With a fury unmatched by any storm in decades, Hurricane Katrina tore through four states, leaving hundreds, possibly thousands, of people dead, and causing billions of dollars in damage.
Katrina made landfall in South Florida last week, killing 11 people, leaving several homeless, and costing nearly $430 million in damages before making landfall about 190 miles southwest of Pensacola, setting its sights on New Orleans, a city built partially below sea level.
Thousands of New Orleans natives followed mandatory evacuation orders as the storm neared. Although the city dodged a direct hit, Katrina came ashore with145-mph winds and heavy rains, which left entire neighborhoods underwater.
Those who did not leave the city took refuge in one of the many hurricane shelters, including one at Louisiana’s Superdome, but even they were not spared from the storm because Katrina ripped two holes in the arena’s roof.
Since New Orleans lies mostly below sea level, the city is protected by pumps, canals, and levees; most of which failed after being battered by Katrina’s powerful winds.
The storm caused two massive breaches in one of the levees, which sent water from nearby Lake Pontchartrain flowing throughout the streets of New Orleans, burying 80 percent of the city.
According to officials have done everything in their power, including dropping 3,000 pound sandbags into the breach, which has left thousands of people homeless, including some FAMU students.
“My home and possessions are all gone,” said Michael Hubbard II, a 22-year-old graduate student from New Orleans. “The last I heard, my house was under about 20 feet of water.”
Hubbard left the city to return to school just days before Katrina hit. Now, his family is in several places at once.
His mother, father and sister have all been displaced by Katrina, leaving his family temporarily homeless.
“It hurts,” Hubbard said. “I feel helpless and alone. I have friends who are like family here, and they are all really supportive.”
But even with the support from his friends, Hubbard’s mind still wanders back to the city where many of the people he loves could still be trapped.
“It’s just difficult to think that my family and friends there could be dead. I’m not sure how to feel right now. The uncertainty of what’s going on is agonizing.”
That uncertainty was felt by many as floodwaters continued to rise, and rescuers worked against the clock to rescue people trapped on the roofs of their homes.
In some parishes of Louisiana, evacuees were allowed to get some of their essential belongings, but then were asked to leave, for what could be more than a month.
As the water level rises, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco asked those who survived to pray.
“That would be the best thing to calm our spirits and thank our Lord that we are survivors,” she said.
Due to the extent of the devastation, President Bush has declared the entire state a federal disaster area, freeing up relief money for the effected areas.
Disaster declarations were also made for Alabama and Mississippi, both of which were also exposed to the wrath of the storm.
In Mississippi, at least 58, including 50 who died when their apartment building collapsed, were killed when Hurricane Katrina blasted through parts of the Gulf Coast.
Joyia Smith, an 18-year-old agribusiness student from Greenville, Mississippi said her family living in Mississippi was taken by surprise.
“They were completely unprepared,” she said. “Clearly this is a shocking event. They’re used to tornadoes and stuff, but they’re not used to stuff like this.
Smith’s family in Mississippi is not the only thing on her mind. She also has friends and family in New Orleans.
“My aunt was in the Superdome when it started filling up with water. They had to go up to the third floor to stay dry before they had to leave.”
Smith said her aunt is fine, but her home is a different story. “All you can see of her house is the roof.”
While rescuers focused on saving those who were trapped, police had their hands full with looters, who broke into stores; stealing what they needed.
Hurricane Katrina is already shaping up to be one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history, potentially carrying a $25 billion price tag.
Even worse for consumers, the sky-high gas prices will also continue their steady trek upward.
Because of Katrina’s devastation in the Gulf where many refineries operate, at least eight out of ten have completely shut down, or drastically slowed production.
That has cut the nations supply by nearly ten percent.
The reduced supply is putting the squeeze on consumers, with the gas prices climbing well over three dollars a gallon, just in time for the Labor Day weekend.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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