Hurricane Katrina was one of the strongest, most deadly, and most costly storms to make landfall in the United States, as of 2007. Almost 2,000 people died as a direct result of the hurricane, and hundreds more were missing for months after the hurricane. In addition to causing substantial damage, Hurricane Katrina also raised questions about American disaster preparedness. Some critics also felt Katrina illustrated many major social issues in the United States, primarily the large gap between African-Americans and whites.
On 23 August 2005, Hurricane Katrina formed in the Atlantic. It first struck shore in Florida, and was classified as a Category One hurricane. After veering back into the Gulf, Katrina picked up enough power to be classified as a Category Five, hitting shore on 29 August to devastate Louisiana and Mississippi. At its peak, the hurricane was accompanied by wind speeds of 175 miles per hour (280 kilometers per hour). By request, the name “Katrina” was retired from the list of available hurricane names in 2006.
Many states suffered damages from Hurricane Katrina. The damages were counted in billions of dollars, and were primarily focused in Louisiana and Mississippi. The hurricane also had severe economic impacts for the United States, as it damaged oil rigs and refineries around the Gulf. The environmental effects were also substantial. 2005 was a difficult hurricane year, with numerous strong hurricanes repeatedly battering the Southern United States.
Many news agencies around the world reported on Katrina. The bulk of their reporting was focused on New Orleans. New Orleans suffered extensive damage from Hurricane Katrina, as a result of the failure of levees built by the Army Corps of Engineers. Conditions in New Orleans were compared to those in Third World countries as rescue services desperately tried to evacuate people from the city, which was without potable water and power for days. Ironically, many of these same nations sent volunteers and financial assistance to the United States when it became evident that the nation's emergency services were overwhelmed. Some people chose to stay in the city despite evacuation orders, while others were unable to get out in time, converging on large shelters which proved inadequate to the task.
In the months and years following the hurricane, the full extent of the damage and social chaos which occurred as a result of the hurricane became apparent. Many Americans called for major reforms of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and for more general social reforms. Some people suspected that the substantially African-American and poor population of New Orleans may have suffered discrimination which led to delays in getting help. Other southern states were angered by the heavy focus on New Orleans, considering the substantial damages which they suffered as well.
Photographs and news reports from Hurricane Katrina had a powerful impact on many Americans. Volunteer organizations ranging from the Red Cross to the Humane Society of the United States descended upon the area to help victims, supported by an outpouring of donations from around the country and the world. The disaster is widely viewed among Americans as one of the worst natural disasters to occur in the United States, compounded by issues of social and economic inequality.