Published on February 13, 2007
About 3 weeks before hurricane Katrina came ashore at the mouth of the Mississippi River in Louisiana on August 29, 2005, a tropical disturbance was engendered somewhere closer to African continent 10 degrees north of equator. People who track developing tropical waves did not pay much attention to this disturbance. However, very quietly, the tropical mass started to move towards northern part of South America. This journey took several days. Again, the weather and atmospheric science folks in America did not pay much attention to this tropical disturbance.
After Katrina became a household name in America and elsewhere in the globe when the wrath of the cyclonic force wreaked havoc in Gulf Coast, USA, many an atmospheric science expert wanted to know how this killer storm developed in a short span of time. What I gathered from news media is that when the weak tropical mass came near northeastern region of South America, another weak tropical system, which had developed a very weak counter clock circulation merged with the moving tropical mass from equatorial Africa. This merging of two weak tropical disturbances was an ominous sign. The second wave provided the much-needed counter-clock circulation that strengthens a hurricane. Before we know anything, the weak disturbances started to show sign of real “life.” In the third weak of August 2005, this tropical disturbance caught the attention of hurricane enthusiast. The system was well developed by this time and the US Hurricane forecasting agency of the federal government started tracking the massive low-pressure system. Suddenly, the disturbance became a tropical storm; it was moving towards Florida’s coastline. Within twenty-four hours, the tropical storm strengthened enough to receive a name. As per the list already made by authorities, the cyclonic (hurricane) force was Christened “Katrina.”
Hurricane Katrina’s first victim was southern Florida. She was a full-blown hurricane by now and she hit Florida’s Gulf coast with much vengeance. As per news, few people died in the extreme lower part of Florida due to the hurricane. By August 23-24, 2005, Katrina weakened a bit because she lost some punch; consequently, she lost her “coveted” hurricane status for barely 24 hours. The weather forecaster thought Katrina would regain strength to become a weak Cat One (category one hurricane) at best and would hit some place in the Gulf Coast. But, boy! Were they wrong?
Katrina rapidly regained her strength to become a Cat 3 hurricane within 48 hours. Thanks to the hot surface water of Gulf of Mexico. The rapid strengthening of Katrina as a cyclonic force alarmed those of us living on the Gulf Coast. The news people along with the mayor of New Orleans sounded the alarm bell. People, who live in the lower Plaquemine parish (county), 50-60 miles south of New Orleans, were given a mandatory evacuation notice. A day later on Friday when Katrina was bearing down 300 miles or so to the southwest of New Orleans a panic broke out in Crescent City, which is home to about half a million people. The storm gathered enough force to become rapidly a Cat 5 hurricane (the strongest a hurricane could become).
As this ominous development was taking place on October 27, 2005, tens and thousands of New Orlenians hit the road going every which way fanning out to northern Louisiana, Mississippi, eastern Texas, northern Alabama, Southeastern Tennessee, and southern Georgia. By late Saturday (August 27), the city became a ghost town. Folks who were too poor to own a car did not leave the city; these folks either walked or took a bus ride to Super Dome, a huge sports arena. In the hindsight, it was a bad decision by the city administration. When Katrina was lashing out New Orleans with 120-130 miles gusts, a section of the roof at Super Dome (a closed sports area) collapsed causing extensive flooding inside the indoor stadium on August 29, 2005 (Monday).
My family and I did not join the exodus New Orleanians took on Friday and Saturday. All the highways fanning out of New Orleans to the North and West were crammed with cars turning the highways into a virtual parking lot. I decided not to join the crowd. On Sunday morning, the day before Katrina came ashore, my wife urged me to leave the house; she was preparing to get out of Slidell. My eldest son, Rashad, called me from New Haven, Connecticut. He also begged me to leave because Katrina had already become a full-blown Cat 5 hurricane. Quite a few people and family members who live in different parts of America called me to tell that they are concerned about our safety. In the meantime, the Hurricane Center in Florida, the main forecasting authority of the U.S. government, warned that Katrina would land in any place within the 100-mile zone starting from western New Orleans to Mississippi-Alabama border to the east. Hearing this prognosis, I was alarmed. In about half an hour time, I prepared myself for evacuating from the house. My wife and our daughter were already standing outside our house pacing nervously. Most of my neighbor left already. My wife asked me to drive my car by myself so that we could take two cars. I soundly rejected her suggestion. I put my car inside the garage and placed my new laptop and a digital mixing board on the top shelf of a closet (8 feet high). This turned out to be one of the wisest decisions that I took on that day.
The city where I live wore a panic look; not many people in the street and gas stations were all shut down. There were some latecomer (should be late-goer) like me trying to fill the gas tank of the car. By 2:30 p.m., we were gone. In two hours time I covered about 80 miles to the northwest. My son was navigating me from a safe distance with the help of cellphone. He said, “Father, whatever you do, do not go towards northeast. I drove in the northwest direction all the while reaching Kentwood, Louisiana, by 5:30 p.m. Twelve hours later Katrina roared into New Orleans-Slidell-Gulfport-Biloxi area affecting the life of about 2.5 to 3 million people.
America never did experience a natural disaster of this magnitude. As of this writing (September 7, 2005), some parts of New Orleans are still flooded. My home is now dry, water had receded now, and a wall of 6-8 feet of water got into the house destroying almost everything inside. Like many other affected people in Louisiana, and Mississippi, how am I going to clean the mess and start a new life again?
Katrina was a killer hurricane that killed hundreds of people. The body count is not complete. People are now reporting missing relatives to authorities. It will take a long time before we know how many people simply perished under the spell of Katrina.
This monster hurricane will certainly go down in the history as the storm that disrupted million lives. In 1965, another hurricane by the name Betsy struck New Orleans area; the city’s old folks used to talk about the destruction caused by that storm. After Katrina struck New Orleans area on August 29, 2005, people will forget about the damage caused by Betsy because Katrina’s destruction pales the one done by the former.
Katrina taught a lesson of lifetime to Americans living in the Gulf Coast. Mother Nature unleashed her fury on three million people residing on coastline. These folks will have a mental scar embedded in their mind for the rest of their life. Katrina’s fury was too much to bear. She smashed the dream of many a folk. The fury Katrina unleashed on million innocent people will go in infamy. This author lost every material thing that he accumulated in the last twenty years. Katrina took it all away. Nevertheless, the good-old memory that swirls inside our head will keep on rotating and that Katrina could not take away with all her fury.
Dr. A.H. Jaffor Ullah, a researcher and columnist, who was devastated by Katrina is temporarily residing in a hotel in Jackson, Mississippi, USA.