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Devastating Hurricane Katrina

Gulfport, Mississippi - Aug. 29, 2005

Satellite - Katrina

NASA image courtesy the MODIS Rapid Response Team at Goddard Space Flight Center

Hurricane Katrina You Tube

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A piece of sheet metal whizzes past at the height of the hurricane. Complete devastation at Gulfport, Mississippi

Hurricane Katrina crossed the Florida peninsula as a category 1 storm and as she continued out into the Gulf of Mexico, she strengthened dramatically into a strong category 5 hurricane with sustained wind speeds of 185 MPH at one point. I knew that this was going to be a historic storm so I planned an intercept with Mark Robinson, Dave Lewison and Scott McPartland. Mark and I drove from Toronto to Gulfport, arriving the day before landfall. We scouted locations and discovered a large multi-story steel reinforced concrete parking garage located about a half mile from the ocean. It was sturdy enough to withstand the wind and high enough to keep us safe from the inevitable flooding to come. We considered going further east to Biloxi and Dave & Scott even went out there to look for another location but not finding anything, they returned to Gulfport. It looked like this was going to be the safest place for us.

Sharing the garage with us were Tim & Ryan, 2 chasers from Florida, and a Fox TV news crew. None of us got much sleep with the anticipation of Katrina arriving in the morning. By daybreak, the winds had increased dramatically. We were filming on the street until debris started to be picked up and we retreated to the safety of the garage. Once the most intense part of the storm hit, it was unlike any other storm I've experienced. We watched roofs coming apart, pieces of metal flying through the streets and the surging ocean began to flood out the lower level of the garage. Dave mounted an anemometer on the roof and it measured as high as 110 MPH before it the was hit by flying debris and disintegrated. After the storm had passed, we did a quick walk around to survey the damage to the city. What we saw was incredible. The damage was comparable to strong tornado damage but far more widespread. Houses and businesses were completely destroyed, the roads were clogged with debris and there were gas leaks and downed power lines everywhere. The storm surge had pushed boats and buoys from the harbor a half mile inland and they lay scattered in the streets. Even the mighty floating Copa Casino had been lifted by the surge and pushed onto land where it rested near what was left of the highway.

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Tree branches start flying as the winds pick up.

Roofs start to come apart in Gulfport.

A knocked over rail crossing signal.

A tremendous amount of flying debris everywhere.

It was very clear that the main roads might be in bad shape so we decided to head out of town before we became stranded. We dodged piles of debris and wires, even driving on the shoulder of oncoming highway traffic to finally get clear of the area. We headed east on I-10 where we just made it across the Pascagoula bridge 10 minutes before it was shut down due to damage caused by a floating crane that had slammed into it. It was a surreal experience to see a jet ski resting on the highway, right where the surge waters had placed it.

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Sheet metal spins in mid-air like a helicopter blade.

The storm surge flooding made it into the parking garage.

Flying debris near the garage entrance.

The wind was so powerful that I had to crawl across the floor.

Because of the all communications being down, we didn't realize how extensive the damage was along the Gulf Coast and in New Orleans. It was about a day and a half before we really knew the full extent of this disaster. My thoughts are with the families and rescuers affected by Katrina. My sincere condolences go out to those along the Gulf Coast who are still in the middle of this truly historic tragedy. - George.

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Debris filled flood waters instead of roads.

high speed gravel smashed many of the car windows in the area.

Many damaged buildings throughout Gulfport

The heavily damaged train station.

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A harbour buoy carried a half mile inland by the surge.

Trucks tossed around like toys.

Boats and trucks slammed into buildings.

 

One of the warnings issued by the National Weather Service in New Orleans before the storm hit:

URGENT - WEATHER MESSAGE
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE NEW ORLEANS LA
1011 AM CDT SUN AUG 28 2005

...DEVASTATING DAMAGE EXPECTED...

HURRICANE KATRINA...A MOST POWERFUL HURRICANE WITH UNPRECEDENTED
STRENGTH...RIVALING THE INTENSITY OF HURRICANE CAMILLE OF 1969.

MOST OF THE AREA WILL BE UNINHABITABLE FOR WEEKS...PERHAPS LONGER. AT
LEAST ONE HALF OF WELL CONSTRUCTED HOMES WILL HAVE ROOF AND WALL
FAILURE. ALL GABLED ROOFS WILL FAIL...LEAVING THOSE HOMES SEVERELY
DAMAGED OR DESTROYED.

THE MAJORITY OF INDUSTRIAL BUILDINGS WILL BECOME NON FUNCTIONAL.
PARTIAL TO COMPLETE WALL AND ROOF FAILURE IS EXPECTED. ALL WOOD
FRAMED LOW RISING APARTMENT BUILDINGS WILL BE DESTROYED. CONCRETE
BLOCK LOW RISE APARTMENTS WILL SUSTAIN MAJOR DAMAGE...INCLUDING SOME
WALL AND ROOF FAILURE.

HIGH RISE OFFICE AND APARTMENT BUILDINGS WILL SWAY DANGEROUSLY...A
FEW TO THE POINT OF TOTAL COLLAPSE. ALL WINDOWS WILL BLOW OUT.

AIRBORNE DEBRIS WILL BE WIDESPREAD...AND MAY INCLUDE HEAVY ITEMS SUCH
AS HOUSEHOLD APPLIANCES AND EVEN LIGHT VEHICLES. SPORT UTILITY
VEHICLES AND LIGHT TRUCKS WILL BE MOVED. THE BLOWN DEBRIS WILL CREATE
ADDITIONAL DESTRUCTION. PERSONS...PETS...AND LIVESTOCK EXPOSED TO THE
WINDS WILL FACE CERTAIN DEATH IF STRUCK.

POWER OUTAGES WILL LAST FOR WEEKS...AS MOST POWER POLES WILL BE DOWN
AND TRANSFORMERS DESTROYED. WATER SHORTAGES WILL MAKE HUMAN SUFFERING
INCREDIBLE BY MODERN STANDARDS.

THE VAST MAJORITY OF NATIVE TREES WILL BE SNAPPED OR UPROOTED. ONLY
THE HEARTIEST WILL REMAIN STANDING...BUT BE TOTALLY DEFOLIATED. FEW
CROPS WILL REMAIN. LIVESTOCK LEFT EXPOSED TO THE WINDS WILL BE
KILLED.

AN INLAND HURRICANE WIND WARNING IS ISSUED WHEN SUSTAINED WINDS NEAR
HURRICANE FORCE...OR FREQUENT GUSTS AT OR ABOVE HURRICANE FORCE...ARE
CERTAIN WITHIN THE NEXT 12 TO 24 HOURS.

ONCE TROPICAL STORM AND HURRICANE FORCE WINDS ONSET...DO NOT VENTURE
OUTSIDE!

 

Before & After Katrina - Downtown Gulfport in ruins. You can clearly see the parking garage where we took refuge.

Notice how the floating Copa Casino has been pushed northwest out of the water and far inland by the force of the storm surge.

Gulfport Before & After 1

Gulfport Before & After 2
Images from the National Geodetic Survey - Composites by Dave Lewison