Category Archives: Preparation For Hurricanes

Hurricane Camille – The Entire Story

Hurricane Camille, a Saffir/Simpson Category 5 storm, was the worst hurricane to ever hit the US Gulf Coast in the twentieth century.  It first hit land in the U.S. August 17, 1969 but continued to plague the country for 2 more days, taking many by surprise, causing death and destruction of billions of dollars in its path.

This most significant event in the history of the 20th century in the US deserves to be remembered, not only as a category 5 Hurricane causing significant deaths and economic devastation, but also as an important teaching event.  The lessons learned could help save lives and livelihoods, neighbors and neighborhoods for future generations.


It was first identified as a tropical wave near the coast of Africa on August 5, 1969. Five days later on August 14, Camille was upgraded to a tropical storm, located 480 miles south of Miami.  As it moved toward Cuba it gained momentum, with winds reaching 115 mph, weakening slightly over Cuba with winds at 92 mph and releasing 10 inches of rain.  As it headed toward the mouth of the Mississippi river, hurricane watches and warnings were issued in the Florida panhandle, Alabama and Mississippi coasts up to Biloxi, then expanded to New Orleans and Grand Isle.  A last reconnaissance flight was made on Sunday August 17 in the afternoon, where the winds were clocked at 200mph at the center.  The storm at its peak extended 60 miles from the center with gales up to 180 miles.  No hurricane of this magnitude had hit the US in the 20th century.   Because of this flight, the intensity and magnitude of this hurricane was known, and tens of thousands of lives were saved.

The evacuation

The evacuation process was flawed as the exact location and magnitude of the hurricane where not known until Sunday afternoon.  At that time, approximately half of the residents in the affected areas were evacuated. 18 hours before the landfall, people began boarding up their homes and trickling out of the area.  As the threat became clearer, people flooded the highways with few belongings.  A few hours prior to landfall, bridges were flooded, making evacuation impossible.  Confusion existed between the forecasters and the public, as the latter relied on television, radio and personal communication with other people as primary information sources.  The media had different accounts of the hurricane’s path and urgency to evacuate, providing conflicting information that at times was inaccurate or out-of-date.

Hurricane Camille Timeline and Damage

Hurricane Camille made landfall near midnight in the Bay St. Louis area.  The volume of water was more than 3 x the flood discharge expected on the Jourdan River on the average of once in 50 years, estimated to be 90,000 cfs.  Pass Christian, and portions of Biloxi and Long Beach were flooded.  People scrambled to the highest points in their homes, churches or work areas.  Sea vessels were pushed inland. 150 people died on the storm’s passage along the Gulf.

The storm lost strength as it headed to the northern Mississippi border, being downgraded to a tropical storm with wind gusts up to 67 mph.  As it reached Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio it hit large masses of moisture, and Tuesday, August 19, created record flooding in Virginia’s James River watershed.  It rained for over 8 hours, creating more than 10 inches of rain accumulation near Clifton Forge, Virginia. The rain, flash floods and landslides created the worst natural disaster ever in Virginia.  As most people slept, roads and communication lines were destroyed, offering little chance for warning and evacuation.  Large trees plundered, streams rose and people were trapped in their devastated houses. 107 deaths and 102 injuries were attributed to this flooding.  Only one highway in the state of Virginia was intact.  133 bridges were affected as well as most primary and secondary roads with damage at 19 million dollars.

Economic downfall

The immediate damages, relief costs and recovery costs from Hurricane Camille were immense.  Immediate damage includes individual private property damage, public property damage ex. Churches and schools, damage to vehicles and machinery, infrastructure such as roads and bridges.  Relief costs included emergency services during and immediately after the hurricane, including housing. Recovery costs included funds to rebuild roads and infrastructure, farms, homes and industries, lost revenue to taxes which was ongoing for several years.  A total cost of Hurricane Camille exceeded 1.12 billion dollars, valued in 1969 dollars.

More than 5000 mobile homes were provided and 16,500 military personnel were dispatched to the area.  Enormous reconstruction efforts lasted for years.  Aid was provided b the American Red Cross.  Defense, Commerce and Economic Development branches of the government assisted in the recovery phase. There was a growing pest problem of flies and mosquitoes.

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) was in its infancy, thus people’s properties were not covered.  20% of flood damaged properties were covered by private insurance.


More than 257 deaths, innumerable injuries and billions of dollars (over 1.12 billion) in damage were the direct result of Hurricane Camille.

Three barrier islands off the coast separating the Mississippi Sound from the Gulf of Mexico, were devastated: two islands lost more than 300 acres to erosion, and the third, was breached.

Immediately following Hurricane Camille, the Weather Bureau with the Department of Defense began a study of ways to better predict the direction and intensity of hurricanes. This study was spurred by Vice President Agnew’s statement that Hurricane Camille forecasting may have been inadequate.

What is different today?

More people inhabit the hurricane-prone regions of the United States, as wealth has increased and people have moved to the coast.  Estimated financial costs of a hurricane today approach 100 billion dollars.

Homes are constructed with improved building practices, although no one uniform building code with hurricane-related conditions has been accepted by the coastal communities. Should such a code have been implemented prior to Hurricane Camille, damages would have been less.  A portion of land was re-zoned for commercial or public use such as beaches, zoos, marinas and amusement parks.  This was to decrease the density of the population in the affected areas.

We have better access to satellite and up-to-date reliable sources of communication with access to the internet and agencies such as the National Hurricane Center.  We also, unfortunately have had even more experience with Hurricanes, notably Katrina.

The National Flood Insurance Program exists today, providing assistance to affected families.

Lessons learned

Detailed by Pielke and Pielke (1997)

  1. Hurricanes are the most costly of natural disasters around the world.  Hurricane Camille was the most costly at its time.  Certainly Hurricanes Andrew (1992) and Katrina (2005) have reminded us of this fact.
  2. Hurricane damages are dramatically increasing, because of the nation’s growth along the coastal areas.
  3. A large loss of life is a distinct possibility.  Although we have improved satellite and communications available, the number of people in the coastal regions has grown exponentially.
  4. Improved forecasting is available and will continue to improve, but we have to use them effectively.  We now have a longer lead time, up to 24 hours vs. 18 hours.
  5. Climate varies across time.  Hurricanes are said to follow decade long patterns.  This makes predicting complicated.  Are we ready for the next hurricane?
  6. Better knowledge of hurricanes needs to be applied to make effective change. Society acknowledges need to improve responses to hurricane.  How do we turn that knowledge into action and power?

Preventing fatalities

The storm surge is responsible for the majority of those deaths, which is true of most hurricanes. Storm surge is basically the rising of the water due to the hurricane’s central pressure and also the winds pushing the water on shore. For example, 1969’s Camille packed winds at a whopping 190 miles per hour. It was one of only three Category 5 hurricanes to hit the U.S. this century. Yet neither Camille nor Andrew rank in the top 10 for deadliest storms on file.

Over ¾ of the deaths associated with a hurricane are caused by drowning, in either Fresh water or Salt water.   In a report of US Hurricane Mortality1970-1999, 59% of deaths were caused by drowning in Fresh Water, 25% were caused by drowning in Salt water, wind 12.7%, tornado 0.04% other 0.01 %.

Other hurricanes

Storm historians think the Florida Keys 1935 Labor Day hurricane was perhaps the most intense hurricane ever – even though no wind measurements are available.  The deadliest occurred in Texas on September 8, 1900, with over 8000 deaths confirmed and up to 12,000 estimated. The 3rd worst hurricane in US history was Hurricane Katrina.

 What to do in the event of a hurricane?

Here is a list of the many empowering things to consider before, during and after a hurricane. Some of the safety rules will make things straightforward and simpler for you during a hurricane. All are vitally important and could help save your life and the lives of others.

Stay or Leave?

When a hurricane threatens your area, you will have to make the decision whether you should evacuate or whether you can ride out the storm in safety at home.

If local authorities recommend evacuation, you should leave! Their advice is based on knowledge of the strength of the storm and its potential for death and destruction.

Do’s and Don’ts during Hurricane Season

  • If you live on the coastline or offshore islands, plan to leave.
  • If you live near a river or in a flood plain, plan to leave.
  • If you live on high ground, away from coastal beaches, consider staying. In any case, the ultimate decision to stay or leave will be yours. Study the following list and carefully consider the factors involved especially the items pertaining to storm surge. When in doubt, LEAVE!!!
  • At the beginning of Hurricane Season (June) or sooner, make a plan for action (see Disaster Prevention below)
  • Learn the storm surge history and elevation of your area
  • Learn safe routes inland
  • Learn location of official shelters
  • Determine where to move your boat in an emergency
  • Trim back dead wood from trees
  • Check for loose rain gutters and down spouts
  • If shutters do not protect windows stock boards to cover glass (see Secure your Home below).

When a Hurricane Watch is Issued for Your Area

  • Check often for official bulletins on radio, TV, or NOAA Weather Radio
  • Fuel all cars completely
  • Check and secure mobile home tie-downs
  • Moor small craft or move to safe shelter
  • Stock up on canned provisions (See Disaster Supply Kit below)
  • Check supplies of special medicines and drugs
  • Check batteries for radio and flashlights
  • Secure lawn furniture and other loose material outdoors
  • Tape, board, or shutter windows to prevent shattering (see Secure your Home below)
  • Wedge sliding glass doors to prevent their lifting from their tracks

When a Hurricane Warning is Issued for Your Area

  • Stayed turned to radio, TV, or NOAA Weather Radio for official bulletins
  • Stay home if sturdy and on high ground Board up garage and porch doors
  • Move valuables to upper floors
  • Bring in pets
  • Fill containers (bathtub) with several days supply of water for drinking, food preparation and hygiene.
  • Turn up refrigerator to maximum cold and don’t open unless necessary
  • Use phone only for emergencies
  • Stay indoors on the downwind side of house away from windows
  • Beware of the eye of the hurricane
  • Leave mobile homes
  • Leave areas which might be affected by storm tide or stream flooding
  • Leave early in daylight if possible, mostly leave as quickly as possible
  • Shut off water and electricity at main stations
  • Take small valuables and papers but travel light
  • Leave food and water for pets (shelters will not take them)
  • Lock up house
  • Drive carefully to nearest designated shelter using recommended evacuation routes.

After the All-Clear is Given

  • Drive carefully; watch for dangling electrical wires, undermined roads, flooded low spots
  • Don’t sight-see
  • Report broken or damaged water, sewer, and electrical lines
  • Use caution re-entering home
  • Check for gas leaks

Hurricane Checklist

Preparing for a hurricane can be the most critical thing you can do to keep the people you love and your things safe and secure. Below you will find 5 hurricane checklists that will help you prepare for an imminent natural disaster, including a hurricane.

Disaster Prevention must include these 5 critical steps:

Planning and preparation are key!  Disaster prevention includes having the supplies on hand to weather the storm, modifying your home to strengthen it against storms so that you can be as safe as possible. The suggestions provided here are only guides. You should use common sense in your disaster prevention.

  1. DEVELOP A FAMILY PLAN – Hurricane Checklist 1

Your family’s plan should be based on your vulnerability to hurricane hazards, such as storm surge, flooding and wind.  You should keep a written plan and share your plan with other friends or family.  It should be revised annually.

Locate a safe room or the safest areas in your home for each hurricane hazard. In most circumstances the safest areas may not be your home but within or even outside your community.

Determine escape routes from your home and safe meeting places. These should be measured in tens of miles, based on where hurricanes and other storms tend to hit in your area.

Have an out-of-state friend as a family contact, so all your family members have a single point of contact.  This will make facilitate communication, providing ease of mind.

Make a plan now for what to do with your pets if you need to evacuate (see below).

Post emergency telephone numbers by your phones and make sure your children know how and when to call 911.  Provide actual scripts for them and practice yearly.

Prepare a list of internet searches for hurricane information, watches and quick up-to-date information.

Check your insurance coverage – flood damage is not usually covered by private homeowners insurance.  The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) can provide additional information of coverage for an actual hurricane. It is a pre-disaster flood mitigation and insurance protection program designed to reduce the escalating cost of disasters. The NFIP makes federally backed flood insurance available to residents and business owners. For more information call 1-888-CALL-FLOOD ext. 445, TDD# 1-800-427-5593.

Stock non-perishable emergency supplies and a Disaster Supply Kit (see below).

Use a NOAA weather radio. Remember to replace its battery every 6 months, as you do with your smoke detectors.  It can be stored in your Disaster Supply Kit.

Take First Aid, CPR and disaster preparedness classes.

  1. CREATE A DISASTER SUPPLY KIT – Hurricane Checklist 2

There are essential items, critical for your family’s survival. The disaster supply kit is crucial, whether you evacuate or stay in your home. Most people do not have adequate supplies.  It should last for 3-7 days:

Water – at least 1 gallon daily per person for drinking, food prep and hygiene.

Food (dried or canned) and accessories (can opener, matches, portable stove, pots)

Blankets / Pillows / Sleeping bags, etc.

Clothing – seasonal / rain gear/ sturdy shoes

First Aid Kit / Medicines / Prescription Drugs / Vitamins

Special Items – for babies (formula, diapers) and the elderly, pets

Toiletries / Hygiene items including soap and toilet paper / Moisture wipes

Flashlight / Batteries

Radio – Battery operated and NOAA weather radio

Telephones – Fully charged cell phone with extra battery and a traditional (not cordless) telephone set.

Cash (with some small bills) and Credit Cards – Banks and ATMs may not be available for extended periods.


Toys, Books and Games

Important documents – in a waterproof container or watertight re-sealable plastic bag
— insurance, medical records, bank account numbers, Social Security card, passports etc.

Tools – keep a set with you during the storm

Vehicle fuel tanks filled

  1. Have A Place To Go – Hurricane Checklist 3

Develop a family hurricane preparedness plan before an actual storm threatens your area. For your evacuation plan, consider the following points:

Leave immediately! If ordered to evacuate, do not wait or delay your departure. Leave before local officials issue an evacuation order for your area. Even a slight delay in starting your evacuation will result in significantly longer travel times as traffic congestion worsens.

Select an evacuation destination that is nearest to your home, preferably in the same county, or at least minimize the distance over which you must travel in order to reach your intended shelter location.  In choosing your destination, keep in mind that the hotels and other sheltering options in most inland metropolitan areas are likely to be filled very quickly in a large, multi-county hurricane evacuation event.

If you decide to evacuate to another county or region, be prepared to wait in traffic.
The large number of people in this state who must evacuate during a hurricane will probably cause massive delays and major congestion along most designated evacuation routes; the larger the storm, the greater the probability of traffic jams and extended travel times.

If possible, make arrangements to stay with the friend or relative who resides closest to your home and who will not have to evacuate. Discuss with your intended host the details of your family evacuation plan well before the beginning of the hurricane season.

If a hotel or motel is your final intended destination during an evacuation, make reservations immediately once you decide to leave. Most hotel and motels will fill quickly once evacuations begin. The longer you wait to make reservations, even if an official evacuation order has not been issued for your area or county, the less likely you are to find hotel/motel room vacancies, especially along interstate highways and in major metropolitan areas.

As a last resort go to a shelter.  Shelters are not designed for comfort and do not usually accept pets.  Bring your disaster supply kit with you to the shelter. Find Pet-Friendly hotels and motels.

Make sure that you fill up your car and a spare container with gas, before you leave.

  1. SECURE YOUR HOME – Hurricane Checklist 4

The most critical precaution you can take to reduce damage to your home and property is to protect the areas where wind can enter. Recent wind technology research indicates it’s vital to strengthen the exterior of your house so wind and debris do not forcefully rip large openings in it. Protect and reinforce these critical key areas:

  • Roofs
  • Windows
  • Doors
  • Garage Doors

A great time to start securing your house is when you are making other improvements or adding an addition. Contact the local building code official to find out what requirements are necessary for your home improvement projects. Building codes reflect the lessons experts have discovered from past catastrophes and hurricanes.


  • Secure your gable end wall during construction or renovation.
  • Cement the shingle tabs to the underlying shingles, as shingles are usually not designed to resist hurricane force winds.  Place two spots of quick-setting asphalt cement about the size of a quarter under each tab with a putty knife or caulking gun.
  • Attach Roof Sheathing with Adhesive. According to static pressure tests, using the wood adhesive can increase the wind uplift resistance of the plywood roof sheathing by as much as three times the conventional method of securing the sheathing with nails.
  • Reinforce your roof using metal hurricane straps or clips to provide the proper measure of strength and safety for the roof-to-wall connection.


  • Install impact-resistant shutters over all large windows and glass doors. The American Plywood Association (APA) – The Engineered Wood Association offers a series of five Hurricane Shutter designs which all can be downloaded from the APA’s Web site at no cost.
  • Use adequate fasteners dependant on your house type to attach the panels over the openings when a hurricane approaches.
  • Have temporary shutters stored and ready to use since building supply stores generally sell out of these materials quickly during a hurricane warning.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of permanent shutters, by gently leaning against them to see if they yield. Inspect the shutter connectors for obvious excessive wear or missing connectors.
  • Install impact-resistant windows and doors, which resemble ordinary ones. The difference is they capable of resisting impacts from large objects.


If your doors are solid wood or hollow metal they probably can resist wind pressures and hurricane debris. However, if you are not sure whether they are strong enough, do take these precautions:

  • Install head and foot bolts on the inactive door of double-entry doors.
  • Make sure your doors have at least three hinges and a dead bolt security lock which has a minimum one inch bolt throw length.
  • Wedge sliding glass doors to prevent their lifting from their tracks prior to evacuation.

Garage Doors

Double-wide garage doors are more susceptible to wind damage than single doors due to width. Unless you have a tested hurricane-resistant door, the wind may force it out of the roller track — especially if the track is light weight or some of the anchor bolts are not in place. This occurs because the door deflects too much under excessive wind pressure and fails.

To secure your garage door:

  • Check with your local government building official to see if there are code requirements for garage doors in your area.
  • Check with your local building supplier or garage door retailer to see if a retrofit kit is available for your garage door.
  • Reinforce your double-wide garage door at its weakest points. Install horizontal and/or vertical bracing onto each panel, using wood or light gauge metal girds bolted to the door mullions. You may also need heavier hinges and stronger end and vertical supports for your door.
  • Make sure the door is balanced by lowering it about halfway and letting go, if you retrofit your garage door with a kit that allows you to operate the door after it is installed.   If the door goes up or down, the springs will need adjusting. Note: Since the springs are dangerous, only a professional should adjust them.
  • Purchase garage door retrofit kits to withstand hurricane winds at your local building supply store, if you are unable to retrofit your garage door with a kit specifically designed for your door. Verify if the supplier can do the installation.
  1. Have a Pet Plan – Hurricane Checklist 5

Contact your veterinarian or local humane society for information on preparing your pets for an emergency. Have a separate pet disaster supply kit, with all listed items.

Your Pet – Before the hurricane season

  • Ensure that your pets are current on their vaccinations, and obtain written documentation.  Pet shelters may require proof of vaccines.
  • Have an up-to-date photograph
  • Keep a collar with identification on your pet and have a leash on hand to control your pet.
  • Have a pet carrier for each animal.  Carriers should be large enough for the animal to stand and turn around.
  • Plan your evacuation strategy and keep your pet in mind.  Specialized pet shelters, animal control shelters, veterinary clinics and friends and relatives out of harm’s way are potential places of safety for your pet during a potential disaster.
  • If you plan to shelter your pet – work it into your evacuation route planning.

Your Pet – During a hurricane watch or warning

  • Animals brought to a pet shelter are required to have:  Proper identification collar and rabies tag, proper identification on all belongings, a carrier or cage, a leash, an ample supply of food, water and food bowls, any necessary medications, specific care instructions and news papers or trash bags for clean-up.
  • Bring pets indoor well in advance of a storm – reassure them and remain calm.
  • Pet shelters will be filled on first come, first served basis.  Call ahead, determine availability and reserve immediately.

      Your Pet – After the All-Clear of a hurricane

  • Walk pets on a leash until they become re-oriented to their home and environment.  Familiar scents and landmarks may be altered.  Pets could easily be confused and become lost.  More potential threats exist as possible downed power lines, reptiles brought in with high water or debris may be present.
  • In the event that pets cannot be found after a hurricane, contact the local animal control office to find out where lost animals may be recovered.  Bring along a picture of your pet if possible.
  • After a hurricane, animals may become aggressive or defensive.  Monitor their behavior.

      Pet Disaster Supply Kit

• Proper identification including immunization records
• Ample supply of food and water
• A carrier or cage
• Medications
• Muzzle, collar and leash

  1. Community

Outside of personal (individual and family) actions during a hurricane, there is a great deal to be done at the community level. Many communities on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts have made plans for action in the event a hurricane threatens, such as demarcation of areas to be evacuated, shelter-designations, evacuation routes, and emergency operations of fire, police, and other public service units.

Many exposed coastal communities are not prepared for a hurricane.  Others have waited for disaster’s expensive lesson before taking corrective steps. To encourage community preparedness, NOAA’s National Weather Service has invented a town, named Homeport, and made it a model of hurricane preparedness.

Don’t let the lessons from previous hurricanes be in vain or futile.  Call your local authorities to make plans into action for your community.  Encourage your friends, relatives and neighbors to do the same.  This will reduce the magnitude of a tragedy and save lives.

When is Hurricane Season?

When does the official hurricane season begin and end? This is a question many persons ask, especially over the last few years as deadly hurricanes ripped through areas of the USA and the Caribbean. This information is important for persons planning vacations, farmers and even aid agencies.

The official hurricane season in the North American region or more specifically, the Atlantic region, which includes the Caribbean, is from June 1 to November 30 each year. In the Caribbean, there is a popular ditty used when somebody asks the question “When is Hurricane Season?”

May too soon

  June, July stand by

  August look out you must

  September, October, remember

  November all over

Few persons know that there is also an Eastern Pacific hurricane season as well. This runs from May 15 to November 30. It is important to know however that hurricanes don’t always fit neatly into this six month block of time. There are times when a hurricane occurs in May or even December.

What is a Hurricane?

The word hurricane was actually derived from the name of the Carib god of evil, Hurican. Interestingly, the Carib god, Hurican is a derivative of the Mayan god, Hurakan, who legend has it, blew his breath across what was known as the ‘Chaotic Water’. This, the Mayan legend continues, revealed dry land, and Hurakan also destroyed the men of wood with a great storm and floods.

Hurricanes are a tropical weather system that typically forms over the oceans. These weather systems are accompanied by strong winds and rainfall, which are measured using the Saffir-Simpson scale.

Hurricanes have five stages, with five being the most powerful. The stages are assigned based on the maximum sustained wind speed of the hurricane, and are as follows:

  • Stage 1: 74-95
  • Stage 2: 96-110
  • Stage 3: 111-130
  • Stage 4: 131-155
  • Stage 5: 156 and over

Hurricanes that fall into the stage one category are normally mild, although resulting rain can cause heavy damage to infrastructure. Category five hurricanes on the other hand are powerful and destructive, but thankfully are rare.

Hurricanes, unlike most other weather systems have names. Names are assigned to hurricanes to simplify communication during tracking and reporting on the systems. Hurricane names are alternated between male and female names, so a male name is used, then a female and so on. Not all letters of the alphabet are used in forming hurricane names because there are very few names that begin with these letters, namely Q, U, X, Y and Z.

The US Weather Bureau started using female names for hurricanes in 1953. Soon after the rest of the world followed suit. The female name-only hurricane tradition continued in the USA until 1979 when men’s names were also added to the list of hurricane names.

Some hurricane names are retired and never used again, this happens to named storms that have been so destructive they will be recorded and talked about as historical events. Some hurricane names that have been retired include, Andrew, Gilbert, Hugo and Katrina. Many persons will remember Hurricane Katrina which ripped through New Orleans in 2005 leaving almost two thousand dead.

Hurricanes typically form over ocean waters that are very warm – around 80 degrees Fahrenheit or 27 degrees Celsius. Interestingly, because of the forces that create hurricanes, they can never form near the equator – even though temperatures are higher closer to the equator.

Hurricane Preparedness

There is much that can be done to protect life and property in the event of a hurricane. However, the unpredictability of the force of the wind and flooding from intense rain can still cause major loss of life and property. One of the most important things to do if there is the threat of a hurricane is to move to higher ground where flooding or landslides are less likely to occur.

Hurricane Katrina

On September 7, 1900, Isaac Kline, head of the local weather bureau in Galveston, Texas, walked briskly along the island’s shoreline. Peering out into the ocean, he noticed large, choppy swells undulating toward the beach. He knew this was unusual, but paid no attention to what it symbolized. Twenty-four hours later the city of Galveston would pay a terrible price, as one of the worst hurricanes in American history slammed into the island. Over 6,000 people were killed, most of whom drowned in a catastrophic storm surge. The beautiful dream of a city on the rise was all but a memory, and Galveston never fully recovered. In September 1935, Henry Flagler had envisioned the construction of a railroad connecting the Florida Keys to the mainland. Ignoring the fact it was hurricane season, Flagler pushed his workers through the sultry summer to complete the job. On Labor Day 1935, a powerful category 5 hurricane smashed into the Keys with winds estimated at over 200 mph. The overseas railroad was destroyed, and all of the workers who stayed at Flagler’s request were killed. The railroad was never rebuilt, and another dream died. On August 28, 2005, Mayor Ray Nagin, of New Orleans, issued a mandatory evacuation for his city before the arrival of Hurricane Katrina. Those who could get out did, but many were left behind. On Monday, August 29th, Hurricane Katrina unleashed her fury on New Orleans leaving Mayor Nagin to deal with a similar fate, like that of Kline and Flagler. Another city, filled with a glorious history and a bright future, was demolished because of a deadly hurricane.

Katrina reminded us just how terrible a hurricane can be. We tend to forget about the great storms that have ravaged our coastal cities for centuries. They are locked into our memories by the archaic black and white photos we occasionally come across. These pictures represent what happened a long time ago, and the human mind usually disregards any notion that these types of events will repeat themselves. It is human error, which causes history to come full circle, and Hurricane Katrina was a reminder of how quickly life can be taken away, if we are not vigilant.

Katrina started out as a tropical depression over the southeastern Bahamas on August 23, 2005. The next day it was upgraded to a tropical storm as it lumbered steadily toward south Florida. On Thursday, August 26th, Tropical Storm Katrina became Hurricane Katrina, packing winds in excess of 80 mph, making it a Category 1 on the Saffir Simpson scale, which rates a hurricane’s intensity from 1 to 5. The storm made its first landfall just north of Miami, FL, killing 12 people and spawning dozens of tornados. Luckily, most of these twisters did not hit populated areas, but Katrina was already being noticed for her size and strength. The storm reemerged in the Gulf of Mexico and turned northwest. It then headed north, rapidly intensifying along the way. It reached Category 5 status on August 28th, with maximum sustained winds of 175 mph. Hurricane Katrina had an estimated pressure of 902mb, making it one of the most powerful storms to manifest over the past century. On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made its’ second landfall near Buras-Triumph Louisiana, as a strong category 3 storm, with 125 mph winds. Katrina had weakened, but its colossal size delivered devastating impacts well away from the center. It continued to plow north, lashing the Louisiana/Mississippi coast with high winds and heavy rain. By 11:30am CDT the western eye wall was pummeling downtown New Orleans with wind gusts over 100 mph. Shortly after noon, several sections of the city’s levee system collapsed ushering in a surge of water from Lake Ponchartrain to an area that was already well below sea level. The results would prove to be deadly. Hurricane Katrina then made a third landfall at Gulfport, Mississippi. A 125 mph sustained wind and a 28ft storm surge destroyed everything in its path, including the famous beachfront casinos that dotted the Mississippi coastline. The storm continued to push inland, weakening slowly, as it spread high winds and heavy flooding all the way up through the Ohio River Valley.

The death toll from Hurricane Katrina is estimated at 1,383, but 4,000 individuals still remain missing as 2005 comes to an end. Damages are predicted to be a staggering 75 billion dollars, making it the costliest natural disaster to ever strike the United States. Most of the people, who perished, died under the flood of water that ravaged downtown New Orleans and from the catastrophic storm surge in Mississippi. The days following Hurricane Katrina would take its toll as more people died because of disease and famine. The globe watched in horror as New Orleans was turned into a third world country, corrupted by virulent looters and raging fires. Help was extremely slow to arrive, and by the time it got there it was too little, too late. Heat stricken, famished, and extremely ill, many elderly and poor families who could not get out perished in and around the Superdome, which was used as a last resort shelter during the storm. With nowhere to go in a city that was filling up with water, because of the levee breach, people started to panic and violence erupted as a result.

So what happened? Why was help so painstakingly slow to arrive for Gulf coast residents? To answer this question we must look at basic human psychology. There is an old belief in our society that certain things only happen to the people next door, and the worst case scenario is never is bad as it seems. Michael D. Brown, Head of FEMA and Homeland Security Undersecretary, did not contact Michael Chertoff, Homeland Security Secretary, to activate emergency response workers, until five hours after Hurricane Katrina made landfall. Brown did not use any urgent language about how devastating Hurricane Katrina’s effects might be along the Gulf Coast. With a lack of emergency management experience and a complacent attitude, additional people needlessly died, because of this inadequate response. FEMA was stripped of its emergency powers shortly after, but the horror of Hurricane Katrina still has many asking, “how could this have happened and could it occur again?”

Our coastline will always be battered by hurricanes. History has taught us some painful lessons, and Hurricane Katrina is a reminder that Mother Nature can deal us a powerful blow, when we least expect it. We are now in an active cycle of hurricane development. The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season was the busiest on record, and it appears we all may need to buckle down for the long haul. Preparation is the key, but remembering this hurricane season, may be a sobering wake up call for people to evacuate the next time a tropical cyclone of any magnitude decides to pay us a visit.

Preparation For Hurricanes – Weathering The Storm

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina the most urgent question seems to be, “Why weren’t the residents of New Orleans more prepared?”  Maybe it’s because other storms in recent memory weren’t as dangerous or deadly, maybe because the general hype preceding hurricanes has numbed its audience to the reality of their danger, maybe it’s because everyone believes something that terrible could never happen to anyone here in the good old USA.  Whatever the reason, lack of preparation magnified the tragedy exponentially.  It also made those living in hurricane zones more aware of the potential dangers and increased the desire to plan and prepare for hurricanes better in the future.

Cyclones, typhoons, and hurricanes are all the same types of storms.  Location is a determining factor in deciding in what category they will be placed.  A hurricane is a severe tropical cyclone that forms in the southern Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, or eastern Pacific Ocean.  Typhoons form in the Northwest Pacific Ocean west of the International Dateline.  The various forms of cyclones form in the Southwest Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean.  They are all low-pressure systems that form over tropical or sub-tropical waters with organized thunderstorm activity.  They rely on the warmth and humidity from the oceanic waters to feed their growth.  Initially, these low-pressure areas are referred to as tropical depressions.  When wind speeds within the storm reach 39 MPH, they then become known as a tropical storm.  A tropical storm is assigned a name and tracking begins.  When wind speeds reach a rate of 74 MPH, the storm becomes a hurricane.  Hurricanes a measured through the use of the Saffir-Simpson scale.  It designates wind speeds for each category of storm and recognizes the effects associated with each wind speed.

A category one hurricane has winds ranging from 74-95 MPH.  This is equivalent to a severe thunderstorm with potential damage to mobile homes, piers, plants, and trees.  Some coastal road flooding can be experienced with a category one storm.

Category two hurricanes can damage building structures including roofing material, doors, and windows.  Mobile homes, piers, trees, and shrubs are susceptible to damage, as are small watercraft in unprotected areas.  Wind speeds during a category two storm range from 96 – 110 MPH.

The threat of destruction to mobile homes generally requires evacuation during a category three hurricane.  Wind speeds of 111 –130 MPH can cause structural damage to small residences and utility buildings.  Trees can be uprooted.  The heavy rains associated with a category three hurricane can cause coastal flooding as far as 8 miles inland in low-lying areas.

A category four storm is likely to require massive evacuation and extensive damage, especially in low-lying areas.  Wind speeds of 131 – 155 MPH can cause roof structure failure on residences, uprooted trees, and damage from flying debris.  Mobile homes and watercraft are particularly vulnerable.  Beach erosion is a major cause of concern with a category four storm.

Winds greater than 155 MPH designate a category five hurricane.  Massive evacuation of areas in the path of a storm of this magnitude usually occurs.  Roof failure on residences is common along with the possibility of the complete loss or destruction of some larger buildings.  The potential is great for destruction of mobile homes and watercraft in the storms path.

It is important to understand hurricane terminology and to prepare accordingly when a hurricane approaches.  There is usually ample warning as the storm is tracked on various news reports throughout the day.  When it becomes possible for a storm to make landfall, a hurricane WATCH is issued.  This means that hurricane conditions are possible in the specified area of the “watch” and could become a real possibility within the next 36 hours.  When the path of a hurricane is expected to make landfall in a specified area, a hurricane WARNING is issued.  This means that hurricane conditions are expected within 24 hours and residents of those areas should plan accordingly.

Planning for the hurricane season should begin prior to the beginning of hurricane season itself, which begins on June 1.  Supplies and plans should remain in place until around November 30 which is designated as the end of hurricane season.  While it is possible for hurricanes to occur at other times of the year, those months are the ones that are most favorable to hurricane formation.  Ninety-seven percent of all hurricane activity typically occurs between those dates. This is the time to devise a personal evacuation plan that includes names and phone numbers of potential shelters. Local area maps should be placed in the glove compartment.    Closed or crowded roads may necessitate the use of an alternate route –if it is not a familiar route or if signs are down, a local area map will help.  Plan meeting places, both close to home (such as at the mailbox) or in a centrally located area (at the park at the end of the street).  It may be difficult to find friends or family living in separate locations.

It is essential to be prepared when a hurricane approaches.  The possibility of death or injury increases with the strength and size of the storm.  When a hurricane watch is posted it is the time to begin securing your residence and planning for possible evacuation.  Put lawn furniture, hanging plants, and other loose outdoor items indoors.  Board up windows with plywood or storm shutters.  Fill your car with gasoline.  Keep additional gasoline on hand in a safe location if using a generator will be a factor.

Water is essential to life.  It is not possible to have too much on hand.  For planning purposes, it is best to store one gallon per person per day for a minimum of five days.

In addition to drinking water, fill bathtubs, jugs, buckets, and other containers with as much tap water as possible to use for personal hygiene, flushing toilets, etc.  Put as much water in the freezer as possible, filling every nook and cranny with large and small containers of water.  This will help to preserve perishable food as well as create an additional supply of fresh drinking water as supplies run short.

Pack a first aid kit, insect repellent, and canned and dry foods that can be eaten without cooking.  Try to include such items as dry fruit, cheese-filled snack crackers, meal replacement drinks, etc.   The power outages can be extended – chips and cookies will not provide appropriate nutritional value days after the storm.

Be sure to remember a can opener!  A teakettle or coffee pot, a cooking pot, a knife, disposable plates, cups, and utensils are also important.  Single burner propane stoves with extra propane canisters are helpful items to have on hand after a hurricane. Remember that it should only be used in a well-ventilated area. A battery-powered radio (to keep track of public service announcements) , a flashlight, and a good stock of batteries are essential once power is lost. Candles and oil lamps are helpful but should be monitored closely – especially around children.

Pack bedding and clothing in garbage bags to help them stay dry and clean.  Make sure to take a jacket, a shirt with sleeves, long pants, and towels in addition to the items you would normally pack

Keep a “dry bag” on hand to hold medicines, matches, insurance policies, proof of residence, and other important papers including photographs for insurance purposes.  Proof of residence, such as a water or electric bill, may be necessary to present to officials when attempting to return to a neighborhood that has been severely damaged by hurricane force winds.

Books, a game or two, a battery powered or hand-held TV, some snack foods, and other items to entertain the kids and stave off boredom should also be packed if there is room.

Following a hurricane it is likely that there will be little or no communication, electricity, or water.  Road travel may be impossible or extremely hazardous.  Curfews may be enacted.  Stay off the roads until officials announce that it is safe to travel.  If it is impossible to stay put, avoid flooded roads and downed power lines.  Once you return to your home, check for damage.  Create a photographic and written record of damages for your insurance company.  Try to avoid use of land or cell phone lines in order to keep them open for emergency use.  Stay inside as much as possible until all danger has passed.