Orleans suffered a loss of culture after the storm. Experts say the city still has a long way to go to get their “way of life back.”
"The Big Easy" has always had little restaurants, “mom and pop” or independent stores and small manufacturers that do not just add flavor to the economy; in a city that lacks a big corporate base, they are the economy.
Gov. Haley Barbour today provided an update on the recovery of the Mississippi Gulf Coast in hopes of spurring on more positive thinking among residents.
Barbour said one lesson that Katrina state officials are implementing is an expanded interoperable communications system for agencies to share in real time.
Efforts to rebuild housing, public infrastructure and the Gulf Coast economy have met significant milestones in Mississippi during the past year.
Bringing jobs back to the Coast has also been a major focus of Barbour’s recovery plan.
"If people have nowhere to live or if they can't afford to live where they work, it becomes difficult for them to go where the jobs are. ... The end result is that recovery in the struggling areas is being slowed, sometimes to a near halt," said a report by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government and the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana.
“After Katrina, our first responders excelled in a time of difficulty, but they are even better prepared today thanks to the lessons we’ve learned,” Barbour said today.
The Coast Guard was one of the few federal agencies that performed commendably following Katrina. The Coast Guard admiral leading the service’s post-Hurricane Irene response says he believes federal first responders have learned their lessons from Hurricane Katrina and now are far more prepared to react to disasters and coordinate relief efforts.
“I think we’re there,” said Rear Adm. William Lee. “But this is the first real test of that.”
“The primary lesson the federal government took away from Katrina is that we needed to do a better job of preplanning,” said Lee, commander of the Coast Guard’s District 5, based in Portsmouth, Va.
Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Deputy Administrator Lea Crager said he will bring Katrina lessons to help support New York after Irene.
“This is an opportunity for us to share our experience not only from Hurricane Katrina but from the many other recent disasters Mississippi has experienced,” said Crager.
“Many of the states impacted by this storm and those still in its path have not experienced significant tropical weather in many years. We can guide the way."