The residents of New Orleans love their celebrations. But Aug. 29 is a date that brings little cheer to the Crescent City. On that day in 2005, Hurricane Katrina blew into town.
Everybody knew Katrina was coming, but even now—six years later—debate continues on why preparations to meet the storm’s onslaught turned out to be so inadequate. It’s a debate that encompasses the justice system along with other government and civic institutions, and it has produced no definitive answers.
Efforts were made. Initially, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin urged residents to flee. On Sunday, Aug. 28, he ordered a mandatory evacuation of the city. But when Katrina made landfall in Louisiana on Monday, an estimated 100,000 of the city’s half-million residents were still there.
Katrina packed a history-making wallop. At the time, it was the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Gulf of Mexico, only to be surpassed by Hurricane Rita a month later. Katrina left more than 1,800 people dead—at least 1,400 of them in Louisiana—and in terms of property damage, it still ranks as the costliest storm in U.S. history.