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Hurricane Katrina – Assessing the Risks and Meeting the Challenge

Hurricane Katrina – Assessing the Risks and Meeting the Challenge

Hurricane Katrina – Assessing the Risks and Meeting the

Hurricane KatrinaAssessing the Risks and Meeting the Challenge Submitted at the Mekong River Commission Fourth Annual Flood Forum Siem Reap, Cambodia – May 18 and 19, 2006 Timothy J. Sullivan, Esq. and Gerald E. Galloway, PE, PhD 1 Hurricane Katrina focused the world’s attention on the fragility of attempts to manage and develop the Mississippi River delta and protect the United States of America (US) Gulf Coast from flood disasters. As the nation struggles to address the aftermath of Katrina and her sister, Hurricane Rita, the US government has responded to the plight of flood victims by focusing on short-term recovery. It is also engaged in re-examining the advantages, limitations and risks of engineering approaches to flood protection. Our challenge is to set a rational and sound direction for future occupation and use of floodplain lands repeatedly devastated by nature’s forces. Restoring the City of New Orleans after Katrina’s destruction and protecting the city from future floods is at the center of the debate. In the process, the nation is closely scrutinizing the performance of government agencies and rethinking long-term flood management systems. In carrying out this review, we are examining the response of government officials to information that was available to them before, during and after the hurricane hit; and how this information was used in the performance of their mission. The Disaster Called Katrina On August 29, 2005 Hurricane Katrina, one of the strongest storms to strike the coast of the United States (US) in the past 100 years, devastated the city of New Orleans and much of the Gulf of Mexico coastline in the states of Louisiana and Mississippi. A second major hurricane, Rita, hit the Louisiana and Texas coastlines a few weeks later. In the aftermath of these disasters the world was shocked by the level of destruction and the inability of local, state and federal agencies to effectively coordinate emergency response to the disaster. Over a million people lost their homes and jobs, and more then 1300 people lost their lives. Entire neighborhoods in New Orleans were destroyed and may never be rebuilt. Although some residents have returned to the city, the majority of displaced and relocated citizens are still temporarily or permanently scattered in communities throughout the United States. It is now estimated that cost of Katrina will exceed $90 billion. In the aftermath of devastation and loss on this scale, flood management and emergency response policies in the US are being examined closely at all levels of government. Katrina has generated a public policy debate in the US focusing on several key questions. Are current floodplain development policies and existing flood management systems working? What priorities have driven flood management policy decisions, and what are the social, economic and environmental consequences of those decisions? How much does the public understand about the risks that it faces in living in high-hazard areas? With one of the worlds most advanced and precise flood forecasting and warning systems, why did federal, state and local 1 President and CEO, Mississippi River Institute for Global Cooperation (timsullivan1@charter.net), and Glenn L. Martin Institute Professor of Engineering, University of Maryland and Visiting Scholar, US Army Corps of Engineers (gegallo@umd.edu), respectively. 1

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