10 years ago, Hurricane Katrina smashed into the Gulf Coast


10 years ago today, Hurricane Katrina smashed into the Gulf Coast and overwhelmed the levees of New Orleans.

Everyone knew it was coming. Satellite images of the storm showed it to be so wide it erased huge swaths of the region from the map entirely.

New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin ordered the first-ever mandatory evacuation of the city. “This is going to be an unprecedented event,” he said. National Weather Service meteorologist Robert Ricks issued an apocalyptic forecast, warning that the storm would produce “human suffering incredible by modern standards.

People all over the region braced themselves. Thousands headed to the Superdome stadium for shelter. Others fled New Orleans entirely. Many people with nowhere to go stayed where they were, hoping to ride out the storm.

Still, Katrina, when it came, was worse than anyone could have imagined. By the time it was over, 1,833 people would be dead. 80 percent of New Orleans was underwater.

It was, as the New Orleans Times-Picayune said, “catastrophic”:

Yet Katrina wasn’t only so destructive because of its size and power. The local, state and federal response to the storm would come to be seen as one of the biggest disasters in the history of the United States. The help that was promised appeared non-existent for huge numbers of stranded people. The sight of dead bodies floating in the water became normal. The Superdome turned hellish.Thousands found themselves homeless and with nowhere to do, like internally displaced refugees from a war zone.

For many, Katrina became a symbol of the deep-seated inequalities in American life. It was hard not to notice that poor, black people were being hit the worst. The tensions the storm laid bare found their most electric outlet in Kanye West, who flatly declared that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” Bush vehemently disputed this, but still called the moment the worst of his presidency. He never recovered from his handling of the crisis.

10 years later, New Orleans has not fully recovered either. As people gather in New Orleans to mark the moment the levees broke, Katrina still looms large.

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