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Hurricane Katrina, The Disaster In the Gulf Coast

Hurricane Katrina and Mother Natures Wrath

UNDERSTANDING THE LAWLESSNESS

When people lose their sense of "security, control, protection and shelter," their reaction may seem unbelievable. As New Orleans descends into anarchy, is there any way to explain the survivors' behavior?

Sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures, and there have been few places in America more desperate or increasingly lawless than New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina's devastation.

The images of Katrina's wrath have varied in the days since the hurricane ripped through the Gulf Coast and ravaged The Big Easy. People have been seen standing on the rooftops of their submerged homes, holding signs that say, "Help Us"; authorities have reported seeing bodies floating in the water and corpses rotting in the streets amid concerns of an outbreak of disease; displaced, dehydrated Katrina survivors have been transferred from evacuation shelters in Louisiana's Superdome to a temporary new home in Houston's Astrodome.

And there has been looting and lawlessness, from residents taking food, diapers and other necessities from abandoned grocery stores to people lugging TV sets and beer in areas not submerged in dirty floodwater. New Orleans appeared to descend into anarchy, with reports of rapes in the Superdome and local law enforcement officials not showing up to combat arson, gunfire and carjackings in the streets.

The promise of the dispersion of 10,000 additional National Guard troops to maintain order did little to soothe increasingly angry Katrina victims who have endured the lack of running water, sweltering conditions and stench in the Superdome or otherwise suffered as they waited for authorities to come to their rescue. In these kinds of desperate, and apparently lawless, conditions, experts say people will throw away their normal sense of ethics and do anything to survive.

"When you have a situation as extreme as Katrina, people have lost their sense of security, control, protection and shelter," said David Sattler, associate professor of psychology at Western Washington University. "They fall into basic rules of survival mode. Some feel that they're going to do what they need to do to survive. They're going to do what they need to do to get the basic necessities."

Acceptable Looting

In an exclusive interview with "Good Morning America's" Diane Sawyer, President Bush said there should be a no-tolerance approach to looters.

"I think there ought to be zero tolerance of people breaking the law during an emergency such as this, whether it be looting or price gouging at the gasoline pump, or taking advantage of charitable giving or insurance fraud," Bush said. "And I've made that clear to our attorney general. The citizens ought to be working together."

But some believe that desperate survivors who ran out of basic necessities, or took food for their families and hungry children and could no longer wait for rescuers to come should not be blamed in a disaster as extreme as Katrina.

"This is a life-and-death situation. From the perspective of the looter, 'Who knows what tomorrow will bring?' " said Joseph Napoli, co-author of "Resiliency in the Face of Disaster and Terrorism: 10 Things to Do to Survive." "The late-night comedians have joked about those who were carrying TVs. On my television screen I saw people taking the basic necessities food and supplies. And can we really fault them for that?"

Versus Unacceptable Looting

Television viewers may be more sympathetic to people seen stealing food, diapers and other necessities. But they may not be as forgiving to the looter who took a television in the aftermath of Katrina. Some of the Katrina victims may have a stronger sense of morals than others, experts say.

Other Katrina victims may have followed a mob mentality and concluded that they could participate in looting activities since others were doing it.

"Under such intense situations, under crowd pressure, if so many others are doing it, then others are going to do it," Napoli said. "Introductory free offers are a very successful sales strategy. But in situations like these, people can go too far in satisfying their intense needs."

Beyond Morals and Mob Pressure

But the explanation may also go beyond morality and mob mentality.

Some looters may have been driven to the edge by literally seeing their world turned upside down and all remnants of their homes and neighborhoods wiped out by Katrina. Others may have latent character traits that Katrina's aftermath ignited and may participate in looting only under these circumstances.

Socioeconomic status before Katrina made landfall also may have planted the roots of looting and lawlessness in some hurricane survivors.

You may have someone who is of lower income, has minimum resources, minimal possessions and living day to day and this is very important has no insurance. No rental insurance, no housing insurance," said Sattler. "They have no means of recovering what little they had and probably, if someone in the household does have a job, they may not have a job to return to when they are let back into their communities, and they don't know when they will have a source of income again. They may see this unguarded TV and think, 'I can take this and maybe I can sell this in a week and make a little bit of money.""

Behind the Shock and Awe

Many people have been shocked by the images of looting and violence. According to Sattler, those viewers are just not accustomed to being without the barest of essentials, like running water, and are not used to seeing Americans in that kind of situation. However, the aftermath of Katrina only reflects the spectrum of daily human emotions and actions, but under extreme circumstances.

"Why are we shocked? We are seeing an intense array of usual human behavior," said Napoli. "Some people are going to take things, some people are going to be honest and some are going to be dishonest. What's shocking others is the intensity in which we're seeing it."

"But," Napoli continued. "This is not an ordinary situation. Any disaster causes chaos and disorder. That's why we work so hard to maintain an orderly society."

Still, the havoc and grief sparked by Hurricane Katrina has inspired acts of generosity. Americans have donated millions to various charities and residents across the nation have reportedly offered to open their homes to some Katrina evacuees.

"It is in times like these when we see how much we need each other," said Sattler. "I don't think this is being done out of fear that this could happen to me and I would hope someone would help me out. I think it speaks genuinely highly of humanity. Really, this isn't a story of the looters. Only a small percentage of people are looting. It is about the heroes and those who help others in need."

Hurricane Katrina was a hurricane that caused extensive and severe damage over the southeastern United States, including Louisiana's largest city, New Orleans, in August, 2005. Federal disaster declarations blanketed 90,000 square miles of the United States, an area almost as large as the United Kingdom. Katrina may eventually be classified as the worst natural disaster to hit the United States to date. Disaster relief plans are in operation in the affected areas. Currently, five million people are without power in the Gulf Coast region, and it may be up to two months before all power is restored.

The aftermath of the storm compounded problems. In particular, the breaching of some levees protecting New Orleans caused water to flow unabated into the city. Approximately 180,000 homes are underwater in New Orleans and it is expected to take weeks or months to pump all the water out of the city. There remains a humanitarian disaster, with many people stranded due to flooding. Thirst, hunger, and lack of facilities are leading to lawlessness. The federal disaster area has been placed under the control of FEMA (under Michael Chertoff) and the National Guard; despite numerous reports in the media, there is no declaration of martial law, because no such term exists in Louisiana state law. Rather, a state of emergency has been declared, which does give some powers similar to that of martial law. On the evening of August 31, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin did declare "martial law" (in name at least) in the city and said that "officers don't have to worry about civil rights and Miranda rights in stopping the looters." The disruption of petroleum supplies, exports, and imports caused by the storm will likely have major global economic consequences.

Katrina may be the deadliest hurricane in the United States since the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, which killed around 8,000 (possibly up to 12,000) people. It may even surpass the deadliness of the Galveston hurricane: as of 7 PM CDT September 1, 2005, more than 20,000 are still reported missing. New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin stated on August 31 that the death toll of Katrina may be "in the thousands", which was confirmed by emergency responders through a statement by Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco on September 1. It will take weeks before accurate numbers are known, but Katrina is also expected to be the most expensive natural disaster in United States history, exceeding Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Damage was reported in at least 12 states. Effects of Katrina are seen around the U.S. The average price of gasoline rose approximately 40 cents per US gallon (11 cent/L) within five days of landfall.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) issued a statement on August 23 saying that Tropical Depression Twelve had formed over the southeastern Bahamas. The numbering of the system was debated, as Tropical Depression Twelve formed partially from the remains of Tropical Depression Ten. The naming and numbering rules at the NHC require a system to keep the same identity if it dies, then regenerates, which would normally have caused this storm to remain numbered Ten.

However, the NHC gave this storm a new number because a second disturbance merged with the remains of Tropical Depression Ten on August 20, and there is no way to tell whether the remnants of T.D. Ten should be credited with this storm. (This is different from Hurricane Ivan in the 2004 season, when the NHC ruled that Ivan did indeed reform; the remnant of Ivan that regenerated in the Gulf of Mexico was a distinct system from the moment Ivan originally dissipated to the moment it regained tropical storm strength.)

The system was upgraded to Tropical Storm Katrina on the morning of August 24. Katrina became the fourth hurricane of the 2005 season on August 25 and made landfall later that day around 6:30 p.m. between Hallandale Beach and Aventura, Florida.

Katrina spent only a few hours over South Florida. Katrina was predicted to go across South and Southwest Florida. However, Katrina moved farther to the south than expected and soon regained hurricane strength after emerging into the Gulf of Mexico on the morning of August 26. Katrina then quickly strengthened to Category 2 and its pressure dropped to 971 mbar, which prompted a special update from the NHC at 11:30 a.m. EDT (1530 UTC). At 5:00 a.m. EDT (0900 UTC) on August 27, Katrina's pressure dropped to 945 mbar and it was upgraded to Category 3. The same day President Bush declared a state of emergency in Louisiana, two days before the hurricane made landfall.

At 12:40 a.m. CDT (0540 UTC) on August 28, Katrina was upgraded to Category 4. Later that morning, Katrina went through a period of rapid intensification, with its maximum sustained winds reaching as high as 175 mph (280 km/h) (well above the Category 5 threshold of 156 mph (250 km/h)) and a pressure of 906 mbar by 1:00 p.m. CDT. Nonetheless, on August 29 the system made landfall as a strong Category 4 hurricane at 6:15 a.m. CDT near Buras-Triumph, Louisiana with maximum sustained winds of 145 mph (235 km/h).

Katrina, which affected a very wide swath of land covering a good portion of northeastern North America, was last seen in the eastern Great Lakes region. Before being absorbed by the frontal boundary, Katrina's last known position was over southeast Quebec and northern New Brunswick. Its lowest minimum pressure at landfall was 918 mbar, making it the third strongest hurricane on record to make landfall on the United States. A 15 to 30 foot (5 to 9 m) storm surge came ashore on virtually the entire coastline from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama to Florida. The 30 foot (10 m) storm surge recorded at Biloxi, Mississippi is the highest ever observed in America.

At 11 p.m. EDT on August 31 (0300 UTC, September 1), U.S. government weather officials announced that the center of the remnant low of what was Katrina had been completely absorbed by a frontal boundary in southeastern Canada, with no discernible circulation.

The Hydrometeorological Prediction Center's last public advisory on Katrina was at 11 p.m. EDT Wed Aug 31 2005 and the Canadian Hurricane Centre's last public advisory on Katrina was at 8 a.m. EDT Wed Aug 31 2005.

Tornadoes:

There were tornado reports near Adams and Cumberland counties, Pennsylvania also in Fauquier, Virginia and in Atlanta, Georgia; in White County, Georgia; at Helen, Georgia; and Mobile, Alabama.

No deaths were reported from the tornadoes, but several injuries were reported in Georgia. 500,000 chickens were killed or set free after dozens of poultry houses were damaged in Georgia. There was major damage in Helen, Ga, destroying homes and a hotel.

Historical analysis:

Top four most intense hurricanes since measurements began Hurricane intensity is measured solely by central pressure, source: NOAA

North Atlantic Landfall U.S.

Rank Hurricane Year Pressure Rank Hurricane Year Pressure

1 Gilbert 1988 888 mbar 1 Labor Day 1935 892 mbar
2 Labor Day 1935 892 mbar 2 Camille 1969 909 mbar
3 Allen 1980 899 mbar 3 Katrina 2005 918 mbar
4 Katrina 2005 902 mbar 4 Andrew 1992 922 mbar

Based on data from: The Weather Channel Based on data from: National Hurricane Center

Ranking Katrina's place in the history of hurricanes depends on the measurement used. The three categorizations of tropical cyclones are: fatalities (deadliest), property damage (costliest), and intensity (lowest central pressure). Katrina was the third most intense hurricane to hit the United States in recorded history. In the Atlantic Basin it achieved the status of the fourth lowest central pressure ever recorded.

Many estimates predict that Katrina was the costliest storm in history to strike the United States. In terms of fatalities it was the second deadliest named storm to hit the US, and may be declared the deadliest after more casualties are discovered. Katrina also caused the first total devastation of a major American city since the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and subsequent fires.

It is not yet known whether this storm will leave as many fatalities behind as the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 which killed an estimated 8,00012,000, because New Orleans is still under water and may continue to be for several months. News reports note this as being the deadliest hurricane since Hurricane Camille (which killed 256) in 1969 [8], although the total death toll from Katrina is likely to exceed Camille. The deadliest named storm in the United States was Hurricane Audrey in 1957 which officially killed 390, although up to 160 more were never accounted for. Roughly 20,000 people are still believed to be missing as of 1 September, so it is possible that this will be the most profound disaster of any kind in U.S. history. The deadliest named Atlantic storm was Hurricane Mitch, which killed over 18,000 people in Central America in 1998. The deadliest tropical cyclone on record is the 1970 Bhola cyclone, which killed at least 150,000 (some figures are closer to 500,000) people in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).

Katrina has been compared with Hurricane Camille in that the hurricane was also an intense Category 5 storm which made landfall in the same general area. Katrina has also drawn comparisons to Hurricane Betsy, because of its similar track and potential effects on New Orleans. In 1965, Betsy struck New Orleans after passing over the Florida Keys, causing over $1.5 billion USD in damage in 1965 (over $9 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars), and the deaths of 75 people, earning it the nickname "Billion Dollar Betsy". However, Betsy was only a fast-moving Category 3 hurricane, limiting its potential for devastation, while Katrina was a massive, slow-moving Category 4 storm. For Katrina, some potential damage estimates exceed the $36 billion damage (in current dollars) caused by Hurricane Andrew (previously the most destructive natural disaster to have hit the United States).

Florida had little advance warning when Katrina strengthened from a tropical storm to a hurricane in one day, and struck southern Florida later that same day, on August 25.

On August 27, after Katrina crossed southern Florida and strengthened to Category 3, the President declared a state of emergency in Louisiana, two days before the hurricane made landfall. This declaration activated efforts by Federal Emergency Management Agency to position stockpiles of food, water and medical supplies throughout Louisiana and Mississippi more than a day before Katrina made landfall. On August 28 the National Weather Service issued a bulletin predicting "devastating" damage rivaling the intensity of Hurricane Camille. The risk of devastation from a direct hit, however, was well documented. The Times-Picayune newspaper did a series on it [Wall Street Journal Online, by Joe Hagan, 8-31-05. National Geographic Magazine ran a feature in October 2004. Walter Williams did a serious short feature on it called New Orleans: The Natural History, in which an expert said a direct hit by a hurricane could damage the city for six months.

The city of New Orleans was considered to be particularly at risk since most of it is below sea level and it was likely that the expected storm surge would flood the city after topping the surrounding levees.

Evacuation:

At a news conference 10 a.m. on August 28, shortly after Katrina was upgraded to a Category 5 storm, New Orleans mayor C. Ray Nagin, calling Katrina "a storm that most of us have long feared", ordered the first ever mandatory evacuation of the city. Thousands of poor city residents were unable to leave the area because they lacked transportation or the means to pay for it. Nagin established several "refuges of last resort" for citizens who could not leave the city, including the massive Louisiana Superdome, which housed over 9,000 people along with 550 National Guard troops when Katrina came ashore. A National Guard official said on Thursday, September 1 that as many as 60,000 people had gathered at the Superdome for evacuation, having remained there in increasingly difficult circumstances.

Mandatory evacuations were also ordered for Assumption, Jefferson (Grand Isle and other low lying areas), Lafourche (outside the floodgates), Plaquemines, St. Charles and St. James parishes and parts of Tangipahoa and Terrebonne parishes in Louisiana.

In Alabama, evacuations were ordered for parts of Mobile and Baldwin counties (including Gulf Shores). In Mississippi, evacuations were ordered for parts of Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties.

Second Evacuation:

After the hurricane, a second evacuation of affected areas was ordered.

There are many people going to Texas from the most affected areas of New Orleans. Most of these people are being transported, primarily by buses, to Houston (some 13,000 to the Astrodome, others have been diverted to area shelters and nearby Reliant Arena, as well as to San Antonio and Dallas. Others, such as the school bus commandeered by Jabbor Gibson, have found their own way to Texas, only to be delayed or refused entry into the designated relief facilities, since they weren't bussed to them by authorities. The Superdome has been filled with refugees, who keep streaming to that facility from many areas of New Orleans faster than the buses can move them out of the city. The New Orleans convention center has also been filled with refugees.

On Sunday, August 28, Canadian National Railway (CN) suspended all rail traffic on its lines south of McComb, Mississippi (lines owned by its subsidiary Illinois Central Railroad that extend into New Orleans, Louisiana), in anticipation of damage from the hurricane. To help ease the resumption of services after the storm passes, CN also issued an embargo with the Association of American Railroads against all deliveries to points south of Osyka, Mississippi. CSX Transportation also suspended service south of Montgomery, Alabama until further notice. The CSX (former Louisville and Nashville Railroad) main line from Mobile to New Orleans is believed to have suffered extensive damage, especially in coastal Mississippi, but repair crews were not able to reach most parts of the line as of August 30.

Amtrak, America's rail passenger carrier, announced that the southbound City of New Orleans passenger trains from Chicago, Illinois, on August 29 and through September 3 will terminate in Memphis, Tennessee, rather than their usual destination of New Orleans; the corresponding northbound trains will also originate in Memphis. The southbound Crescent from New York, New York, for the same period will terminate in Atlanta, Georgia, with the corresponding northbound trains originating in Atlanta as well. Amtrak's westbound Sunset Limited will originate in San Antonio, Texas, rather than its normal origin point of Orlando, Florida. Amtrak announced that no alternate transportation options will be made available into or out of the affected area during this time.

The Waterford nuclear power plant was shut down on Sunday, August 28, before Katrina's arrival.

The frigates USS Stephen W. Groves and USS John L. Hall sailed from their home port of Pascagoula to avoid the path of the storm. Aircraft stationed at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi (ironically home to the Air Force's fleet of WC-130 Hurricane Hunter aircraft), Pensacola and Whiting Field Naval Air Stations near Pensacola, Florida, and at Eglin Air Force Base and Hurlburt Field near Fort Walton Beach, Florida, were also evacuated.

Areas affected include southern Florida, Louisiana (especially the Greater New Orleans area), Mississippi, Alabama, the western Florida Panhandle, western and north Georgia were affected by tornados, the Tennessee Valley and Ohio Valley regions, the eastern Great Lakes region and the length of the western Appalachians. Over 300 deaths have been reported in seven states, a number which is expected to rise as casualty reports come in from areas currently inaccessible. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin estimates hundreds, and as many as thousands, are feared dead. Two levees in New Orleans gave way, and eighty percent of the city is now under water, which in some places is 20 to 25 feet (7 or 8 meters) deep.

Those most affected, stranded or dead are predominantly poor people, the sick and the elderly as those groups didn't have the means or ability to evacuate before the storm hit.

By September 2nd, NOAA had published satellite photography of many of the affected regions.

Survival, looting, civil unrest, living conditions, aftermath

These topics are covered separately in the articles Effect of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina effects by region for areas outside New Orleans.

The confirmed death toll reported in various regions is given in the chart on the right. These are confirmed deaths from local news agencies.

Direct deaths indicate those caused by the direct effects of the winds, flooding, storm surge or oceanic effects of Katrina. Indirect deaths indicate those caused by hurricane-related accidents (including car accidents), fires or other incidents, as well as cleanup incidents and health issues.

However, the projected death toll may be much higher especially in New Orleans, but efforts are focusing on rescue and restoring order, rather than recovery of the dead. On 31 August, the Mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin told reporters that the hurricane probably killed thousands of people in the city.

This view was confirmed on September 1 by U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu who said "We understand there are thousands of dead people".

In a press conference broadcast live on 4WWL at 1915 UTC on September 1 Governor Kathleen Blanco said that thousands of deaths were believed to have occurred in New Orleans. The FEMA representative said that they have brought in a deployable morgue.

In a statement by Biloxi rescue officials at 1 PM CDT September 2, it was confirmed that at least 1,000 people were killed in Biloxi.

Health concerns:

Aside from the lack of water, food, shelter, and sanitation facilities, there is growing concern that the prolonged flooding will lead to an outbreak of health problems for those who remain in hurricane-affected areas. In addition to dehydration and food poisoning, there is also a potential for West Nile virus, St. Louis Encephalitis, tuberculosis, hepatitis A, cholera and typhoid fever, all related to the growing contamination of food and drinking water supplies in the area. The longer these people are stranded in the searing heat the more will perish from the aforementioned causes. President Bush has declared a public health emergency for the entire Gulf Coast and Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt announced that the DHHS will be setting up a network of 40 medical shelters to speed the relief efforts. There is concern the chemical plants and refineries in the area could have released their contents into the flood waters. People who suffer from allergies or lung disorders, such as asthma, will have health complications due to toxic mold and airborne irritants. In Gulfport, Mississippi, several hundred tons of chicken and uncooked shrimp were washed out of their containers at the nearby harbor and could have contaminated the water table.

Price hiking:

Hundreds of reports have poured into Louisiana (and other) authorities regarding "price gouging" on products like gasoline and bottled water, or of hotels dishonoring reservations in favor of accepting larger offers for rooms by desperate travellers. The three major U.S. TV networks' nightly news programs have shown images of a BP gas station selling gasoline for over $6.00 per US gallon ($1.59/L). Another BP station in Stockbridge, Georgia, south of Atlanta, was selling gas at $5.87 per US gallon ($1.55/L) within a day after Katrina hit. Gas prices in the U.S. just prior to Katrina were in the range of $2.50 per US gallon ($0.66/L). During this time the average price of gas per gallon has reached a new all time high.

Most experts anticipated Katrina to be the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. Some early predictions in damages exceeded $100 billion, not accounting for potential catastrophic damage inland due to flooding (which would increase the total even more), or damage to the economy caused by potential interruption of oil supply, and exports of commodities such as grain. Other predictions placed the minimum insured damage at around $12.5 billion (the insured figure is normally doubled to account for uninsured damages in the final cost). There are also effects on ocean shipping, the casino industry and tourism.

The hurricane has passed over the Michoud Assembly Facility and materially interrupted the production of external tanks for the Space Shuttle, leading to a further interruption of the shuttle flights. Evan McCollum, a Lockheed Martin Space Systems spokesman in Denver has reported that "there is water leakage and potential water damage in the buildings, but there's no way to tell how much at this point".

The Michoud Assembly Facility will remain closed until at least September 6, but it might take several weeks to restore power, communications and other utilities. It's also uncertain how soon workers will be able to return. Plans to ship three tanks -- including the one for NASA's next mission -- back to Michoud for retrofitting are on indefinite hold. The next Shuttle flight, STS-121, could be postponed to May or later during the second half of 2006

Technology for All is setting up technology centers for Internet access in the Astrodome. There are also reports that SBC and TMobile are installing and providing free wifi access in the Astrodome.

DirectNIC, run by Intercosmos Media Group, is one of the largest domain name registrars and is based out of New Orleans. They are still up and running through the use of diesel power generators and have made several arrangements to resupply fuel to their generator. They are currently running a very popular blog that is documenting things that are happening around them, including pictures of the New Orleans aftermath, with a link to a webcam showing part of the Central Business District on Poydras St.

The effects of the storm disrupted the OC-12 Abilene Network Internet2 link between Houston and Atlanta, as well as some of DirectNIC's many high-speed connections. The staff on site are working to restore more upstream connectivity, as well as internet access to local municipal organizations.

As of September 1, 2005, Sans Infocon is reporting code green for Internet attacks. Keynote Internet Health Report [32] is reporting code green for select Internet networks. The Internet Traffic Report was reporting code yellow for North America. Earthlink network status reports that DSL is unavailable in New Orleans. Perhaps one of the more interesting sets of status information is Googling New Orleans and checking the reachability of the top 20 websites. On September 1, 25% were unreachable, 20% were impaired, and 55% remained reachable. The NO Visitor's Bureau reports "There is virtually total internet disruption as well, as locally hosted servers and routers have gone down with the loss of primary and backup power. Only those hotels with corporate housed servers in other cities have any internet possibility."

Cybertelecom.org has established a webpage to collect data on the status of and impact on the Internet.

The disaster recovery response to Katrina began before the storm, with Federal Emergency Management Agency preparations that ranged from logistical supply deployments to a mortuary team with refrigerated trucks. More than 11,000 Army and Air National Guardsmen and 7,200 active-duty troops are currently stationed in the Gulf Coast region to assist with hurricane relief operations. An additional 10,000 USNG troops are currently in the process of being called up and are expected to join the relief efforts shortly.

The military relief effort, known as Joint Task Force Katrina, is being commanded by LTG Russel L. Honore of the US First Army.

At President Bush's urging, the U.S. Senate quickly approved $10.5 billion in aid for victims September 1, 2005. The U.S. House of Representatives voted and approved on the measure Friday, September 2, 2005 without any debate. This is said to be only the initial aid package.

Governments of many countries have offered help to the U.S. for disaster relief, inter alia the governments of France and of Germany.

In addition to asking for federal funds, President Bush has enlisted the help of former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush to raise additional voluntary contributions, much as they did after the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami.

Criticism of local and national government response is widespread in the media, as reports continued to show hunger, deaths and lack of aid. More than two and a half days after the hurricane struck, police, health care and other emergency workers voice concerns, in the media, about the absence of National Guard troops in the city for search and rescue missions and to control looting. Media reports have also criticized the fact that National Guard units are short staffed in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama because they are currently on a tour of duty in Iraq, including 3,000 members of the Louisiana National Guard's 256th Brigade. The failure to immediately evacuate or re-supply New Orleans area hospitals, and the lack of a visible FEMA presence in the city and surrounding area as raised concerns in the press.

Many critics have noted that while the local government gave a mandatory evacuation order on August 28, before the storm hit, they did not make provisions to evacuate the large numbers of homeless, low-income people, the elderly, the infirm or car-less households. Evacuation was mainly left up to individual citizens to find their own way out of the city. Officials knew that New Orleans has the lowest percentage of people with cars of any major city in the United States. A 2000 census revealed that 27% of New Orleans households, amounting to approximately 120,000 people, were without privately-owned transportation. Officials also did not take into account the fact that New Orleans has one of the highest poverty rates in the United States at about 38%. These factors prevented many people from being able to evacuate on their own. Consequentially most of those stranded in the city are the poor, the elderly, and the sick.

The question of demographics has been raised in the media as it is apparent that most of the people who could not evacuate were black. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Black Leadership Forum, National Conference of State Legislators, National Urban League and the NAACP, held a news conference expressing anger and charging that the response was slow because those most affected are poor and black. This has led to calls of racism from city officials with critics saying they didn't bother to formulate an evacuation plan that didn't involve your own vehicle. The reverend Jesse Jackson has also said that racism was partly to blame for the deadly aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Questions have been raised about proper funding for the Army Corps of Engineers, which is in charge of many hurricane-protection programs across the United States. In February 2005, following in the tradition of past Presidents including President Carter and President Clinton, U.S. President George W. Bush proposed cutting the Corps budget by 7%, in 2004 he proposed a 13% cut. However corps officials stated that a decrease in funding was not to blame. The levees themselves were only designed to protect New Orleans from a direct hit by a Category 3 hurricane and that this decision was made by the corps decades ago "based on a cost-benefit analysis" said Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, chief of engineers of the corps. Though the levee system as a whole had yet to be completed, those that failed, most notably the 17th Street Canal, had already been completed.

The 2004 hurricane season was the worst in decades. In spite of that, the federal government came back in the spring of 2005 with the steepest reduction in hurricane and flood-control funding for New Orleans in history. Because of the proposed cuts, the Corps office there imposed a hiring freeze. Officials said that money targeted for the SELA project was reduced to $10.4 million, down from $36.5 million. The money would have gone into funding studies about the feasibility of upgrading the current levees to withstand Category 4 and 5 Hurricanes instead of just Category 3.

There are also major concerns about the Government suspending search and rescue efforts to focus on protecting businesses from looters. U.S. President George W. Bush has said that saving lives should come first but he and the local New Orleans Government have also stated that they will have zero tolerance for looters. In response to a question about the President's zero tolerance policy, White House press secretary Scott McClellan affirmed that looters should not be allowed to take food, water or shoes, that they should get those things though some other way. Louisiana's Governor Kathleen Blanco warned that troops had orders to shoot to kill. She said "These troops are fresh back from Iraq, well trained, experienced, battle tested and under my orders to restore order in the streets." She went on to say "They have M-16s and they are locked and loaded. These troops know how to shoot and kill and they are more than willing to do so if necessary and I expect they will."

On Friday September 2 the Mayor of New Orleans Ray Nagin was livid about the response thus far given the seriously deteriorating conditions there and said that State and federal agencies were "thinking small" in the face of a massive crisis. A New Orleans police officer described the conditions to be like Somalia saying "It's a war zone, and they're not treating it like one". Officers have been giving up after working days straight with little or no support. The convention center conditions were described as appalling having become surrounded by refuse, human feces and even corpses. The downtown Charity hospital has had a number of critically ill patients die as a result of delays in evacuations. Federal officials were apparently unaware of the conditions in central New Orleans until late Thursday (1 September). The flooding of New Orleans occurred after the worst of Hurricane Katrina's fury had been spent and the storm itself moved further North, which caught officials off guard. The destruction wrought by Katrina, and the flooding thereafter, severely damaged the roads and other infrastructure needed to deliver relief.

Once officials became aware of the conditions at the convention center a small amount of basic food supplies were diverted there by helicopter, but there were no large-scale deliveries until a truck convoy arrived at midday on Friday, September 2, due to the damage incurred by the still present flood and the attacks on those who have attempted to deliver aid. Federal officials have also underestimated the number of people converging on the convention center. Even as refugees are evacuated, more are arriving every hour.