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KnowLA Looks Back at Hurricanes Katrina and Rita

The summer of 2005 will long be remembered by Louisianians as one of life-altering upheaval and hardship as the coastal areas of the state were devastated by two record-breaking, history-making hurricanes within the span of 26 days. Inland areas of the state opened their arms to thousands of evacuees., the Digital Encyclopedia of Louisiana, has documented the destruction wrought by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the resilience that has emerged in the past decade of recovery.

The storm that became Hurricane Katrina emerged over the Bahamas on Tuesday, August 23 as the 12th tropical depression of the year. After passing over south Florida as a Category 1 hurricane, Katrina entered the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and quickly intensified to Category 5 with winds topping 175 miles an hour by Sunday, August 28. For the first time ever, a mandatory evacuation was ordered for New Orleans as the storm took aim at southeast Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Landfall occurred in the morning hours of August 29 with an unprecedented 24-28 foot tidal surge inundating coastal areas. In New Orleans, which dodged a direct hit, the federal levee system proved woefully inadequate. Structural failures caused 80 percent of the city to flood, stranding thousands, many of whom waited for nearly a week until rescue efforts were completed. Louisiana recorded 1,577 fatalities and nearly $27 billion in losses and damages making Katrina the costliest disaster in U.S. History when combined with payouts in Mississippi and Florida.

Hurricane Rita formed a few weeks later – seven letters down the 2005 list of named storms – and earned the notoriety of the largest storm ever measured in the Gulf of Mexico with Category Five wind speeds topping 235 miles an hour. The storm gradually weakened to a Category 3 by the time it slammed into the Texas-Louisiana border on September 24, wreaking havoc upon a 250-mile stretch of coastline. Damages from Rita topped $12 billion and an estimated 120 deaths in four states were attributed to the weather system. Many victims in southwest Louisiana have since complained of “Rita amnesia” since Katrina drew the most media attention and charitable giving.