One year ago, on Aug. 29, 2005, as Hurricane Katrina approached landfall, those who did not evacuate coastal Louisiana saw the levees give way to an un-stoppable storm surge. On Sept. 24, 2005, the region was hit again, this time by Hurricane Rita.
Louisiana and Mississippi had never before experienced such catastrophic damage. Nor had any other region of the United States. Katrina alone caused tens of billions of dollars of property damage. Much of what was the Big Easy was washed or blown away. Businesses ceased to exist. Not even the courts were spared.
Tens of thousands of people no longer had homes. “There is absolutely no blueprint for this,” said Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Catherine Kimball after she was evacuated. “Nobody’s seen a disaster like this in our lifetimes. We’ve got to forge our way each day,” she told the Associated Press. Apart from the human cost (over one thousand lives were lost), the physical devastation was unprecedented. “It’s pretty sad,” (now former) Louisiana Insur-ance Commissioner Robert Wooley told the Wall Street Journal in a profile on Oct. 4, 2005, “when the best news is that a tree fell on your roof.”
One estimate has it that 65,000 Mississippi residents and more than 90,000 Louisiana families were displaced as a result of Katrina and Rita. Those who remained or tried to evacuate too late found themselves without food or water. During and after Katrina, state officials called on the federal government for assistance of various kinds, but that assistance was limited and poorly coordinated. State and local politicians criticized the federal government (which sent criticism right back) for not anticipating what would be needed to assist the region.