Only ten years ago the city of New Orleans, “the Big Easy” was left battered and broken by ravaging winds and unyielding storm surge brought in by Hurricane Katrina. Even though it was a highly anticipated and well-forecast storm, Katrina nonetheless caused unmitigated chaos and overwhelmed the city’s coastal defences and the capacity of its emergency responders.
The story of Katrina is summarised below in an interactive chronological map which takes us through the approach of the hurricane, some key impacts, and responses to one of the worst storms to hit the U.S. coastline in living memory. Look out for links in the text which guide you to different views in the map window.
This interactive map describes some of the local physical impacts during Katrina’s assault on the Louisiana coastline, but it doesn’t show some of the other impacts felt by insurance policy holders and insurance companies.
Wind vs. Flooding Coverage
It was widely reported after the storm that many homeowners had assumed that their insurance against hurricane damage would include damage caused by flooding but learned this was not always the case.
Hurricane Katrina’s most damaging aspect was in fact related to storm surge rather than wind. Insurance companies in Louisiana paid an unprecedented $11 billion in damage to houses, but in most cases this did not cover the damage that was deemed to be caused by the rising waters. This highlights the importance of homeowners fully understanding the policy wording when taking out household insurance. Many uninsured losses had no way to be repaid, leaving thousands of people without homes or livelihoods, and only State or Federal aid to help.
Government Hurricane Aid
Since 2005, a year that saw the Gulf of Mexico coastline also battered by Hurricanes Rita and Wilma, FEMA has provided more than $15 billion to affected hurricane states, for reparation and public works projects to rebuild communities, business and cultural redevelopment, and efforts to enhance resilience. More than $6.7 billion was provided to over one million individuals and households to aid recovery.
Scientific efforts have also helped our understanding of risks and application of new technologies. For example, long-time Willis Research Network (WRN) partners at the National Centre for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) are keenly aware of the kind of failures that led to such catastrophic impacts.
During Hurricane Katrina, a combination of failures led to an overall impact that was far worse than the sum of each individual breakdown. The need for a different approach has become clear. NCAR has set up the Engineering for Climate Extreme Partnership (ECEP), which is a synergistic initiative that aims to be “an interdisciplinary collaboration bringing together engineering, scientific, cultural, business and governmental expertise to develop robust, well-communicated predictions and advice on weather and climate extremes in support of society.” This partnership plans to provide a platform for key tools for the public and private sectors to improve their quantification of risk and build resilience towards extremes of weather and climate.
In a future blog, I shall explain more about the ECEP and the concept of “graceful failure” – one of the key concepts driving the initiative.
This post was written with Dan Nutsford and Will Sporle of Willis Analytics.